Noted sustainability leader Unilever is spearheading a movement for industrial waste reduction.
Last week the CPG giant hosted an event in partnership with 2Degrees, bringing together over 100 representatives from academia, NGOs and companies, including Mars, GSK, Coca-Cola Enterprises and Sainsbury’s. Entitled “The zero waste mindset — new ways of thinking to deliver transformational change,” the event created an open discussion on moving companies to zero waste.
It also enabled Unilever to share lessons from its recent achievement of sending zero hazardous waste to landfill across all global factories earlier this year. This accomplishment included over 240 industrial sites across 67 countries, and is believed to be the first at this scale. Unilever brands Dove, Magnum, Knorr and Domestos have now completely eliminated landfill waste. Additionally, Unilever announced in March its achievement of 100 percent zero waste to landfill at all dedicated distribution centers in North America.
Speakers at the event included Unilever’s Chief Supply Chain Officer, Pier Luigi Sigismondi; mountaineer Dave Bunting MBE, on the power of disruptive thinking; and Holcim CEO Bernard Fontana, on the power of partnerships.
Sigismondi emphasized that further action is needed to achieve substantive systemic change in companies’ waste disposal.
"The scale of the problem is clear and although we are very pleased with our achievement, we realize it is a drop in the ocean. The real change is yet to come,” he said. “We know from our experience of delivering zero waste to landfill in our factories that we will not succeed in driving systematic change unless we can find ways to first of all personally connect with the issue and then commit to doing more and doing it quickly."
Unilever fosters a collaborative approach to its waste-reduction goals, including:
- A partnership with Sonoco, one of Unilever's key suppliers for bottles and a provider of waste-management services in North America. The two companies exchange best practices, such as waste avoidance and treatment methods. Sonoco also provides Unilever with reusable packaging for the Country Crock brand in the U.S.
- Working with Holcim, the global building materials company, to use waste from the manufacturing process in its cement. Instead of relying solely on fossil fuels to generate electricity for its operations, Holcim now uses Unilever’s residual waste as a cleaner alternative fuel.
- Composting in Mangalore, India, to grow vegetables such as pumpkins, green chilies and lemons for the community.
Unilever’s innovations in waste reduction add to the progress it has made on its 2010 Sustainable Living Plan, which aims to double the company’s size while reducing its environmental impact by 2020. Over 55 percent of its agricultural raw materials are now reportedly sustainably sourced, more than halfway to its 100 percent 2020 target. The company also reports it is nearly 40 percent of the way to reaching its goal of improving the health and wellbeing of over one billion people by 2020; it has trained 800,000 smallholder farmers since 2010 and provided 238,000 women with access to training, support and skills.
And the breadth of Unilever’s sustainability achievements is paying off; Unilever announced last month that its ‘sustainable living brands,’ including Dove, LifeBuoy, Ben & Jerry’s and Comfort, are growing twice as fast as its other brands.