How do you take a humungous business like Unilever (that not only consistently outperforms the competitors but also registers financial growth Q on Q) and embed sustainability in it? 

GHG, Water and Waste are the 3 most important metrics that the company has zeroed in on to do just that. By regularly measuring and improving upon them, the company intends to reach its 3 BHAG’s or Bold Hairy Audacious Goals to be achieved by 2020:

  • Halving the environmental footprint of its products
  • Helping more than 1 billion people take action to improve their health and well-being
  • Sourcing 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably

These goals were unveiled in Nov 2010 when The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) was first published.

What is USLP? – A whole new way of doing business to increase the positive social benefits arising from its activities while reducing its environmental impacts – a noble goal…perhaps, but more so, a strategic proactive business decision indeed!

On the coming 24th April, I would be attending a small but very important event  – Unilever Sustainable Living Plan – One Year On, where the company (HUL in India) will provide an update on the progress it has made towards delivering the goals in its USLP. Similar events will be taking place on the same day in London, São Paulo, Washington DC and Rotterdam.

Getting to these goals is not easy considering the large-scale presence and reach of its brands and products (read the already deep environmental damage done due to its deep penetration).

So, how is the company promoting higher consumption (read 2x growth) while halving its environmental footprint?

It’s a tough ask. It has to be. A leader needs to set an example for its entire value chain to follow (just like Walmart is using the approach called Sustainability 360 that takes a comprehensive view of its business). Fortunately, numbers are on its side. The secret lies in its 2 billion customers – and that makes all the difference.

“To take small actions that can add up to a big difference for the environment”

Some of the initiatives the company has taken across the value chain are in the areas of :

  • Raw materials (sourced from Rainforest Alliance certified farms),
  • Manufacturing (28% CO2 reduction, 31% water use reduction),
  • Distribution (use of climate friendly refrigrants),
  • Consumer use, and
  • Disposal (removing all PVC packaging and reducing waste by more than 1700 tonnes).

The USLP includes an interactive Product Analyzer that shows the environmental impacts for 70% of its products. This means a consumer can go the site and make an informed choice – a key Green Marketing communications strategy.

Similar efforts have been rewarded by the consumers for SC Johnson’s website, a radical transparency show-down of the full disclosure of all the ingredients that go into making their products.

However, the Indian average consumer does not log on to internet and check a product’s carbon footprint to influence its decision. Price is the number factor.

So, the only real sustainability strategy is to drive costs out of its products which will be attributed to the savings it intends to have through its USLP.

Looking forward for the event. An update on it will follow…

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