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Unilever Sustainably Sourcing 36% of Agricultural Raw Materials

Unilever says it is sourcing more than a third of its agricultural raw materials sustainably, putting the global consumer goods and food company closer to its target of 100 percent by 2020.

With 36 percent now sourced sustainably, Unilever has exceeded the interim milestone of 30 percent it set itself in 2010 when launching its Sustainable Living Plan, which sets a goal for the company to halve its environmental footprint while doubling its size. The company reported annual sales of €51 billion ($65.6 billion) in 2012.

Unilever’s announcement comes in advance of its upcoming Sustainable Living Plan Progress Report, which will be published on Earth Day, April 22.

Half of the raw materials Unilever buys are from the farming and forestry industries; the company says ensuring a secure supply of these materials is a major business issue. Sustainable sourcing also presents a growth opportunity and allows Unilever brands — which include Ben & Jerry’s, Popsicle, Lipton and Ragú, among others — to stand out in the marketplace, Unilever chief procurement officer Marc Engel says.

For example, global cuisine brand Knorr last September launched a soup in France that became the first Unilever product to promote an ingredient (tomatoes) as sustainably grown in accordance with the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code. This was made possible through the Knorr Sustainability Partnership Fund, which uses €1 million ($1.3 million) a year to support vegetable suppliers on sustainable agriculture projects. Unilever says this boosted shelf standout and now Knorr plans to continue to label other products.

Unilever says 43 percent of its cocoa was sourced sustainably by the end of 2012 and 64 percent of cocoa for its Magnum brand was sustainably sourced through Rainforest Alliance certification.

Other examples of Unilever’s sustainable sourcing include:

  • All palm oil is now covered by GreenPalm certificates. Unilever has targeted 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil by 2020. Last year, Unilever joined industry and government officials for the China Sustainable Palm Oil Supply Chain Forum, talks on promoting faster uptake in China, the world’s second-largest consumer of palm oil.
  • Unilever has purchased its first-ever Bonsucro sustainable sugar credits in Brazil, and says it has become the first ever Bonsucro member to obtain these worldwide. Working with Usina Sao Joao, Unilever purchased the first 3,262 tons of Bonsucro sustainable sugar credits in Brazil when the credit platform opened for business in December 2012.
  • A collaboration with Symrise, one of the world’s largest vanilla suppliers, has led to Unilever’s first Rainforest Alliance-certified vanilla beans. Together through the partnership, Symrise has trained more than 1,100 farmers.
  • In South Africa, Unilever has been working with supplier Ceoco to improve traceability in the supply chain. A farming community was identified in Limpopo with good practices that could initially pilot the project. Unilever and Ceoco have since worked with the farmers by providing financial incentives to develop hybrid seeds with higher yields. The oils can then be traced right back to the individual farms where the seeds were grown. The next step will be to scale-up the project and roll it out to different provinces and more farmers.
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