Sustainable paper & board sourcing
Sourcing our paper and board packaging sustainably supports our commitment to zero net deforestation. It strengthens our supply chain and helps build trust among consumers.
Why we buy sustainable paper & board
Hectares of forest lost 1990–2015 – an area almost the size of South Africa1
We want to source only sustainable paper and board. Why? Because we, and our consumers, want assurance that we’re not contributing to the deforestation caused by parts of the paper and pulp industry. It’s an important part of our approach to protecting forests and preventing the loss of biodiversity and contribution to climate change caused by deforestation.
We have defined paper and board as priority raw materials for our business. We aim to buy paper packaging that comes either from well-managed forests or from recycled material.
Sometimes we need to source virgin paper and board – for example, because of safety regulations. When we do, we buy from certified sources with a full ‘chain of custody’.
Our paper & board commitment
Our commitment to 100% sustainably sourced paper and board covers all our packaging – even our wooden ice cream sticks. We put our commitment into action through our Sustainable Paper and Board Packaging Policy (PDF | 173KB).
Our policy is designed to help transform the industry by working with key suppliers. It is directed by three key principles:
- halt deforestation
- promote best practices in sustainable forest and pulp plantation management
- drive positive economic and social impact on people and communities.
We've also signed up to the Consumer Goods Forum commitment to achieving zero net deforestation associated with four commodities – palm oil, soy, paper and board, and beef – no later than 2020.
Progress through ambitious targets
We source our paper and board packaging from around 300 suppliers. In 2018, 98% of the directly-purchased paper and board packaging materials we used were made from recycled fibre or came from certified sustainably managed forests. When we drew up the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010, our target was to achieve 75% by 2015 and 100% by 2020. We’re ahead of schedule, but that does not mean we’ve overcome all the challenges, or that we should relax our efforts.
To continue our momentum, in 2016 we set ourselves the ambition to source our recycled fibre from suppliers with third-party certification by 2019. Asking our suppliers to certify recycled materials offers reassurance for our business and helps support a market for these materials. In 2018, we purchased more of our materials with certification and a full chain of custody. See Targets & performance.
We believe that transparency helps us to build a more sustainable supply chain. In July 2019, we published details of direct suppliers (PDF | 173KB) accounting for in excess of 99.5% of the wood fibre-based materials purchased in 2018 under Unilever’s Sustainable Paper & Board Packaging Policy (October 2018). This includes all folding cartons, customer packaging, aseptics and ice cream sticks.
What does recycling fibre involve?
'Virgin’ or ‘fresh’ fibre is extracted from a plant, the most common being wood fibre from trees.
Typically, fibre used for papermaking is from timber that cannot be used for other purposes. This includes timber from immature trees removed to let other trees mature, known as ‘thinnings’, and sawmill waste. In some cases, trees are planted in forest areas specifically for the purpose of providing fibre for paper and board production.
Once this virgin fibre has been made into paper, it can be recycled on average five to seven times.
We also recycle ‘post-industrial’ waste. This is material which, for one reason or another, was not used directly for packaging. The most common form is ‘clippings’ – waste generated when packaging is cut to shape.
Our full definitions of Virgin Wood Fibres and Recycled Fibres can be found in our Sustainable Paper and Board Packaging Policy (PDF | 173KB).
Working with certification schemes & reaching consumers
- 1 in 5
People would choose brands with clearer sustainability credentials on-pack
We work with our suppliers and other stakeholders to promote forest certification through our purchases. We give preference to supplies delivered through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme and accept other national schemes under the framework of the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).
Logos on brand packaging help consumers know that it comes from forest management certification schemes. In 2015, we researched attitudes to sustainability among 20,000 adults across five countries (Brazil, India, Turkey, the US and UK). We found that a third of people are already buying sustainably. A further one in five (21%) of the people surveyed said they would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on packaging and in their marketing.2
2 Unilever research in 2015 by Flamingo and Europanel