Unilever Sustainable Development Group
The Unilever Sustainable Development Group (USDG) comprises external experts who provide advice and guidance on the development of our strategy.
The Group’s expertise covers a broad range of environmental, social and economic issues in developed and developing countries. It meets twice a year with our senior leaders to critique our strategy and share insights on sustainability issues and trends. Their perspectives feed into our leadership teams and our Board’s Corporate Responsibility Committee.
The Group’s current members are listed below. They will be joined by new members during the course of 2014.
Jonathon Porritt: Founder Director of Forum for the Future, UK
Malini Mehra: Founder and CEO of the Centre for Social Markets, India
Helio Mattar: President of the Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption, Brazil
Below they express their views on the progress we made in 2013.
Jonathon Porritt on combating climate change
Sustainable development is all about making the connections between ‘the big picture’ (seven billion of us trying to secure better lives on an already stressed-out planet) and how each and every one of us live our lives. Unilever has long been in the vanguard of helping consumers understand those connections.
Take climate change. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan commitment is crystal clear: ‘Halve the greenhouse gas impacts of our products across the lifecycle by 2020’. Unilever’s doing a pretty good job in reducing emissions from its own factories (down roughly a third per tonne of production since 2008), but that’s the (relatively!) easy bit compared to that little phrase ‘across the lifecycle’.
That means taking into account all the emissions from the use of their products by consumers. And here things are not going so well: the greenhouse gas impact per consumer has increased by around 5% since 2010, partly through acquiring new brands, but partly because it is proving really hard connecting with consumers to help change their behaviour.
Unilever’s not giving up on that challenge. But it knows it needs to do even more to help balance that out. Hence the very strong commitment to do everything it can (through the Consumer Goods Forum, the Tropical Forest Alliance and other initiatives) to help put an end to the huge amount of deforestation still caused by agricultural expansion. Forest loss contributes as much as 15% of annual greenhouse gas emissions – about the same as the entire global transportation sector!
For Unilever, this is all about palm oil. The huge growth in the use of palm oil is one of the biggest causes of deforestation. Unilever is already committed to purchasing 100% of the oil it uses from certified sustainable and traceable sources by 2020, but is now working hard with NGOs and some of the biggest palm oil companies in the world to ensure much stronger levels of forest protection on those companies’ plantations. This could be hugely significant. But here again, the real challenge is to get consumers to understand just how important this is. Only connect!
Malini Mehra on Enhancing Livelihoods
When it first came out in 2010, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) was a first in many respects. Few other companies were as bold to declare that sustainability was their blueprint for growth. Or that their efforts would extend across their value chain and seek to influence behaviour change towards sustainability. Or that they would take a lifecycle approach to accounting for greenhouse gas emissions.
This boldness is one of the USLP’s strengths. It can also be a weakness if big words are not matched by action.
But Unilever has shown it is a learning organisation. The USLP is not static. It is a work in progress, subject to continuous improvement. Evolving to meet gaps and challenges.
This year’s USLP is a case in point. It marks the inclusion of important new targets under the Livelihoods pillar of the Plan. Not all of these are new, but pulling them out into three new commitments encompassing fairness in the workplace, opportunities for women, and inclusive business emphasises their importance for the company.
In a post-crisis world where issues of fairness, equitable remuneration, jobs and joblessness – especially for the young – are central socio-economic preoccupations, it is right that Unilever takes a forward view. Issues of workplace safety, advancement and opportunities concern everyone, but it is right that Unilever focuses on the gender deficit and seeks to correct that both internally and externally in its spheres of influence. As a company that breaks moulds, it is right that Unilever seeks to promote more inclusive business models and provides support to young entrepreneurs. By doing all of these right things, Unilever can help ensure that no one – young people, farmers, women, employees – is left behind. In so doing it can also create the support base needed to ensure that the USLP delivers for all.
Helio Mattar on Project Sunlight - Unilever bets on optimism towards a sustainable future
Sustainability is a process in which each person, each community, each company is continuously searching for ways to do good to others.
When deciding to bring a loved one into this world, everyone would love to have a harmonious world, where each and every person can become the best version of himself or herself. Right now, it is only natural to have doubts on whether the present world can offer such a possibility. That is where Project Sunlight comes into being, asking “why bring a child to this world?”, especially when the world seems to be on the brink of collapse.
Unilever bets on optimism, although it recognises the enormous challenges ahead. By implementing actions which other companies would not dare, Unilever bets on reducing harm and doing good and uses every opportunity to mobilise other companies to do the same.
Unilever proposes co-operation as the key to building a harmonious world. That is what its new initiative Project Sunlight proposes: to engage millions of human beings in making everyday choices which impact others in a good way. And to use global connectivity via the internet to show that it is possible – through co-operation – to build a world in which everyone would want to raise their own children.
What dreams will these children bring into the world? Whatever they are, the world will never be the same when the “online” community is projected to grow from 3 to 5 billion users in 2020 - that’s 2 billion new souls joining the global brain in order to improve social, environmental and economic conditions for all. Brains and souls with a new human consciousness that realises that a better world is a collective construction - where either all will be better off or no one will be.