Reducing environmental impact

Unilever's work on reducing environmental impact supports

8 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Select one of the goals to find out how we're taking action in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Find out how we’re realising the business opportunity from the SDGs
Life on Land

Life on Land

Globally, biodiversity is in decline. According to the IUCN Red List, more than 23,000 species are threatened with extinction, including 41% of amphibians, 34% of conifers, 25% of mammals and 13% of birds. Deforestation is a particular threat, as forests support 80% of terrestrial biodiversity, and around 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on them for food, medicines, fuel, shelter, jobs and livelihoods.

As one of the world’s largest users of agricultural raw materials including tea, vegetables and vegetable oils such as palm and soy, we rely on the ecosystems in which crops are grown – and on the prosperity of communities who are also reliant on these ecosystems. So, the business case for protecting biodiversity is quite simple: without biodiversity, there is no business. Yet agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation. That means we need to change the way agriculture works.

Protecting biodiversity is central to our Sustainable Agriculture Programme, which drives our work with suppliers and farmers, and is at the heart of our USLP commitment to source our agricultural raw materials sustainably. At the same time, we've joined others in our industry in a commitment to zero net deforestation associated with four commodities – palm oil, soy, paper and board, and beef – no later than 2020. We have extended this commitment to our tea businesses and supply chains.

Our particular focus is on palm oil sourcing, where we have the scale to make a difference – and where dedicated work with suppliers and smallholders is at the heart of our commitment to source 100% physically certified palm oil for our core volumes by 2019.

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Our Big Goal Reducing environmental impact by half
By 2030 our goal is to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products as we grow our business.

Reducing environmental impact

Decoupling growth from our environmental impact

Part of our Vision is to grow our business whilst decoupling our environmental impact from our growth. We consider the reduction of our greenhouse gas (GHG), water and waste impacts across our value chain, from sourcing our raw materials to within our own manufacturing and operations and consumer use. We also aim to source our agricultural raw materials sustainably.

Reducing the environmental impact of how consumers use our products continues to prove difficult, as our performance on reducing GHG and Water impact per consumer use demonstrates. However, in those areas where we have control over our impacts – such as our own manufacturing - we are making excellent progress.

Our performance: GHG, water, waste & sustainable sourcing

Our environmental targets for GHG, water and waste are expressed on a ‘per consumer use’ basis. This means a single use, portion or serving of a product, such as the impact of one load of laundry. Our performance is measured against a baseline of 2010.

+9% greenhouse gas emissions across the lifecycle
-2% water associated with consumer use of our products
-29% waste associated with the disposal of our products per consumer use
56% agricultural raw materials sourced sustainably

Our performance: Manufacturing

Our performance is measured against a baseline of 2008.

-47% CO2 emissions from energy per tonne of production
-39% water abstraction per tonne of production
-98% total waste sent for disposal per tonne of production
Over €490m of costs avoided via eco-efficiency since 2008
Key:
Achieved
On-plan
Off-plan
% Of target achieved

Our approach

We want to play our part in tackling climate change and reduce the depletion of natural resources. It makes business sense to reduce our risk by securing sustainable sources of supply for raw materials, to cut costs through reducing packaging materials and higher manufacturing efficiencies, and to appeal to more consumers with sustainable, purpose-led brands.

Our approach, which directly supports a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, focuses on:

  • Taking global climate action and protecting our forests
  • Championing sustainable agriculture, focused land use and food security
  • Helping consumers to recycle more and use less water and less energy through producing products with a lower environmental impact
  • Making our manufacturing and distribution more eco-efficient
  • Advocating public policy to tackle climate change.

The environmental pillars of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan are supported by our Environmental Policy (PDF | 168KB).

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Reducing environmental impact pillars

Greenhouse gases

Eliminating fossil fuels in manufacturing

Taking action on climate change is a necessity - but it’s also a chance to grow our business by responding to opportunities across our value chain.

Water use

Water use and water centre

We’re addressing the challenge of water scarcity holistically, so consumers can enjoy our products and our business can thrive in a water-constrained world.

Waste & packaging

recycling in brazil

Every minute, the equivalent of one rubbish truck of plastic leaks into streams and rivers, ultimately ending up in the ocean. We want to move towards a more circular economy, so that more plastic has the best possible chance to be reused or recycled.

Sustainable sourcing

Palm oil farmer

Growing for the future – sustainable sourcing has never been more important.

Other areas of focus

Eco-efficiency in manufacturing

Eco-efficiency in manufacturing

We want to make our manufacturing as efficient as possible – using fewer resources and generating less waste.

Natural capital

Natural capital

We rely on nature for many of the ingredients and raw materials that make up our products. We are working in partnership with others to explore how natural capital can be better integrated into business decision-making.

Lifecycle Assessments

Woman working on production line

Understanding and managing lifecycle impacts is crucial to achieving our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan targets.

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