Sustainable Living brands delivered 70% of Unilever’s turnover growth last year

Unilever has continued to prove the business case for sustainability, with the firm's 'Sustainable Living' brands accounting for a record 70% of its turnover growth last year, and growing 46% faster than the rest of the business.

The consumer goods giant’s Sustainable Living division, which aims to integrate sustainability into the group’s products and values, now covers 26 brands including Ben & Jerry’s, Dove and Hellmann’s after 18 big names such as Vaseline and Walls were added in 2017.

The latest results build on Unilever’s performance in 2016, when the Sustainable Living brands contributed to 60% of its growth and grew twice as fast as the rest of the business. Unilever’s chief executive Paul Polman said the company was making “great strides” at the launch of its seventh Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) progress report today (10 May), adding that there is “still much to do”.

“Ever since we launched the USLP in 2010, we have made great strides in meeting many of the ambitious targets we set ourselves and the fact that our sustainable living brands are continuing to deliver growth shows that this is a business model that works,” Polman said.

“We also want to be transparent about how much more there is still to do. This is critical because transparency is what gives our business its most important asset – trust. At a time when there is a crisis of trust in many institutions across the world, there has never been a more important time for business to play a leading role in restoring it.”

Sustainable Living in 2017

The update reveals that Unilever is on track to meet around 80% of its USLP commitments, which aim to decouple its growth from its environmental impact while increasing the company’s positive social impact. The commitments include the company’s flagship target to secure carbon positive status for its own operations by 2030, which it aims to achieve by eliminating coal from its energy mix and securing all electricity it purchases from the grid from renewable sources by 2020.

The Dutch-Anglo firm revealed that by the end of 2017, 109 of its manufacturing sites were using 100% renewable grid electricity, accounting for 65% of total grid electricity consumption across the company, and that of these 109 sites, 15 were carbon neutral. Moreover, energy generated from coal was used at just 12 of its manufacturing sites by the end of the year, down from 16 at the beginning. The firm’s manufacturing operations used 1.1 million GJ of coal-generated energy over the 12-month period.

Unilever’s update additionally noted the cost benefits of improving energy efficiency measures at factories, which enabled it to avoid £490m of cumulative costs since 2008. By the end of 2017, Unilever had reduced the energy used in its factories by 26% per tonne of production against a 2008 baseline.

Figures show that Unilever has also continued to source more than half of its agricultural raw materials sustainably by the end of last year before announcing in February that it would publicly disclose which suppliers and mills it directly and indirectly sources palm oil from.

Unilever this week backed a new UK-led research and innovation hub that aims to tackle plastic waste through innovative solutions. The announcement forms part of Unilever’s overall goal to ensure that 100% of its plastic packaging is fully re-usable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

The company is currently working on a new set of targets and has engaged with more than 40,000 of its employees to prioritise action areas that are important to them. The results will be used to co-create Unilever’s future agenda.

Sarah George 

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