Sustainability Timeline

Our commitment to responsible business practice goes back over 100 years.

A longstanding commitment

Our founders William Hesketh Lever and Samuel van den Bergh did not just create some of the world's first consumer brands; they also built a business with strong values and a mission to act as agents of social change. Today, we continue on this journey, keeping our values and principles at the heart of everything we do.

Some Key Highlights



  • Lifebuoy’s hygiene behaviour change programmes helped 183 million people improve their handwashing habits

  • 31% of our portfolio met the highest nutritional standards, based on globally recognised dietary guidelines

  • 48% of our agricultural raw materials were sourced sustainably

  • Continued to achieve wider industry take up of our sustainable sourcing. For example, the whole of the Australian dairy industry adopted our Sustainable Agriculture Code

  • Created North America’s first sustainable soy market, covering 44,000 acres

  • 75% of our manufacturing sites no longer send any non-hazardous waste to landfill at all - a total of 186 manufacturing sites in 38 countries

  • Expanded the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan with new commitments on Enhancing Livelihoods: to drive fairness in the workplace; to advance opportunities for women; and, to develop inclusive business

  • 65,000 Shakti entrepreneurs were recruited, trained and employed by the end of 2013

  • Launched Project Sunlight, a new initiative to motivate millions of people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles

  • The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, which we were instrumental in setting up in 2012 and which aims to eliminate the tropical deforestation associated with sourcing commodities such as palm oil, soy, beef, paper and pulp by 2020, held its first meeting in 2013

  • Sector leader in CDP’s Forests Programme

  • Second overall in the first Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) Global Index 2013, with top rankings for undernutrition and also the Products, Lifestyles and Engagement categories



  • Lifebuoy reached five times as many people (71 million) as in 2010 with handwashing behaviour change programmes

  • All sites in USA, Canada and Europe purchased electricity from certified renewable sources

  • 36% of agricultural raw materials sustainably sourced

  • 100% of palm oil purchased from sustainable sources

  • 48,000 ‘Shakti ammas’ entrepreneurs

  • 81% of our children’s ice creams had 110kcals or fewer per portion

  • Waste disposed from manufacturing sites halved compared to 2008 in absolute terms and per tonne of production

  • Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes - named sustainability leader of Food and Beverage super-sector and also Food Producers sector for the 14th consecutive year

  • Awarded 29th Annual Gold Medal for International Corporate Achievement in Sustainable Development from the World Environment Center (WEC)

  • Joined Carbon Disclosure Project’s Performance Leadership Index



  • 24% of agricultural raw materials sustainably sourced

  • 64% of our palm oil sourced sustainably

  • 48 million people reached with Lifebuoy soap handwashing programmes

  • 100% of our electricity purchased in Europe now from renewable sources

  • Over 90% of our leading spreads contain less than 1/3 saturated fat

  • 35 million people have gained access to safe drinking water from PureIt since its launch in 2005

  • Unilever Five Levers For Change behaviour change model published to share our experience in consumer behaviour change around health and sustainability

  • Named sustainability leader in the Food Producers sector in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes for the 13th consecutive year

  • Awarded Grand Prix at the International Green Awards in November 2011 for the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan



  • By the end of the year we reached our 2010 target for palm oil by sourcing over 30% of our global needs sustainably. Over 20% of our tea was purchased from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms

  • In November 2010, we launched our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. The Plan contains over 50 targets that will help more than one billion people take action to improve their health and well-being, halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products and source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020

  • In October 2010, Unilever was listed in the top 10% of the CDP FTSE 350 companies

  • Named sustainability sector leader in Dow Jones sustainability index for twelfth consecutive year

  • In July 2010, Unilever was named 'company of the year' by the UK's Business in the Community (BITC) for demonstrating a real depth of understanding on sustainability issues and consumer engagement right across the business and through its brands

  • Launched our sustainable paper and board policy and target in July 2010. This commits us to work with suppliers to source 75% of our paper and board packaging from sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by 2015 and source 100% by 2020

  • In June 2010, Unilever was ranked top of the FTSE carbon strategy index

2009 - 2000


  • Launched ambitious new vision to double the size of our business while reducing our overall environmental impact across the entire value chain
  • Named food industry sector leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Indexes for the 11th year running
  • 15% of the tea we use globally is sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms
  • 15% of our palm oil is now from certified sustainable sources via GreenPalm certificates
  • 44% of products in our food portfolio are in line with internationally accepted guidelines for saturated and trans fat, sugar and salt
  • Launched global 'Brush Day and Night' campaign with FDI World Dental Federation
  • Lifebuoy soap promoted Global Handwashing Day 2009 in 23 countries, reaching millions of people
  • Purchased around 430 000 climate-friendly HC refrigerant ice cream cabinets over the period 2004–2009
  • Reduced the environmental impacts of our manufacturing operations for our three key performance indicators of CO2 from energy, water use and total waste
  • Reached the top third of a reference group of 21 consumer goods companies for total shareholder return
  • Recognised as 'best practice' company in the Natural Value Initiative's Ecosystem Services Benchmark


  • Committed to source all our palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015
  • Purchased first batch of certified sustainable palm oil in November
  • Named food industry category leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Indexes for the tenth year running
  • Around 50% of the tea for Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags in Western Europe was sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms
  • Lifebuoy co-founded the first-ever Global Handwashing Day
  • Lifebuoy's Swasthya Chetna hygiene education campaign reached 120 million people in nearly 51 000 villages in India over the period 2002–2008
  • Signal/Pepsodent/Close Up toothpaste brands reached more than 44 million children in school-based oral hygiene programmes over the period 1996–2008


  • Nutrition Enhancement Programme completed
  • Lipton sustainable tea partnership with Rainforest Alliance launched
  • Independent study on the impacts of our South Africa business completed
  • PROGRESS, a foods sector industry partnership on supplier standards, launched with Unilever as a founding member


  • Brand Imprint methodology piloted
  • Choices nutrition labelling launched
  • Shakti – our rural sales initiative in India – reaches 100 000 villages through 30 000 entrepreneurs
  • Round Table on Responsible Soy Association established


  • Nutrition Enhancement Programme begins
  • 56% of our fish used in Europe from sustainable sources
  • Joint research published with Oxfam on the links between wealth creation and poverty reduction


  • Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil established


  • Business Partner Code introduced (now known as the Unilever Supplier Code)
  • Good Agricultural Practice Guidelines published for all key crops


  • Revised Code of Business Principles rolled out
  • Lifebuoy Swasthya Chetna handwashing campaign launched in India


  • Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Board established
  • Project Shakti launched in India to increase rural distribution and help create women entrepreneurs
  • First social report published

1998 - 1971


  • First agricultural pilot project begins


  • Fish sustainability initiative sets long-term goal of sustainable sourcing
  • Marine Stewardship Council co-founded with WWF
  • First environmental report published containing eco-efficiency indicators


  • Sustainable Agriculture Initiative begins


  • Unilever starts to focus on Foods and Home and Personal Care products


  • Unilever acquires Lipton tea, making it a leading beverages company

1955 - 1884


  • Fish fingers introduced in response to the need for nutritious food appealing to children following post-war food rationing


  • Lifebuoy soap sponsors mobile bath units during the London blitz for people whose houses had been bombed


  • During the Great Depression Unilever produces soap flakes and powders to make washing easier, and also fortifies margarines with vitamins A & D


  • Lever Brothers launches its Clean Hands campaign to educate children about dirt and germs and to encourage them to wash their hands "before breakfast before dinner and after school"
  • Lever Brothers and Margarine Unie join to create Unilever


  • Lever Brothers and Van den Bergh and Jurgens – the forerunners of Unilever – take hygiene and nutrition to the developing world


  • Lever & Co starts producing Sunlight soap with the mission "to make cleanliness commonplace; to lessen the work for women; to foster health and contribute to personal attractiveness that life may be more enjoyable and rewarding for the people who use our products".