Unilever Sustainability Report: Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing Doubles
Unilever doubled the amount of the palm oil it draws from sustainable sources last year, but made little progress on greenhouse gases, waste and water use, according to the company’s 2011 Sustainable Living Plan Progress Report.
In 2010, 14 percent of Unilever’s agricultural raw materials were sourced sustainably. This increased to 24 percent at the end of 2011. The company is targeting 30 percent in 2012, 50 percent in 2015 and 100 percent in 2020.
Unilever is focusing on its top ten agricultural raw materials, which together account for around two-thirds of its materials by volume, and has set individual goals for each product. These ten are palm oil; paper and board; soy; sugar; tea; fruit and vegetables; sunflower oil; rapeseed oil; dairy ingredients; and cocoa, the report says.
In 2011 the company purchased 64 percent of its palm oil – the company’s number one raw material by volume – from sustainable sources, compared to 37 percent in 2010. By 2015 the company hopes to source all of its palm oil sustainably, but it is currently on track to achieve this goal in 2012, according to an interview with Unilever boss Paul Polman in The Guardian. Most of the company’s 2011 sustainable palm oil came through Green Palm certificates – an initiative aimed at supporting sustainable palm oil production.
The company is on track to meet all of its sustainable sourcing goals except one. Unilever has fallen behind in its goal for sustainably sourcing sunflower oil. In 2011 the company investigated pilot projects for sourcing the product sustainably but made less progress than anticipated, the report says.
The company has an overall goal to halve the greenhouse gas impacts (see charts) of its products across their lifecycles by 2020 against a 2008 baseline. While Unilever is broadly on target to meet its smaller greenhouse gas goals focused on individual products – eight of its nine targets are on plan – progress from 2010 to 2011 has more or less flatlined, the report says.
However, progress has been made against the 2008 baseline. In 2011, Unilever produced 601,500 fewer metric tons of CO2 from energy use in manufacturing than in 2008. This represents a reduction of 20 percent per metric ton over that time period, the report says. At the end of 2011 renewable energy contributed 20 percent of the company’s total energy use.
The company’s water use goals tell a similar story. Unilever has an overall goal to halve the water use associated with the consumer use of its products by 2020 against a 2008 baseline. The firm is investing in an automated process to measure its water use progress. Interim results from 2010 data shows that its water footprint remained “broadly unchanged” over the course of 2011.
Unilever is on target to meet three of its six water use targets. The company remains on target to meet goals on water abstraction in manufacturing, which it aims to have at 2008 levels by 2020, representing a 78 percent reduction per ton of product.
But it is falling behind on goals aimed at reducing the water required by laundry use. Unilever says that reductions in water use from doing laundry, showering and washing hair are the target that matters most.
By 2020 the company plans to halve the waste associated with the disposal of its products against a 2008 baseline. Again, it is still working on an automated system to measure waste levels, but interim data shows basically unchanged levels from 2010 to 2011. Of its eight smaller waste goals, seven are on track, and one is not on plan.
The company is on track to reduce the weight of its packaging by a third by 2020 compared to 2008. But it is falling behind on its aim to increase consumer use of refills.
In an interview to mark the launch of the report, Paul Polman told The Guardian that he doesn’t believe that it is his company’s role to put shareholders first, and that Unilever’s primary focus should be on “improving the lives of the world’s citizens” and coming up with sustainable business solutions. Polman questions the logic in investing in a company that is out of touch with the needs of society, and says that instead of being beholden to the demands of existing shareholders, it is more important for a company to have the right shareholders.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Unilever doubled the amount of agricultural products that it sourced sustainably. In actuality, the “doubling” refers only to the amount of sustainable palm oil. We regret the error.
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