Sustainable paper & board sourcing

Unilever is a significant user of wood fibre-based material. This is purchased from a large number of suppliers and is mainly used for paper and board packaging.

Committed to sustainable sourcing

Unilever has a role to play through our procurement practices in promoting sustainable forest management practices and in helping to put an end to deforestation. Our approach encourages our paper and board packaging suppliers to embrace sustainable sourcing policies and practices and, in turn, to encourage their own suppliers to adopt more sustainable practices.

In 2010 we published a new policy on sustainable paper and board packaging sourcing, which is now incorporated in our Sustainable Living Plan. Through the Plan we are also looking to increase the sustainable sourcing of our office materials – by 2013 we will source all paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries from either certified sustainable forests or recycled sources.

Targets & performance

Sustainable paper and board (M)

  • We will source 75% of the paper and board for our packaging from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by 2015. We will reach 100% by 2020.
  • 63% of our paper and board came from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by end 2012.
  • achieved
  • on-plan
  • off-plan
  • %of target achieved


Of the 63%, 87% comprised recycled fibre and 13% certified virgin fibre.

In our 2011 Progress Report we estimated that 60% of our paper and board came from sustainable sources. Since then, we have made significant improvements to our data collection and reporting processes so that we now have more detailed, auditable data that does not rely on estimates.

In 2012 we rolled out sustainable paper packaging certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for our Knorr wet soups in Europe, and for our AdeS soy drinks in Brazil.

We use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) logos on our products. This reassures our consumers and customers that the virgin wood fibres we use originate from sustainably managed forests. In Europe and the United States, all Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cups are certified via the FSC and all Lipton tea packs in Europe are certified via PEFC. Our Knorr brand is progressively labelling relevant packs, such as those for soups and sauces, with the FSC logo.

Our approach

During 2009 we worked with Rainforest Alliance to review the sustainable sourcing practices of our key suppliers and understand our sourcing challenges and opportunities. We also engaged with key stakeholders and organisations promoting sustainable forest management. This work informed the development of our policy.

Unilever is the first global fast-moving consumer goods company to commit to sustainable paper sourcing on this scale within a clearly defined timeframe.

We will buy paper packaging that comes either from well-managed forests or from recycled material, whichever is best in order to ensure product quality. To achieve our goal, we will work with our suppliers and other stakeholders to:

  • progressively increase our sourcing of virgin paper and board from certified sources with a full chain of custody
  • promote the expansion of forest certification through our purchasing practices.

For paper from virgin sources, we will give preference to supplies delivered through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme. We will also accept other national schemes under the framework of international Forest Management Certification standards, such as the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), provided they comply with our policy’s implementation guidelines.

The logos of acceptable forest management certification schemes have started to appear on our brands’ packaging, helping to increase consumer awareness and promote the expansion of certified forests.

What is virgin paper?

‘Virgin’ or ‘fresh’ fibre’ is fibre extracted from a plant of some sort, the most common being wood fibre from trees.

In some cases, trees are planted in forest areas for the purpose of getting fibres for paper and board production; in other cases, wood comes from timber industries and forest thinning. Typically, fibre used for paper making is from timber that cannot be used for other purposes, eg immature trees removed to let other trees mature (‘thinnings’) and sawmill waste. Once this virgin fibre has been made into paper it can be recycled several times (typically five to seven times).

How do we define recycled?

'Recycling’ means giving material a second life rather than simply disposing of it. The recycled material used for our packaging comes from two main sources. ‘Post-consumer waste’ is packaging which has been used, ie it has served its purpose.

The other source of recycled material is ‘post-industrial’. This is material which for one reason or other was not used directly for the packaging. The most common form of post-industrial waste is ‘clippings’, which is waste generated when packaging is cut to shape. As both post-consumer and post-industrial waste would be disposed of by sending it to landfill if not recycled, we do not differentiate between them.

How do we choose between virgin or recycled paper?

We start by looking at the application and what the packaging is required to do. Where safety regulations demand a virgin material, then the choice is very simple. Where there is a choice it will be the best material for the application and the material that is most readily available, as not all materials are available everywhere. If we have a choice and recycled material is available delivering the performance required, then we will give preference to recycled material.

How are we making it happen?

We are engaging with our paper and board packaging suppliers to discuss our policy requirements, assess their current capabilities and establish a roadmap towards achieving our ambitious targets. As part of this, we arrange seminars in those areas where sustainable sourcing practices are not yet common. The seminars help suppliers learn how to build material origin management systems and sustainable sourcing policies and procedures.

We monitor our suppliers’ progress via self-assessments and progress reports, using a system and software developed for this purpose.

An ongoing part of our work is to equip our procurement managers with the knowledge and understanding of sustainable sourcing. We do this through regular training.

Sourcing our office materials sustainably

We are committed to ensuring that we use paper responsibly in our offices too. However, eliminating paper from the workplace will not always be legally or technically possible, so while we are committed to reducing our use of paper to the minimum, we are also ensuring that the paper we do use originates from sustainable or recycled sources.

Targets & performance

Increasing sustainable sourcing of office materials

  • By 2013 we will source all paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries from either certified sustainable forests or recycled sources.
  • More than 95% of paper-based materials from certified sustainable forests or recycled sources by September 2012.
  • achieved
  • on-plan
  • off-plan
  • %of target achieved


We are making good progress towards our 2013 target and will continue to work closely with our suppliers to ensure the robustness of our reporting process.

We accept both Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification as well as wood that meets national certification standards, provided they are endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and fully comply with the requirements of our detailed policy implementation guidelines.

Since 2009, our contracts with equipment suppliers in Europe have required our printers and copiers to be compatible with recycled paper use. We have extended this requirement to cover all new print contracts for our offices worldwide.