Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan drives business growth

The business case for sustainability couldn't be clearer: Unilever's 'Sustainable Living' brands accounted for half of the company's growth in 2014 and grew at twice the rate of the rest of the business, chief executive Paul Polman has revealed.

Four years into the group’s ambitious Sustainable Living Plan – a 10-year commitment to double the size of the business while reducing its absolute environmental impact – Unilever is on track to meet most of its green goals and has successfully started to decouple its environmental footprint from its underlying sales growth.

Brands that have led the way Sustainable Living such as Dove, Lifebuoy, Ben & Jerry’s and Comfort are achieving above-average growth, with high single and double-digit sales over the past three years.

Green growth 

Polman, who initiated the firm’s ground-breaking sustainability plan in 2010, said: “In a volatile world of growing social inequality, rising population, development challenges and climate change, the need for businesses to adapt is clear, as are the benefits and opportunities. This calls for a transformational approach across the whole value chain if we are to continue to grow.

“Consumers are recognising this too, increasingly demanding responsible business and responsible brands. Our experience is that brands whose purpose and products respond to that demand – ‘sustainable living brands’ – are delivering stronger and faster growth. These brands accounted for half the company’s growth in 2014 and grew at twice the rate of the rest of the business.”


The four-year review of the Sustainable Living Plan confirmed promising progress in all areas: –

More than 55% of Unilever’s agricultural raw materials are now sustainably sourced, more than half way to the 2020 target of 100%.
The group has achieved its target of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across its factory network.
It is making significant reductions in CO2 from energy and water in manufacturing, reducing them by 37% and 32% per tonne of production respectively since 2008.
Against the ambitious target to help improve the health and well-being of more than a billion people by 2020, Unilever is nearly 40% of the way (397 million) to reaching it.
The company has enhanced the livelihoods of over 1 million people so far, having helped and trained 800,000 smallholder farmers since 2010 and provided 238,000 women with access to training, support and skills.
Last year, Unilever championed the UN Declaration on Forests, in which over 170 governments, NGOs and multinational companies agreed to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030.

Sustainable investments 

Unilever also revealed the financial benefits of eco-efficiency measures: the group has made cumulative cost avoidance of over €400m in its factories since 2008, and made more than €200m of savings last year alone through manufacturing, logistics, material efficiencies and research and development which can be attributed to the Sustainable Living Plan.

The company added that the business case also now extends to the investment community, which is becoming increasingly aware of the risks and opportunities of managing in a new economic ecosystem where the interdependencies are more complex and unpredictable. “This is evidenced by the growing number of institutions moving capital into businesses that will help realise a low-carbon future,” reads the review.

Last week edie reported that Unilever had yet again reaffirmed its commitment to sustainability, this time going beyond its own business practice by partnering with two global sustainability campaigns – Global Citizen and Live Earth. 

Luke Nicholls

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