About our strategy
We believe that sustainable business drives superior performance and that this is the only way to create long-term value for all our stakeholders.
A multi-stakeholder value creation model, driven by our purpose
We have a clear purpose – to make sustainable living commonplace.
What do we mean by sustainable living?
We want to help create a world where everyone can live well within the natural limits of the planet. We’re putting sustainable living at the heart of everything we do. That includes our brands and products, our standards of behaviour within and beyond Unilever, and our partnerships and advocacy efforts – which are driving transformational change across our value chain, and beyond.
We're convinced that businesses that thrive in the future will be those that are driven by purpose for the benefit of stakeholders. That’s why our multi-stakeholder value creation model serves a range of stakeholders – from consumers and customers to our people, society, the planet and shareholders.
Our blueprint for sustainable growth
The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) is at the heart of our multi-stakeholder model. It covers all aspects of our business and value chain (PDF | 2MB), incorporates all our brands and Divisions, and covers every country we work in.
It aims to create change across our value chain – from our operations, to our sourcing, to the way consumers use and dispose of our products. The Plan, launched in 2010, is built around three big goals and nine pillars. It embraces the strategic priorities we identified through an annual materiality analysis.
The business case for sustainability
We have long known that growth and sustainability are not in conflict. Each year, we're gathering more evidence of the benefits our USLP is bringing to our business, as well as to society and the environment.
Transformational change beyond our business
We know that the biggest challenges facing the world cannot be addressed by one company alone. We are changing ourselves as a business. But we also want to help transform the system in which business is done. We’ll do this by acting as agents for change more broadly – by bringing others together for progressive discussions, and by working in partnerships that deliver positive business, social and environmental impact at scale.
We aim to use our scale and influence to help bring about transformational change in the areas where we can make the biggest difference, and which represent the biggest market opportunities for us.
By adopting a multi-stakeholder approach, we're better able to understand the challenges preventing society and ecosystems from thriving, and to find ways to begin addressing them. We engage shareholders, governments, NGOs and civil society organisations, and we aim to shape the business landscape through advocacy. We see a range of opportunities to achieve transformational change, including through partnerships, blended (public/private) finance, financial inclusion at scale, and digital and new business models.
Our Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals
One way in which we are delivering change at scale is through the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are fundamental to future economic growth and are an enormous business opportunity. The Business & Sustainable Development Commission, co-founded by Unilever, concluded that successful delivery of the SDGs will create market opportunities of at least $12 trillion a year.
We are working across many of the SDGs through the USLP. In doing so, we are unlocking new markets, and investing in brands with purpose and innovation. Find out about our approach to SDGs, and how we are taking action on them, throughout our Sustainable Living Report.
We’re seeing results – and learning lessons
We’ve had some great results from our Sustainable Living Plan. We’ve also learnt a lot about what does and doesn’t work, and we’ll keep making changes to get things right. One of our biggest challenges is our ability to influence change outside our business, where we don’t have direct control.
For example, we have reduced the water used in manufacturing by 47% per tonne of production since 2008. However, our biggest water impact occurs when consumers shower, bathe and clean clothes with our products. In 2019, our water impact per consumer use increased by around 1% compared to 2010. We recognise that we are a long way short of halving our water impact and we will not achieve this very challenging target by the end of 2020. This is due in part to our portfolio being made up of more products that have a higher than average water footprint than in 2010 and the significant consumer behaviour change needed to reduce water consumption when our products are used, which is where the vast majority of our water footprint resides.
We are continually looking for new ideas and ways to influence our wider value chain. We know that collaboration with others holds the key to tackling many sustainability challenges and we will be focusing even more on this in the years ahead. Our transformational change initiatives will help to bring about the systems change needed to address some of the most complex social and environmental problems.
Beyond the USLP: the Unilever Compass
Many of the challenges the world faces – like the climate crisis or growing inequality – are becoming ever more pressing. The USLP is a ten-year plan and we know the job won’t be complete at the end of it. So, we’ll continue to embed sustainability into every part of our business – through a new purpose-led, future-fit Unilever Compass strategy built on three beliefs: that brands with purpose grow; companies with purpose last; and people with purpose thrive. These beliefs will guide us in three principal ways.
First, we will continue to use our size and scale to help drive change through our extended value chain. A great example of this in 2019 was the ambitious commitment we made to address the issue of plastic packaging by halving our use of virgin plastic and by helping to collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell, both by 2025.
Second, we will make our brands even more prominent vehicles for driving social and environmental change. Our brands touch the lives of two and a half billion people every day so the opportunity for us to influence behaviour and drive positive change is enormous. Many of our brands already do this, to great effect, but we now intend to make it an integral feature of every brand. We know that it works and that it also helps to drive growth. For the last few years, our most purposeful brands have grown faster than the rest of the portfolio.
Third, we will drive our people agenda to ensure our employees find purpose in their work and are equipped for the future of work. This means creating capability for lifelong learning, unlocking capacity for growth by being truly agile and deepening our culture of pioneering to fuel innovation.
Find out more about our Compass strategy in our 2019 Annual Report and Accounts.