Stakeholder Trends and Insights
Unilever Says Integrating Sustainability Has Driven Growth, Cost Efficiency, Resilience

Four years after the launch of its Sustainable Living Plan, **Unilever **is reporting today that the plan is making an increasingly positive impact on its business in terms of growth, cost efficiency and resilience for the future.

At a time when more and more companies are talking about ‘brands with purpose,’ Unilever defines what it calls ‘sustainable living brands’ as a combination of measurable contribution to one or more of its sustainability targets in the product lifecycle and a clear sustainability-linked purpose — brands such as Dove, Lifebuoy, Ben & Jerry’s and Comfort, which the CPG giant says represent half of its growth, and are growing twice as fast as its other brands. A growing number of its leading brands have integrated sustainability into their purpose and into their products’ ingredients and lifecycle.

“In a volatile world of growing social inequality, rising population, development challenges and climate change, the need for businesses to adapt is clear, as are the benefits and opportunities,” CEO Paul Polman said. “This calls for a transformational approach across the whole value chain if we are to continue to grow. Consumers are recognizing this, too, increasingly demanding responsible business and responsible brands. Our experience is that brands whose purpose and products respond to that demand — ‘sustainable living brands’ — are delivering stronger and faster growth. These brands accounted for half the company’s growth in 2014 and grew at twice the rate of the rest of the business.”

Unilever’s findings seem to reflect those of Havas Media Group — that ‘Meaningful Brands’ can grow at twice the rate of those set by lower-scoring brands.

The business case also now extends to the investment community, which is also increasingly aware of the risks and opportunities of managing in a new economic ecosystem where interdependencies are more complex and unpredictable, and a growing number of institutions are moving capital into businesses that will help realize a low-carbon future. Governments are also responding to the upcoming climate negotiations in Paris in December with robust national plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, Unilever has also outlined a widening in the brands that classify as ‘sustainable living brands’ in its portfolio in 2015, with efforts including initiatives from:

  • Dirt Is Good, which includes Omo and Persil, whose purpose is about helping more children have access to the quality education they need to reach their full potential. Called the Preparing Children for Tomorrow Initiative, it will be rolling out globally through the rest of 2015 and beyond.
  • Vaseline is teaming up with international NGO Direct Relief to help heal the skin of 5 million people living in vulnerable situations by 2020, including people caught up in natural disasters and in refugee camps.
  • Sunlight, Unilever’s oldest brand, which aims to reduce the burden of the millions of women who spend 200 million hours every day finding, fetching and carrying water and to free up their time. After successfully piloting two Sunlight Water Centres in Nigeria in 2014, in partnership with Oxfam, where women can safely get clean water, wash their clothes and dishes, and buy affordable everyday products without walking long distances, Sunlight plans to scale this up in 2015.

Unilever also reported promising progress in terms of decreasing the impacts of its operations. While the company confirmed that it is on track to meet most of its Sustainable Living Plan goals, set in 2010, greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 4 percent across its value chain since then. While disappointing, underlying sales growth of 21 percent over the same period shows Unilever has begun to decouple its environmental footprint from its sales growth.

Unilever also reports substantial progress throughout its supply chains. More than 55 percent of its agricultural raw materials are now reportedly sustainably sourced, more than halfway to its 100 percent 2020 target. Unilever also recently reached its target of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across its factory network, and is making significant reductions in CO2 from energy and water in manufacturing, reducing them by 37 percent and 32 percent per tonne of production, respectively, since 2008.

The company says it is also nearly 40 percent of the way (397 million) to reaching its goal of improving the health and wellbeing of over one billion people by 2020; Unilever reports that it has enhanced the livelihoods of over one million people so far, through training 800,000 smallholder farmers since 2010 and providing 238,000 women with access to training, support and skills.


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