Unilever calls on its brands to become ‘green leaders’ for social change

Unilever is drawing up a series of "sustainability ambitions" for each of its brands to help drive social change on a global scale, the company's chief sustainability officer Gail Klintworth has revealed.

Unilever, which makes and sells products under more than 400 brand names worldwide, is intent on accelerating the integration of sustainability into its brand portfolio.

According to Klintworth, this will not only help with brand positioning but could potentially trigger a movement in which brands take up the baton for social change.

“While very few brands will have a full-blown ‘social mission’ … we do expect all our brands to identify how they will contribute to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan through concrete action plans,” she said.

Examples of this include Magnum ice cream, which is sourcing its cocoa through the Rainforest Alliance certification, Knorr driving sustainable agriculture through its Sustainability Partnership programme, and Domestos providing basic sanitation through its Toilet Academy and initiatives like World Toilet Day.

To help achieve buy-in and integration of sustainability principles across its product portfolio, Unilever is using an imprint modelling system which gives a 360-degree view of the social, environmental and economic impacts of each brand.

“We are now applying the methodology to help brands make a sustainable business contribution in line with an aspect of their positioning,” Klintworth said.

“We want to make sure that our Unilever Sustainable Living plan has a lasting effect on livelihood improvement.”

She added that the company was now actively shifting from looking predominantly at avoiding environmental ‘negatives’ to enabling positive social impact.

“To understand our full impact on the environment, we wanted to measure the most significant environmental impacts of our product portfolio across the lifecycle.

“This includes multiple steps, from how we source our raw materials to how our consumers use our products and dispose packaging. By significant, we mean impacts most relevant to our business and to society,” she explained.

Unilever has since developed metrics for the following priority impact areas: greenhouse gas emissions which cover the full lifecycle; water used by consumers in countries where water scarcity is an increasing problem; waste which covers product leftovers and packaging that goes to landfill.

Klintworth was responding to questions from Unilever’s recent #SustLiving Twitter chat held last month.

Maxine Perella

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