Biodiversity underpins the health of the natural world - and is essential to the prosperity of communities, economies, and our business. By protecting biodiversity, we aim to have a positive impact on people's livelihoods while strengthening the agricultural systems on which we depend.
Why biodiversity matters to our business
We are one of the world’s largest users of agricultural raw materials such as tea, vegetables and vegetable oils. Agriculture - and the livelihoods of farmers and farming communities -¬ is dependent on the ecosystems in which crops and commodities are grown. Soil, water, the diversity of pollinating insects and the large-scale natural systems that surround them, such as forest and wetland - these and other forms of natural capital all provide what are called 'ecosystem services' from which we benefit as a business.
Conserving these biodiverse ecosystems is therefore essential to us in two ways: it strengthens the supply of ingredients on which our brands depend; and it supports the flourishing of the societies and economies in which we do business. In particular, the loss of crop biodiversity carries specific risks by compromising nutritional security and reducing crop resilience.
The importance of protecting biodiversity for communities and landscapes the world over is highlighted in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 Life on Land, although the success of a number of the other SDGs, such as SDG 2 on ending hunger, rely on biodiversity too.
That's why we need to protect biodiversity and ensure that our sourcing activities do not encourage detrimental land use changes or practices if we are to achieve our ambition of sourcing our agricultural raw materials sustainably while growing as a business.
The business case for protecting biodiversity is quite simple. Without biodiversity, there is no business.Giulia Stellari, our Sustainable Sourcing Director
At the heart of our Sustainable Agriculture Programme
Protecting biodiversity is central to our Sustainable Agriculture Programme, which drives our work with suppliers and farmers. One of the four principles in our Programme is: ‘Ensuring any adverse effects on biodiversity from agricultural activities are minimised and positive contributions are made where possible’. Biodiversity is also one of the 11 core indicators we use to measure sustainable farming practices.
The Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code 2017 (PDF | 2MB) has a specific chapter devoted to biodiversity. It covers both ecosystem services and the protection of rare and vulnerable species and ecosystems on and around farms. The Code aims to ensure that our agricultural sourcing activities minimise impacts from land use, or land use change, on biodiversity, natural capital and ecosystem services. The third-party certification schemes that we use, including Rainforest Alliance and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, share these aims too.
Taking action to eliminate deforestation
Of biodiversity on land is supported by forests
Forests support 80% of terrestrial biodiversity, and around 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on them for food, medicines, fuel, shelter, jobs and livelihoods. So deforestation is a social as well as an environmental threat - especially given the major contribution deforestation makes to climate change.
We’re committed to taking action against deforestation associated with sourcing our agriculture-based ingredients, paper and pulp for packaging and the extraction of non-renewable resources.
Together with the other 400 members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), in 2010 we made a commitment to zero deforestation by 2020 with four commodities: palm oil, soy, paper and pulp, and beef. We’ve since extended this 2020 commitment to our own tea businesses and supply chains, reflecting the importance of tea in our portfolio and the impact this commitment will make on others to act.
Unilever led the foundation of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA), a public-private partnership between the CGF and the governments of the US, UK, Netherlands, Norway, Indonesia and Liberia. The TFA is committed to reducing and eventually eliminating the deforestation associated with the sourcing of palm oil, soy, paper and pulp and beef.
Working with farmers to protect biodiversity
We have run pilot programmes with some of our suppliers that have shown that it is possible to adopt better agricultural practices that are sensitive to biodiversity without harming agricultural yield or profitability.
Biodiversity Action Plans
We want to inspire farmers to start their own Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs). The scope for a BAP can range from field to landscape level in the growing area of any crop. The ideas behind the plans often come from farmers and suppliers themselves, based on the wild animals or plants they value or have observed.
Since biodiversity issues vary widely across the world, farmers’ efforts have resulted in a wide range of projects. Some are showcased in our booklet, Unilever Suppliers – A Closer Look at Biodiversity (PDF | 998KB).
Improving our understanding of biodiversity
Our Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC) is developing new scientific approaches that will enhance knowledge of our biodiversity impact, for example through the development of predictive land change models and activities aimed at linking trade flow information with land use and biodiversity.
These activities build on SEAC’s previous work in this area. For instance, through collaboration with the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University, we’ve developed approaches to predict impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services associated with the sourcing of bio-based materials. Our new approach is called Land-Use Change Improved Life Cycle Assessment (LUCI-LCA) and was published in 2017. The method predicts the impacts of future large-scale increases in demand for agricultural materials. It can be used to guide future policy, innovation and sourcing decisions.
Find out more about the other organisations we are working with to understand and assess natural capital.