It also unveiled a series of ambitious targets on the nutritional front, including further reducing sugar in ready-to-drink tea, eliminating all trans fats generated from the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil, and setting a maximum ceiling of 110 calories for all kids’ ice creams by 2014.
At the launch of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, chief executive Paul Polman said: “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 part of the plan, Unilever will purchase all of its palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015; all of the paper and board for its packaging from certified sustainably managed forests or recycled material by 2020, all of its soy beans from sustainable sources by 2014 and all the tea in Lipton tea bags from Rainforest Alliance certified estates by 2015.
In areas where international certification standards do not yet exist (eg. fruit and vegetables), Unilever suppliers will be encouraged to adhere to its own Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC), said the firm. “To verify and validate these standards, we have asked suppliers to participate in a self-assessment process.
"Since we have more than 1,000 suppliers, who in turn source from perhaps 50,000 growers, measuring performance is challenging: so we are tracking progress on an innovative software system which we designed for the purpose.”
Sustainable soy: work in progress
Sourcing sustainable soy was a work in progress, added the firm. "Globally, certifying sustainable soy is at an early stage. Unilever was a founding member of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), a group of businesses, suppliers and NGOs established to define the ways in which soy could be grown sustainably.
"The RTRS accepted a set of principles and criteria for sustainable cultivation in 2009, and in 2010 has begun work on commissioning a certification scheme.
"But the RTRS is a voluntary organisation, and not all of our soy producers are members. So we are also engaged with US growers working towards an US industry-wide sustainability declaration in line with the RTRS standard and the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code where possible.
"In the future we may also engage with Brazilian producers, which are currently developing the SojaPlus certification scheme specifically for Brazil."
By 2020 Unilever aims to reduce the weight of its packaging by a third, provide consumers with more refills, increase recycling and recovery rates, develop new technology for recovering energy from sachet waste and eliminate PVC from packaging.
Bosses will also continue to work with partners to achieve its longer-term goal of using 100% sustainable packaging, said the firm.
Water use and greenhouse gas emissions
Water reduction is a key part of the plan, which outlines proposals to slash water use in agriculture, cut water use in the laundry, skin and hair washing process and significantly reduce water use in its manufacturing processes.
Meanwhile, by 2020, carbon dioxide emissions from Unilever’s factories will be “at or below 2008 levels despite significantly higher volumes”, while emissions from its global logistics network would be “at or below 2010 levels despite significantly higher volumes”, added the firm.
Click here for a full breakdown of the plan.