Unilever’s net-zero transition plan backed by more than 99%  of shareholders

Shareholder climate resolution votes are becoming increasingly common in the corporate space

The vote took place at a virtual meeting on Wednesday (5 May), covering votes on Unilever’s ‘Climate Transition Action Plan’ among other proposed changes to business strategy and processes.

The Action Plan was published in full in March and details how Unilever plans to reach updated long-term sustainability commitments including net-zero, fully biodegradable product ingredients and eliminating deforestation.

Included in the plans are measures to help suppliers set approved science-based targets and to adopt the systems, processes and technologies needed to deliver them. For manufacturers and chemicals and ingredients suppliers, the focus will be on renewable electricity, low-carbon heating and cooling and efficient processes. Suppliers in agriculture, meanwhile, will be supported to reduce water and fertiliser consumption, transition to renewably-powered tools and machinery and implement regenerative practices that increase carbon sequestration.

Halving the impact of products, including their supply chain impacts, by 2030, will be the result of these actions.

The plan also details measures to decarbonise hard-to-abate parts of Unilever’s operations, including heating and cooling, and for the business to begin reporting climate risk annually in line with the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures’ (TCFD) guidelines.

This week’s vote on the non-binding plan saw Unilever chief executive Alan Jope telling shareholders that “climate change represents a clear and present danger to [the company’s] value chain” and describing the new plan as “bold and ambitious”.

“We believe that the economy-wide shift to net zero emissions requires a deeper level of engagement between companies and investors,” Jope added.

Shareholders seemed to already be on board; 99.6% of those who cast a vote on the Plan voted in favour of its implementation. Unilever believes the meeting marked the first time a company of its size and sector put a climate transition plan to a shareholder vote.

Week in review

The news comes in the same week that Barclays’ shareholders failed to support a motion that would require the bank to divest from fossil fuels more rapidly as part of its journey to net-zero by 2050. Just 14% of investors present supported the motion.

Other businesses with climate-related shareholder resolutions being put to a vote in the coming weeks include HSBC, Shell, Moddy’s and Aena. 

As for Unilever, the news on the Action Plan comes shortly after the firm joined a new task force exploring ways of making fossil-fuel-based polymers commonly used in health and beauty products more sustainable. Convenes by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the task force also has the backing of Croda, Scott Bader, Crown Paints and Afton Chemical.

Sarah George

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