Ethical Performance
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Unilever decides to go for sustainability and growth

January 2011

Unilever has announced plans to 'decouple' its growth from its environmental impact. The global consumer goods company believes it can continue growing while halving its greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste.  

The target, for 2020, not only applies to the company in its direct operations but will also be extended to suppliers and to consumer use of its products.

More than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions and half the water used in Unilever products' lifecycle comes from consumer use, so the company hopes to make progress primarily through innovations in the way it sources, makes and packages goods.  

At the launch of the company's Sustainable Living Plan, announced simultaneously in London, Rotterdam, Delhi and New York, chief executive Paul Polman claimed the policy was 'a major commitment on an unprecedented scale'.

Unilever, whose global brands include Dove, Omo, Knorr and Lipton, has operations in more than 100 countries and sales in 170. It employs about 163,000 people worldwide and recorded €40billion ($53bn, £34bn) in sales in 2009.

Polman said he saw no conflict between Unilever's achievement of sustainability goals and the growth of business operations. 'We have ambitious plans to grow the company, but growth at any price is not viable. We have to develop new ways of doing business which will ensure that our growth does not come at the expense of the world's diminishing natural resources.

'We are already finding that tackling sustainability challenges provides new opportunities for sustainable growth,' he declared. 'It creates preference for our brands, builds business with our retail customers, drives our innovation, grows our markets and, in many cases, generates cost savings.'

Patrick Neyts, senior advisor at the Vectra International consultancy, told EP the move was significant, and 'marks a line in the sand for other companies'.

He added: 'The plan is well thought out and pragmatically do-able, although I think it's less about decoupling and more about uniting sustainability goals with business aims.'

Apart from environmental targets, the Sustainable Living Plan lists more than 50 CSR goals to be reached by or before 2020, including the sourcing of 100 per cent of agricultural raw materials 'sustainably' and making safe drinking water available to half a billion people by extending sales of its low-cost in-home water purifier, Pureit, from India to other countries.

There will also be a programme to 'change the hygiene habits' of a billion people in Asia, Africa and Latin America by persuading them to wash their hands with the company's Lifebuoy soap at key times of the day.

Unilever | Global | Sustainability

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