Unilever reports strong growth for 'sustainable living' brands

Unilever reports strong growth for 'sustainable living' brands

unilever sustainable consumer products
Can a consumer products giant ever really be sustainable? Unilever thinks so.

Unilever's designated "sustainable living" brands delivered almost half of the consumer goods giant's growth in the last year, it revealed yesterday.

Defined by the firm as brands which have "integrated sustainability into both their purpose and products" and including high profile names such as Knorr, Dove, Lipton, Hellman's and Dirt is Good, Unilever's "sustainable living" brands grew 30 percent faster than the rest of the business, the company said.

The firm revealed the positive results in its fifth annual report on progress towards its 2010 Sustainable Living Plan, which aimed to show that sustainability is "no longer a niche issue" for consumers and that "putting sustainable living at the heart of our brands" is helping to increase sales.

The report confirmed Unilever's "sustainable living" brands grew faster than last year and also included a new survey by the company, which found 54 percent of consumers "want to buy more sustainably."

In addition, the report provided an update on the company's progress towards its sustainability goals, which include targets to halve the environmental footprint of its products, source 100 percent renewable energy and secure "carbon positive" status for its own operations. 

The report said that by May 2015 Unilever's manufacturing network had achieved an annual saving of 1 million tonnes of CO2 compared to a 2008 baseline. It added that in total, CO2 savings from energy per tonne of production have fallen by 39 percent since 2008, and the firm claims to have avoided $370 million in costs by using less energy.

Unilever also said it sourced 60 percent of its agricultural raw materials sustainably, including all the tea for its Lipton tea bag blends. And, as announced earlier this year, all palm oil bought for the firm's European and Australian food businesses is traceable to certified plantations.

On waste, the company reiterated it has achieved zero waste status at more than 600 Unilever sites across 70 countries, helping to avoid costs of around $280 million since 2008. Since that date overall, total waste sent for disposal has also fallen by 97 percent per ton of production, the report said. 

However, the report stated that cutting the environmental impact from people using Unilever products after being purchased "remains a challenge," with the greenhouse gas impact of products across the lifecycle continuing to edge up with a 6 percent increase since 2010.

And, against a target of halving the water associated with consumer use of Unilever products by 2030, the company has only seen a 1 percent reduction since 2010.

According to Unilever, changing consumer behavior is dependent to a large extent on wider infrastructure changes. For example, it said customers ability to recycle is influenced by "having the right infrastructure in place to ensure materials are recovered and re-used."

The findings comes as sustainability specialists from Unilever as well as NGOs, academia and business gather in London this week to discuss collective action towards achieving the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals.

"Business can play a leadership role in disrupting markets in support of sustainable living — and they will be rewarded by consumers who are also seeking responsibility and meaning as well as high quality products at the right price," said Paul Polman, Unilever CEO. "There is no trade-off between business and sustainability. It is creating real value for Unilever."

Anyone doubting that need only look at how Unilever's greenest brands are outperforming the rest of the business.

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