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Unilever Sustainability Report: GHGs Down 16% in One Year

Unilever’s greenhouse gas intensity fell 16 percent over the course of 2012, from 118.31 to 99.97 kg per metric ton of production, according to the company’s latest Sustainable Living Plan progress report.

The manufacturer of Dove, Knorr, Lipton and other household brands also revealed that its waste intensity fell 22 percent in that time, from 4.96 to 3.85 kg per metric ton of production, and water intensity fell 7 percent, from 2.4 to 2.23 cubic meters per metric ton of production.

Report overview

The company’s commitments and progress do impress in many ways. But given Unilever’s prominence as a sustainability leader, it’s surprising the report itself is not more thorough. There are few data tables to allow comparisons between years. There is also a major reporting flaw that make comparisons difficult. The company’s environmental targets are expressed against a 2008 baseline, but it says that of April 2013, “our new automated system only allows us to compare our footprint to 2010 rather than to our original 2008 baseline.” That seems like a serious oversight.

On the other hand, the company doesn’t appear to gloss over its failings. Unilever admits that it is not living up to its expectations on GHG impacts from customer use of soaps, shampoos and shower gels – the biggest carbon impact from those products – and devotes a surprising amount of space to discussing how it might address the problem.

Sustainable sourcing

The company made waves in 2010 with its Sustainable Living Plan, setting a target to double its business while halving the environmental footprint of its products across the value chain, and sourcing 100 percent of agricultural raw materials sustainably, all by 2020.

It says that two years in, it can report solid progress on the sustainable sourcing goal.

Earlier this month, Unilever announced that 36 percent its agricultural raw materials are being sourced sustainably, meaning it exceeds the interim milestone of 30 percent it set itself in 2010.

The company now sources 100 percent of palm oil from sustainable sources, certified by GreenPalm, up from 64 percent in 2011. It is aiming to make 100 percent of its palm oil traceable back to the plantation. Unilever also says it’s made progress in sustainable sourcing of sugar, cocoa, vegetables and sunflower oil, and has helped to train 450,000 tea farmers in sustainable practices, of whom over 300,000 have achieved Rainforest Alliance certification.

The company says it is on-plan for every individual sustainable sourcing target except one: it had aimed to use only Fairtrade ingredients in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. But Unilever says it found that some Fairtrade ingredients are not available or do not meet its specifications, so it has changed the target to Fairtrade certification for 100 percent of Ben & Jerry’s flavors by end of 2013. 

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