Our Metrics

We invited a panel of lifecycle analysis experts led by Professor Roland Clift to review our approach to measuring and reducing our environmental impacts, including the key metrics we use to measure progress on our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Independent Review

The purpose of this exercise was to assess the robustness, relevance, quality and completeness of our approach, including the way in which we set our targets and communicated the results.

In 2011, the Panel conducted a scientific review of the three metrics for greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste per consumer use (referred to as the ‘Less Environmental Impact’ programme). It looked in particular at the scope and boundaries of the metrics, the validity of calculation methods, assumptions and data sources.

Peer Review Panel: Statement

The scientific and technical Peer Review Panel, whose members are listed below, has examined the metrics and baseline proposed by Unilever to support development and monitoring of the Less Environmental Impact (LEI) programme.

We consider Unilever’s approach to be sound and appropriate. Unilever has selected a set of impacts which are relevant to describing the lifecycle environmental impacts of the company’s businesses and products. The baseline data provide a representative picture of current performance in terms of these impacts, and consistent application of the approach should give a sound indication of progress towards the targets the company has set.

During the review, we identified a number of aspects of the LEI approach where further clarification was needed. The way in which our questions were answered was one of the features that encouraged our confidence in endorsing the approach. We have made a number of recommendations to improve the clarity and transparency of the process.

We hope and expect that Unilever will publish our detailed review and respond to the questions raised, and set up a mechanism to enable answers to be provided to other scientific and technical questions which might arise in future.

We also note that Unilever will need an ongoing work plan to ensure that evolution of the metrics and the measurement process continue to reflect current best practice and scientific rigour, and to verify progress against the targets set out in the LEI Plan.

Professor Roland Clift, University of Surrey, UK

Professor Matthias Finkbeiner, Technical University of Berlin, Germany

Dr Mark Goedkoop, Pré Consultants, Netherlands

Professor Sarah McLaren, Massey University, New Zealand

Stuart Orr, WWF, Switzerland

Peer Review Panel: Observations & recommendations

The Panel has published a report setting out its observations and recommendations. See Downloads for more.

Measuring our progress

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan has three big goals: to improve health and well-being, reduce environmental impact and enhance livelihoods. Supporting these goals are nine commitments underpinned by targets spanning our social, environmental and economic performance across the value chain.

In 2013, we broadened our Plan with more substantive and far-reaching commitments around Enhancing Livelihoods, including three new commitments on Fairness in the Workplace, Opportunities for Women, and Inclusive Business, each supported by a number of new targets. Our existing targets to reduce workplace injuries and accidents (formerly in Health & Hygiene) and to improve employee health and nutrition (formerly in Nutrition) are now included in our Fairness in the Workplace commitment.

We have also made some changes to the way we measure some of our targets to help the business focus on the actions that will make a difference. This affects our big goal on halving our environmental footprint per consumer use, our Pureit target within Health & Hygiene and our commitment on Improving Nutrition.

How we define our metrics

Our environmental footprint per consumer use

To measure our big goal to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products ‘per consumer use’1 for GHG, water and waste is a complex process. It requires a detailed analysis of the water, waste and greenhouse gas impacts of thousands of products spread across 14 countries. The calculation accounts for 70% of our volumes.

For each product, we analyse sourcing and ingredient information, manufacturing impacts and data on consumer habits (which often vary by country).

In 2012 we invested in an automated process to improve the speed and accuracy of our footprint calculations, which we measure on a rolling basis from 1 July to 30 June. The new measurement has also expanded the number of representative products we assess to over 2,000.

The automated process starts with 2010 data, not the original 2008 data, and so we have decided to use the 2010 footprint as the new baseline for our Plan goal to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products in water, waste and GHG by 2020. This will enable us to report like-for-like figures which can be externally assured.

Health & hygiene

The number of people reached on a cumulative basis by an intervention which, based on past studies, can be expected to result in sustained, positive behaviour change.

One of our targets under Health & Hygiene focuses on making safe drinking water available and affordable to 500 million people through our Pureit in-home water purifier by 2020. In 2014, we introduced a new measure based on the litres of drinking water provided, instead of number of people reached. We now aim to provide 150 billion litres of safe drinking water by 2020. This revised target focuses our efforts on what matters most for health - ongoing consumption of safe drinking water. 


The percentage of products which meet the highest nutritional standards, based on globally recognised dietary guidelines for all four priority nutrients: salt, saturated and trans fat and sugar. From 2012, these are measured by volume rather than by product. 

The majority of our products meet, or are better than, benchmarks based on national nutritional recommendations. In 2013, we reviewed the nutrient levels derived from globally recognised dietary guidelines which form the basis of our highest nutritional standards. We have adapted the criteria underlying the highest nutrition standards to be product-focused, rather than generic, and to align with our category-specific programmes. This will give much sharper focus and drive more effort around the nutrients that matter most for a particular product.

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases per consumer use: CO2 equivalents across the product lifecycle (grams).1

Our metric measures the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the lifecycle of a product from raw materials, to manufacturing to consumer use and disposal.


Water per consumer use in water-scarce countries: water added to the product plus the water used by consumers in water-scarce countries (litres).1,2

Our metric excludes water used in agriculture, and water used in our manufacturing operations which we measure as part of our eco-efficiency programme see Reducing water use in manufacturing.


Waste per consumer use: packaging and product leftovers that have not been reused, recycled or recovered (grams).1

We define waste as the amount of product left in the pack, and the amount of packaging that ends up either in landfill or as litter, ie the amount of packaging that is not recycled, reused or recovered for energy recapture. Our metric requires the use of published national indices for recycling and recovery, or our own estimates where these are not available.

The metric excludes the waste generated by our manufacturing operations which we measure as part of our eco-efficiency programme – see Reducing waste from manufacturing.

Sustainable sourcing

Raw or packaging material sourced from verifiable sustainable renewable sources or made from recycled materials (% by weight).

Enhancing livelihoods

We recognise that it is difficult to provide evidence of improvements in livelihoods. We are therefore piloting our new Livelihoods Assessment Impact tool to do this.


Independent external assurance is carried out on selected Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) and Environmental and Occupational Safety (EOS) performance indicators annually. The definition, organisational reporting boundary and data preparation for these indicators are summarised in Unilever’s Basis of Preparation document. See Independent assurance for more. 

1 The metrics for our commitments for greenhouse gases (GHG), water and waste are expressed against a baseline of 2010 and on a ‘per consumer use’ basis. This means a single use, portion or serving of a product, eg the GHG impact of drinking a single cup of tea; the water needed for one hair wash with shampoo; or the waste associated with one serving of soup.

2 In seven water-scarce countries representing around half of the world’s population.