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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.

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