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Unilever introduces Sustainable Living Plan

Plan launched to help Unilever grow while ensuring growth does not come at the expense of world’s diminishing natural resources.

Global consumer goods company Unilever has announced plans to decouple future growth from environmental impact. Among its goals are plans to reduce by half the environmental footprint of its products; help 1 billion people improve their health and wellbeing; and source 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably.

At the launch of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, announced simultaneously in London, Rotterdam, New Delhi, and New York, CEO Paul Polman explained: “We have ambitious plans to grow the company. But growth at any price is not viable. We have to develop new ways of doing business which will ensure that our growth does not come at the expense of the world’s diminishing natural resources.”

He also announced plans to help more than 1 billion people take action to improve their health and wellbeing, mostly in developing countries, over the next 10 years.

The Sustainable Living Plan sets out more than 50 social, economic, and environmental targets. It will see Unilever, whose global brands include Dove, Omo, Knorr, and Lipton, halve the greenhouse gas emissions, water, and waste used not just by the company in its direct operations, but also by its suppliers and consumers.

Over two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions and half the water used in Unilever products’ life cycle come from consumer use, so this is a major commitment on an unprecedented scale.

“People tell us they want to reduce their environmental impact but find it hard to change their behavior and don’t know how they can make a difference,” explained Paul Polman. “By halving the total carbon, water, and waste impact of our products, primarily through innovation in the way we source, make, and package them, we can help people make a small difference every time they use them. As our products are used 2 billion times a day in nearly every country in the world, our consumers’ small actions add up to make a big difference.”

Other key goals Unilever plans to achieve by or before 2020 include:
• Sourcing 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably including, by 2015, 100% sustainable palm oil

• Changing the hygiene habits of 1 billion people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America so that they wash their hands with Lifebuoy soap at key times during the day - helping to reduce diarrheal disease, the world’s second biggest cause of infant mortality

• Making safe drinking water available to half a billion people by extending sales of its low-cost in-home water purifier, Pureit, from India to other countries

• Improving livelihoods in developing countries by working with Oxfam, Rainforest Alliance, and others to link more than 500,000 smallholder farmers and small-scale distributors into its supply chain.

Commenting that Unilever wants to be sustainable ‘in every sense of the word’, Polman said: “There are billions of people who want the improvements to their health and wellbeing that everyday products like ours provide and who want to live sustainably. Our aim is to help people in developing countries improve their quality of life without a big increase in their environmental impacts, and to help those in developed markets maintain a good standard of living while reducing theirs.”

Polman says he sees no conflict between Unilever achieving its sustainability goals and growing its business. “We are already finding that tackling sustainability challenges provides new opportunities for sustainable growth: it creates preference for our brands, builds business with our retail customers, drives our innovation, grows our markets and, in many cases, generates cost savings,” he said.

Polman emphasized that Unilever does not have all the answers and that the company will need to work in partnership with customers, suppliers, governments, and NGOs if it is to achieve its goals.

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