Unilever launches €1 billion sustainable sourcing drive

Unilever sets out new actions to fight climate change, and protect and regenerate nature, to preserve resources for future generations

Unilever has set out a new range of measures and commitments designed to improve the health of the planet by taking even more decisive action to fight climate change, and protect and regenerate nature, to preserve resources for future generations. Unilever will achieve Net Zero emissions from all our products by 2039. We will also empower, and work with, a new generation of farmers and smallholders, driving programmes to protect and restore forests, soil and biodiversity; and we will work with governments and other organisations to improve access to water for communities in water-stressed areas.

To accelerate action, Unilever’s brands will collectively invest €1 billion in a new dedicated Climate & Nature Fund. This will be used over the next ten years to take meaningful and decisive action, with projects likely to include landscape restoration, reforestation, carbon sequestration, wildlife protection and water preservation. The new initiatives will build on the great work that is already underway, such as Ben & Jerry’s initiative to reduce GHG emissions from dairy farms; Seventh Generation helping Native American nations to access renewable energy; and Knorr supporting farmers to grow food more sustainably.

Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, explains: “While the world is dealing with the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and grappling with serious issues of inequality, we can’t let ourselves forget that the climate crisis is still a threat to all of us. Climate change, nature degradation, biodiversity depletion, water scarcity – all these issues are interconnected, and we must address them all simultaneously. In doing so, we must also recognise that the climate crisis is not only an environmental emergency; it also has a terrible impact on lives and livelihoods. We, therefore, have a responsibility to help tackle the crisis: as a business, and through direct action by our brands.”

Fighting the climate crisis

Our existing science-based targets are: to have no carbon emissions from our own operations, and to halve the GHG footprint of our products across the value chain, by 2030. In response to the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, we are today additionally committing to net zero emissions from all our products by 2039 – from the sourcing of the materials we use, up to the point of sale of our products in the store.

To achieve this goal 11 years ahead of the 2050 Paris Agreement deadline, we must work jointly with our partners across our value chain, to collectively drive lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. We will, therefore, prioritise building partnerships with our suppliers who have set and committed to their own science-based targets.

We believe that transparency about carbon footprint will be an accelerator in the global race to zero emissions, and it is our ambition to communicate the carbon footprint of every product we sell. To do this, we will set up a system for our suppliers to declare, on each invoice, the carbon footprint of the goods and services provided; and we will create partnerships with other businesses and organisations to standardise data collection, sharing and communication.

Protecting and regenerating nature

Unilever has been leading the industry on sustainable sourcing practices for over a decade, and we are proud that 97% of our forest-related commodities are certified as sustainably sourced to globally recognised standards. However, to end deforestation, we must challenge ourselves to even higher standards. This means that we need to have visibility on exact sourcing locations, and no longer rely on the mass balance system, which does not allow for accurate verification of deforestation-free when sourcing derivatives of our commodities.

We will achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023. To do this, we will increase traceability and transparency by using emerging digital technologies – such as satellite monitoring, geolocation tracking and blockchain – accelerating smallholder inclusion, changing our approach to derivates sourcing, and making significant additional investment in derivative fractioning facilities.

We are also committed to working with the industry, NGOs and governments, to look beyond forests, peatlands and tropical rainforests, and to protect other important areas of high conservation value and high carbon stock which are under threat of conversion to arable land, with potentially devastating impact on the natural habitats.

In addition to continuing to drive sustainable sourcing and an end to deforestation, Unilever is setting out to help regenerate nature: increasing local biodiversity, restoring soil health, and preserving water conservation and access. To do this, we will empower a new generation of farmers and smallholders who are committed to protecting and regenerating their farm environment. Initiatives that we will drive include securing legal land rights, access to finance and financial inclusion, and development of restorative practices. This integrated approach will improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and give them leverage to drive the regeneration of nature.

Unilever is also introducing a pioneering Regenerative Agriculture Code for all our suppliers. The new code will build on our existing Sustainable Agriculture Code, which is widely recognised as being best-in-class in the industry, and it will include details on farming practices that help rebuild critical resources. As we have done in the past, we will make the Regenerative Agriculture Code available to any organisation that may find it useful – with the goal of driving change throughout the industry.

Unilever will also step up direct efforts to preserve water. Already, 40% of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity, and more than 2.1 billion people consume unsafe drinking water.1 We will implement water stewardship programmes for local communities in 100 locations by 2030. To do this, we will take the learnings from our Prabhat programme in India, which tackles water quality and supply risks around our factories. This programme takes a community approach to water management, and not only helps farmers across cropping seasons, but also addresses the basic human need for adequate and easy access to water. We will build a model for this water stewardship programme, and partner with key suppliers for them to also run similar programmes.

Unilever will also join the 2030 Water Resources Group, a multi-stakeholder platform hosted by the World Bank, to contribute to transformative change and building resilience in water management in key water-stressed markets, such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia.

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