Progress on the plan - one year on

Unilever has published its first progress report on the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan since the 10-year plan was announced in November 2010. The report was discussed with hundreds of sustainability stakeholders, including NGOs, governments and industry peers at a series of dialogues in 25 countries.

Our Plan is particularly challenging as it takes responsibility for the environmental footprint of our products right across the value chain, from the sourcing of raw materials all the way through to the consumer's use of products to cook, clean and wash.

Progress and challenges

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Progress Report 2011 shows good progress in a number of areas, such as:

  • Sustainable sourcing – 64% of palm oil now sourced sustainably

  • Nutrition – good progress in reducing saturated fat and eliminating trans fat in products

  • Renewable energy – 100% of electricity now purchased from renewable sources in Europe

  • Drinking water – 35 million people have gained access to safe drinking water from Pureit since 2005.

In other areas, we spent time in 2011 working out how to reach our targets and are now ready to scale up. For example, Lifebuoy soap's handwashing education and behaviour change programme reached 48 million people by the end of 2011. This is a big achievement but we still have a way to go to reach Lifebuoy's target of 1 billion people by 2015. A new 'train the trainer' approach trialled in Indonesia and being rolled out to other countries in 2012, will help us reach more people at a lower cost.

There are some areas of the Plan where it has been more difficult to make progress. In these areas, we will need to work with others to find solutions. This applies particularly to targets that require consumer behaviour change, such as reducing the use of heated water in showering and washing clothes, and encouraging people to eat foods with lower salt levels.

Speaking at the London dialogue on 24 April 2012, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said:

"In a world where temperatures are rising, energy is increasingly expensive, sanitation is worsening and food supply is less secure, business needs to be part of the solution, not the problem. At Unilever, we believe our future success depends on being able to decouple our growth from our environmental footprint, while at the same time increasing our positive social impacts.

"Many of our goals look as daunting now as they did when we announced them, but you have to set uncomfortable targets if you are to really change things. Sustainable growth will be the only acceptable model of growth in the future, which is why we have put the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan at the heart of our business strategy.

"And far from being a hindrance to our progress, we are now seeing increasing evidence that it can drive business growth. Unilever grew well in 2011, but what is encouraging is that the brands which put sustainability at the centre of their propositions, like Lifebuoy soap or Persil Small & Mighty, grew faster than the average".

The Sustainable Living Lab

Following the launch of the report, Unilever convened an online, 24-hour Sustainable Living Lab to open up a discussion on the sustainability challenges. Over 100 Unilever managers from R&D, procurement, marketing, and customer development took part, and over 2,200 people registered from governments, NGOs and businesses in 77 countries . A total of 4,000 comments were posted.

The stimulus for the Lab – the first time we have ever attempted such an initiative – was a recognition that some of our Sustainable Living Plan goals can only be delivered by working with others.

Many ideas were put forward for ways in which progress can be made, from the suggestion that ‘handprinting’ might be a more attractive way to explain consumer impacts than ‘footprinting’, to thoughts on how new technologies can reduce the impact of showering.

Participants welcomed the venture. For example, Darrel Webber, Secretary General, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) commented: "I found the session to be a novel approach to engage with different stakeholders. It has helped surface tough questions that are valuable to take the next leap towards sustainability."

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