Unilever Leads with Hefty Sustainability Targets

The 2012 goals for corporate sustainability and social responsibility for Unilever stand as a shining example and a beacon of hope where responsibility coincides with profits.

Following a recent conversation regarding corporate social and environmental responsibility, I was told to look into the commitments made in 2012 by Unilever. I was told these commitments were revolutionary, not only in their immensity, but also in the fact that these commitments were designated as responsible and profit oriented. These commitments weren't simply, 'being green', they were oriented around a sustainable commerce regime, whereby the changes made were essential to securing a thriving business model into the future.

These commitments are by no means small. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan boasts prodigious goals in areas of sustainability, ethical concerns as well as health for their industry as part of a long term commitment plan. They are sticking to a commitment of reducing CO2 emissions below 2008 levels by 2020 in spite of increases in production, having already reduced CO2 emissions per tonne of production by 31 % in 2012 compared to 2008 levels. They have focused on waste reduction through using lighter weight materials and reducing wherever possible- reaching an estimated 9.5 % reduction in packaging weight for consumer products since 2010. In 2012, Unilever reduced water use per ton of production by 25 % of 2008 levels, and absolute water use was decreased by 20 % from 2008-2012. Other sustainability initiatives on the long term scale include sourcing 100 % sustainable raw materials in 2020, purchasing 100 % of fruit and vegetables from sustainable sources by 2015, sourcing 100 % of tea materials from Rainforest Alliance certified growers and an impressive goal of 100 % free range eggs by 2020.

For a corporate giant like Unilever to make such commitments, while maintaining a goal to expand production to provide products to 1 billion consumers, shows the intimate connection between corporate responsibility, environmental stewardship and corporate growth. This shows a step forward in leading industry and the private sector to the changes that we need to see happen over the course of the upcoming decades. In the words of CEO Paul Polman,

"Put simply, we cannot thrive as a business in a world where too many people are still excluded, marginalised or penalised through global economic activity; where 1 billion go to bed hungry every night, 2.8 billion are short of water and increasing numbers of people are excluded from the opportunity to work."

And in there you see the light but present connection in profits- which though could be critiqued, is the underlying mantra by which the successful and thriving business in the private sector function, and so an interconnection between environment and profit should not be seen as negative but grounds for immense hope for future improvements. Profit is a head-turner, profit is something we listen to. Profit is the language that was previously less comprehensible in the world of environmental activism, where now Polman's motivations stand to connect the two.

If Industry giant, holder of common products like Dove, Becel, and Vim can make these heavy commitments to present and future stewardship, the future is bright for corporate responsibility and lasting substantial environment and equitable advancements to dominate the private sector.
-Leslie Bothwell, 2012

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