About our strategy
We believe that sustainable and equitable growth is the only way to create long-term value for all our stakeholders. That’s why we have placed the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan at the heart of our business model.
A vision of growth, 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 – which are driving transformational change across our value chain, and beyond.
We believe that managing for the long term is the best, and only way for us to grow. And we're convinced that the businesses that thrive in the future will be those that serve society today. However volatile and uncertain the world becomes, our purpose will remain.
Our blueprint for sustainable growth
The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) is our detailed blueprint to achieve sustainable growth, while delivering our purpose. It covers all aspects of our business and value chain (PDF | 417KB), 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 our materiality analysis. We check these are still the right priorities by carrying out a materiality analysis every two years. For each goal, we have a number of targets.
|Improving health and well-being||Reducing environmental impact||Enhancing livelihoods|
Goal: By 2020 we will help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being.
Goal: By 2030 our goal is to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products as we grow our business.
Goal: By 2020 we will enhance the livelihoods of millions of people as we grow our business.
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. Our four-point framework shows how the USLP drives value.
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.
Being part of the solution to challenges is the right thing for business to do. But it is also a commercial imperative. We believe it is an opportunity to win the trust of consumers while helping create societies and economies in which business can grow and succeed.
We aim to use our scale and influence to help bring about transformational change in four areas. They are where we can make the biggest difference, and they 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 using partnerships to deliver 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 the 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 know it contributes to business growth as we see consumers choosing our brands with purpose – such as Dove, Hellmann’s, Ben & Jerry’s and Omo.
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 44% per tonne of production since 2008. However, our biggest water impact occurs when consumers shower, bathe and clean clothes with our products. In 2018, our water impact per consumer use reduced by around 2% 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, 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.
If our business is going to keep delivering lasting change, the momentum has to come from our people – Unilever employees. That means creating, and supporting, a movement for sustainable growth within Unilever. We are always finding new ways to engage our people on sustainability and to harness their passion to achieve our goals. One particular area of focus is helping our employees find their own purpose so that they can fulfil their potential.
Our research shows that a focus on purpose helps attract talent and binds us together for growth. Through our People with Purpose programme, more than 30,000 employees have joined workshops to help them define their purpose, with 50,000 targeted by 2019.
Employees in our 2018 UniVoice survey believing their role contributes to the USLP
Our global Univoice survey results reinforce the importance of these workshops. Purpose and our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) remain key talent attractors with 75% of employees in our 2018 UniVoice survey believing their role contributes to the USLP and 70% believing they can fulfil their purpose at work. Furthermore, 92% of employees who believe they can live their purpose at Unilever, also say that their job inspires them to go the extra mile.
We also have employee sustainability champions in key functions, Divisions and countries. They help engage colleagues on sustainability, support our leadership teams to identify local priorities, and review progress against our targets.
Leaders play a vital role in achieving our vision. Our Unilever Leadership Development Programme (ULDP) helps our executives to discover their purpose, and to use this to guide them in their decisions and careers.
Leadership will be critical in the delivery of Unilever’s purpose and in our performance over the coming years. Our leadership programmes will nurture the purpose-driven and values-led leaders that Unilever, and our world, need today.Tim Munden, Chief Learning Officer
Our General Manager (GM) programme helps equip our GMs with the mindset to develop innovative, sustainable and inclusive business models to achieve responsible growth. GMs play a key role in creating the right conditions for delivering the USLP, as they have oversight of our markets and commercial operations.
In addition, we now link progress on sustainability to remuneration for a growing number of management employees, up to and including our CEO and Unilever Leadership Executive. Find out more in our Annual Report and Accounts (PDF | 4MB).