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.

Brazil factory packaging warehouse

Why we buy sustainable paper & board

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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 new People and Nature cross-commodity policy (PDF | 3MB) which supersedes our Sustainable Paper and Board Packaging Policy.

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.

Progress through ambitious targets

green hardwood tree icon

Of our paper and board from certified sustainably managed forests or recycled material

We source our paper and board packaging from around 300 suppliers. In 2019, 97% 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 on 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 2019, we purchased 90% 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.

Recycled paper and board are a crucial part of achieving our ambitions so our Sustainable Paper and Board Packaging Policy defines exactly what this term means.

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 People and Nature Policy Guidelines (PDF | 2MB).

Working with certification schemes

Logos on brand packaging reassure consumers that it comes from materials managed following the highest standards of forest management. 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).

1FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015