It is with transparency in mind that we share how we are progressing with our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), the foundation on which we create trust across every aspect of our value chain.
The shows we are on track to achieve around 80% of our targets and is more transparent than ever on where the main challenges lie. It also outlines where we can share our experiences to support and improve the sustainable business journeys of others.
Consumers want sustainable brands
There is strong evidence that consumer demand for sustainable brands is growing. Our own research shows that 54% of consumers want to buy sustainably and one-third of them are already doing so. This is a big opportunity, and we want to ensure that our brands are at the forefront of it.
One way we have been doing this over recent years is through our sustainable living brands. These combine a strong social or environmental purpose, with products that contribute to achieving the USLP goals. We now have 26 sustainable living brands, up from our 2016 figure of 18, spanning all our Divisions. New entrants for this year are Vaseline, Sunlight, Sunsilk and Wall’s.
In 2017, they grew 46% faster than the rest of the business and delivered 70% of our turnover growth. Over the last four years, they have continuously outperformed our average rate of growth.
New businesses, brands and innovations
We’re also shaping and building our portfolio through new businesses joining Unilever, which are aligned with our sustainable living values. Just some of our new brands from the last 12 months or so which fit this profile include Pukka tea, Seventh Generation, Mãe Terra and Sundial.
And we’re not just acquiring, but growing our own as well, creating new brands with sustainability designed in at the core. For example, the vegan-friendly Love Beauty Planet personal care range which uses natural ingredients and recycled packaging, and the Red Red gluten-free and vegan snack pots which were launched in the UK earlier this year.
Plus of course, we’re bringing our core brands to more people every day, including much-loved favourites and new innovations. For example, in the last year, Domestos has launched a number of innovations to tackle sanitation and water scarcity issues including a new, affordable toilet cleaning powder format in India and its ‘Flush Less’ spray in South Africa.
601m people had been reached through our programmes on handwashing, sanitation, oral health, self-esteem and safe drinking water, by the end of 2017.
109 of our manufacturing sites across 36 countries were using 100% renewable grid electricity, accounting for 65% of total grid electricity consumption, by the end of 2017.
56% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced, by the end of 2017.
Our USLP progress in 2017
The good news is that after seven years of progress we have already achieved, or are on track to deliver, around 80% of our targets.
We are on track to meet our ambitious target to double the proportion of our portfolio that meets the highest nutrition standards by 2020. So far, 39% by volume already meets these standards. We are reformulating in all our product categories and have made significant progress on reducing salt, saturated fat, calories and sugar. For example, 70% of markets where we sell regular ice creams now have mini versions. In 2017, we launched Mini Magnums in India and Mini Cornettos in Brazil.
In terms of health and hygiene, we had reached more than 600 million people through our programmes on handwashing, sanitation, oral health, self-esteem and safe drinking water by the end of 2017. One brand that has made a remarkable impact is Dove, with its focus on better body confidence. We have reached 29 million young people already and are on track for 40 million by 2020.
When it comes to our own footprint, we have made good progress in almost all areas. For example, since 2008, we have cut CO₂ from energy in our manufacturing by 47%, reduced water use by 39% and the total waste sent for disposal has reached 98%. We have also made strides in our extended supply chain. For instance, by the end of 2017, 56% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced.
Reducing the environmental impact of how consumers use our products continues to be a challenge. For example, we have only managed to reduce water use by 2% since 2010. But it’s not all bad news. We are seeing encouraging progress on packaging waste, where we have made a new commitment to ensure that our plastic packaging will be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
In 2017 we relaunched our Responsible Sourcing Policy, to strengthen our approach and to drive an increase in the number of suppliers committing to the programme. Around 55% of procurement spend was through suppliers who met mandatory requirements of the Policy. Our ambition is 100% by 2020.
We believe that women's empowerment is the single greatest enabler of human development and economic growth. We are building a gender-balanced organisation: by the end of 2017, 47% of total management were women, up from 46% in 2016. Our Shakti programme is providing work for over 70,000 women in low-income rural communities. In 2017, we also enabled 1.2 million women to access initiatives aiming to promote their safety, develop their skills and expand their opportunities.
And in terms of creating a more inclusive business, in 2017 we enabled around 716,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives aimed at improving their agricultural practices or increasing their incomes. We also supported 1.6 million small-scale retailers to improve their income.
Photo by Son Ng-Hoang, Unilever employee, Vietnam
70% Proportion of our overall turnover growth delivered by sustainable living brands
A lot has changed in the world since we launched the USLP in 2010. As we started to think about its evolution, we wanted to get the opinions of employees and external stakeholders on what we are doing and where we should go from here. So, we embarked on the biggest listening exercise we have ever conducted on the future of sustainable business in Unilever.
As well as interviewing experts from across our value chain – including investors, suppliers, customers, creative agencies, other businesses, thought leaders, NGOs and academics – we also asked employees around the world to complete a survey to identify the issues that matter most to them.
The responses showed that the USLP has become a great source of pride and motivation within the business, and the key reason why many employees joined the company. At the same time, we were humbled to hear that the USLP is held in high esteem externally.
But not surprisingly, with this positivity comes a high level of expectation. As one external interviewee said: “Unilever is in an uncomfortable position. Expectations will be higher than ever. It raises the bar for everybody inside Unilever trying to work out what needs to happen next.”
The aim of this project was to gain a deep understanding of how to evolve the USLP for the future based on the views of our own people as well as independent experts in the field of sustainable business. We will now take all this rich feedback and work through the next stages of the process. We’ll regularly post updates on our progress, so please pop back soon to see how we’re doing.
Top photo by Muhammad Taha, Unilever employee, Pakistan