LONDON, United Kingdom — Unilever, following on the heels of similar long-term targets set by rival Procter & Gamble, aims to double sales while cutting the water, waste and carbon impacts of its products by 2020.
The company's new "Sustainable Living Plan," developed over the course of the last 12 months, and unveiled around the globe today, focuses on Unilever's entire supply chain, from the farms that supply raw materials for its products to the emissions and waste generated by customer use of those products.
Unilever made the announcement at an event early this morning that also addressed the question "Can consumption become sustainable?"; the British newspaper The Guardian published early details of the company's environmental commitments.
"More than two-thirds of greenhouse emissions and half the water in Unilever products' lifecycle come from consumer use," The Guardian quotes the company as announcing, "so this is a commitment on an unprecedented scale."
Among the targets Unilever has set:
• Sourcing 100 percent of agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2015, including 100 percent sustainable palm oil. Unilever buys 3 percent of the world's annual supply of palm oil.
• Change the hygiene habits of 1 billion people in Asia, Africa and Latin America to help reduce diarrhea -- the word's second biggest cause of infant mortality. Unilever will push sales of its Lifebuoy soap brand and teach consumers when to wash their hands to achieve this aim.
• Make drinking water safer in developing countries by extending sales of its Pureit home water purifier.
• Improve standards of living by working with agencies such as Oxfam and the Rainforest Alliance to link 500,000 smallholders and small-scale distributors to the Unilever supply chain.
Also included in the initiative, according to The Guardian: "[Unilever] also intends to improve the nutritional quality of its food products -- with cuts in salt, saturated fats, sugar and calories -- and link more than 500,000 smallholder farmers and small scale distributors in developing countries to its supply chain."
The company is no stranger to environmental initiatives, of course; today's announcement simply lays out long-term and corporate-wide targets that set a high bar for success. Earlier this year, Unilever announced a plan to use 100 percent sustainably sourced paper for packaging by 2020, and the company has ranked at the top of its sector for sustainability in separate rankings developed by Two Tomorrows and Climate Counts.
Today's news from Unilever follows similar big-picture commitments from other top-level consumer-goods companies: At the end of September, Procter & Gamble set a number of 10-year sustainability goals, including the use of 100 percent renewable energy and 100 percent renewable or recycled materials for packaging. And last month, Walmart -- which has long had an overarching sustainability goal -- set new goals for supporting sustainable agriculture through its operations.
Photo CC-licensed by Sean MacEntee.