Our environmental management system

Our environmental management system provides a framework for continual environmental improvement in our manufacturing sites. It helps us achieve the ambitious environmental targets in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

About our management system

As well as local legislation, all of our manufacturing and office sites must comply with the Unilever SHE Framework Standards for occupational safety, health and environmental care (SHE), and our Consumer Safety Policy. Our standards incorporate requirements for planning, implementation and operation, checking, corrective action and management review. Taken together with our Environmental Policy, these form our environmental care management system (EMS) as depicted below.

  • Environment
  • Planning
  • Implementation &
  • Checking
  • Management
  • Environment Policy
  • Environmental
    strategy & policy
  • Code of Business Principles
  • Roles & responsibilities
  • Planning
  • Environmental
    management system
    standards & guidance
  • Environmental aspects
  • Site-level
    objectives & targets
  • Implementation & Operation
  • Lifecycle assessment
  • Training
  • Good environmental
    practice transfer
  • Total productive maintenance (TPM)
  • Checking
  • Supplier assurance
  • Auditing
  • Positive assurance
  • Management Review
  • Environmental
    performance reporting
  • Benchmarking
  • Review of performance
    data against targets

Our Policies

Unilever’s Environmental policy

Our environmental policy (PDF | 168KB) outlines our individual and shared responsibilities to the environment and is implemented through the commitments within the environmental pillars of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (Greenhouse Gases, Water Use, Waste and Packaging and Sustainable Sourcing).

Unilever’s Codes of Business Principles

Our Code of Business Principles (PDF | 3MB) contains a specific principle on the environment: “Unilever is committed to making continuous improvements in the management of our environmental impact and to the longer-term goal of developing a sustainable business. Unilever will work in partnership with others to promote environmental care, increase understanding of environmental issues and disseminate good practice.”

The Code of Business Principles ensures our conduct is in compliance with laws and regulations, protects our brands and reputation, and prevents harm to people or the environment.

Environmental standards

We developed the Unilever SHE Standards in the 1990s and have kept improving and adapting them to our changing needs since. The Standards are a set of mandatory requirements specific in their scope depending on the organisation. For instance, a Food organisation may have different issues or specific risks compared to that of a Home and Personal Care organisation. We don’t believe a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is always best.

Each Unilever organisation must establish a formal SHE Framework Standard for Environmental Care, based on the ISO 14001 management systems standard. We ask that each of our organisations identify and evaluate the environmental aspects of its products, operations, activities or services to determine those which have (or could have) a significant impact on the environment.

These must be reviewed periodically, taking in to account any changes to Unilever standards and environmental legislation. Example standards include those for third-party manufacturing (including further standards for new factories), auditing, reporting and verification of management systems, environmental performance reporting, notification and investigation, and reporting of SHE incidents. We have also developed niche standards such as those for biomass sourcing or polychlorinated biphenyls in electrical equipment where these activities are applicable.

Underpinning our standards are a set of detailed guidance documents aimed at governing their implementation.

Assurance process


Worker in warehouse using a tablet device

How our Framework Standard stacks up

We believe ISO 14001 is a great mark of compliance. However, the scale of our business means we need more flexibility. By basing our Framework Standard on ISO 14001, we are ensuring the robustness of our system whilst at the same time tailoring our Standards to our own operations. We are now able to have effective third-party assessments, with remaining sites undergoing internal verification, meaning 100% of our production output is checked.

When developing our Standard we mapped all requirements to ISO 14001 one by one so we could ensure we were aligning as closely as possible. Therefore, sites certified using our Standard should also be ISO 14001 compliant.

All our operating units conduct an annual review of business risks and compliance with corporate policies such as the Unilever SHE Framework Standards and Consumer Safety Policy. They also conduct a continual self-assessment of their operating controls.

The results of these processes are reported to the Corporate Risk Committee each year via a Positive Assurance letter.

This assurance process is based on the principle that managers are accountable for all aspects of corporate behaviour and performance in their units.

Our environmental indicators for manufacturing directly contribute to the achievement of the nine commitments that make up the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and we consider them crucial for our business, so they will always be assured.

Internal and external auditing

Shaking hands

100% of our manufacturing sites are certified by either our Care Framework Standard or ISO 14001

Regular environmental audits help our sites to achieve continuous improvement. We use a mixture of internal and external audits.

Of our sites, 100% receive a regular audit (at least every three years) to assess the robustness of the implementation of our Environmental Care Framework Standard. More than 75% of our sites are audited every year, whether that is via internal or external parties, and in 2018, around 40% of them were also certified by ISO 14001.

Our Environmental Care Framework Standard is based on the same requirements as ISO14001. This is because we believe in the robustness of it though realising that we need to adapt the specifications for our own operation.

Developing an internal framework not only allows for flexibility in internal and external third-party auditing, but also for fast and continuous improvement in the requirements of the standard (i.e. updating it after best practices are found or accidents have occurred). In 2015, 50% of our factories were covered by the Environmental Care Framework Standard, with the remaining ones being certified by ISO 14001. In 2018, 64% of production sites were covered, showing our confidence in the robustness of the Standard.

Sites covered are audited at least once every three years by either a third-party or by a trained employee independent of the site being audited. The process, similar to that of ISO 14001, sees auditors collecting evidence to demonstrate compliance to different sections of the standard, whether it's via collection of documentation or employee interviews. Our World Class Manufacturing programme also includes an audit of environmental performance. This is regularly carried out by a combination of internal subject matter experts and the global developer of the philosophy. Our purchase of certified renewable electricity is also subject to external audit annually.

Where we have ISO 14001 certification, audits are done annually by the relevant certifying body. As part of our annual environmental performance reporting assurance process, our independent external auditors visit 9 manufacturing sites each year. They review each site’s processes for environmental and occupational safety data collection, collation and validation. See Unilever’s Basis of Preparation for 2018 (PDF | 578KB) for more information. For past Basis of Preparation documents prior to 2018, see our Reports and publications.

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