Sustainable Paper & Board

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 in promoting sustainable forest-management practices and in helping to put an end to deforestation. In fact, combating deforestation is one of the three main goals of our sustainable sourcing programme. We encourage our paper and board (P&B) 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.

We are also looking to increase the sustainable sourcing of our office materials and have achieved our target to source all paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries from either certified, sustainable forests or recycled sources by 2013.

Another of our key achievements in 2013 was finalising our sustainable primary packaging project for Dove soap bars. They are now delivered through the most sustainable sourcing schemes regionally: FSC certified and labelled in Latin America; PEFC certified and labelled from January onwards in North America; and recycled in the rest of the world.

Sustainable paper and board Targets & performance

Sustainable paper and board

  • 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.
  • 62% of our paper and board came from certified, sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by end 2013.
  • achieved
  • on-plan
  • off-plan
  • %of target achieved


Our perspective

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

Of the 62% achieved in 2013, 39% comprised recycled fibre and 23% certified virgin fibre.

We continue to make significant improvements to our data collection and reporting processes so that we now have more detailed, auditable data that no longer relies on estimates. In 2013 we built a system that links sustainable sourcing data from our suppliers to our business data. In 2013 our supplier data covered  91% of our volumes. 

Over 2010-2012 we reported all paper and board packaging, including material delivered by our suppliers to our third party manufacturers. We have not yet been able to find a robust way to link this third party material to our business data so we have excluded it from our 2013 reporting. This and the 91% coverage meant that overall we achieved 62% sustainably sourced material in 2013 versus 63% in 2012. 

The sustainable sourcing agenda for paper and board (P&B) packaging is complex and rapidly evolving. In 2013 we facilitated a workshop with suppliers and industry stakeholders to accelerate progress and build consensus towards sustainable sourcing. Key recommendations included the need to work on the common goal of removing deforestation from the supply chain. The outcome of the workshop was a clear roadmap to 100% P&B compliance by 2020 from certified, sustainably managed forests or from recycled material.

We are working to revise our paper and board packaging sourcing policy, which we expect to finalise in 2014. In 2013, we worked in collaboration with the Consumer Goods Forum to develop an industry P&B Sourcing Guideline, which will be adopted by many consumer goods companies. Unilever was also instrumental in organising the Tropical Forest Alliance meeting in Jakarta in July. This was the first forum to involve government, the private sector and civil society focusing on finding solutions to tackle deforestation caused by four commodities, including pulp and paper.

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.

We aim to 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 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 give preference to supplies delivered through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme. We 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. 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.

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.

The logos of acceptable forest management certification schemes have also started to appear on our brands’ packaging, which helps 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.

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 whilst 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

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.
  • 100% of paper-based materials from certified, sustainable forests or recycled sources by end 2013.
  • achieved
  • on-plan
  • off-plan
  • %of target achieved


Our perspective

By the end of 2013, 100% of our paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries came from either certified, sustainable forests or recycled sources. The scope of this commitment is office paper products such as printer paper, note books and envelopes.

By using paper from sustainable or recycled sources, we are avoiding using wood from non-sustainable sources, helping us in our aim to combat deforestation.

We use around 860 tonnes a year of office paper products in our top 21 countries. Since we set our target on sourcing office paper in these markets, we have arranged for our suppliers to supply only paper products from sustainable sources. Where necessary, we have changed from non-sustainable products to sustainable products. We have focused our purchases with compliant suppliers, who all sign a certificate of compliance which we store centrally.

We have set up processes to ensure that no new vendors are added to the vendor list unless they have signed our certificate to confirm that they will only supply paper products from certified, sustainable forests or recycled sources. We will further reduce our vendor list for office consumables during 2014 through a global tender process. We will continue to check our 100% compliance through quarterly reporting. Increasing use of global suppliers in Europe and the Americas facilitates control and compliance; we will also investigate supplier-base simplification opportunities for Africa and Asia in 2014.

Generally we have not had difficulty in finding sustainable paper products. However, they are still more expensive than non-sustainable paper products. Our aim is to deliver savings from strategic sourcing, as these are greater than the cost of switching to sustainable products.

We plan to extend our commitment to source 100% of our paper-based office materials in all countries in Europe, North America and Latin America by the end of 2014. During 2014, we will also decide if we can further extend our commitment to include some or all countries in Africa and Asia by the end of 2015.