Unilever unveils plan to decouple business growth from environmental impact

Global firm announces plans to: halve the environmental footprint of its products; help 1 billion people improve their health and wellbeing.

New York, 15 November 2010 - Global consumer goods company Unilever today announced plans to decouple future growth from environmental impact.

At the London launch of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, announced simultaneously in London, Rotterdam, New Delhi and New York, CEO Paul Polman explained: “We have ambitious plans to grow the company. But growth at any price is not viable. We have to develop new ways of doing business which will ensure that our growth does not come at the expense of the world’s diminishing natural resources.”

He also announced plans to help over 1 billion people take action to improve their health and wellbeing, mostly in developing countries, over the next 10 years.

In New York, Unilever Americas President Dave Lewis joined by Michael B. Polk, President Global Food, Personal Care and Home products, echoed Mr. Polman’s comments, sharing how Unilever intends to decouple growth from environmental impact and deliver more social value through its brands. “Many would say making consumption sustainable is impossible. Our view is that we have to make it possible. We cannot choose between growth and sustainability. We have to do both.”

The Sustainable Living Plan sets out over 50 social, economic and environmental targets. It will see Unilever, whose global brands include Dove, Omo, Knorr and Lipton, halve the greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste used not just by the company in its direct operations, but also by its suppliers and consumers.

Over two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions and half the water used in Unilever products’ lifecycle come from consumer use, so this is a major commitment on an unprecedented scale.

“People tell us they want to reduce their environmental impact but find it hard to change their behavior and don’t know how they can make a difference,” explained Paul Polman.

“By halving the total carbon, water and waste impact of our products, primarily through innovation in the way we source, make and package them, we can help people make a small difference every time they use them. As our products are used 2 billion times a day in nearly every country in the world, our consumers’ small actions add up to make a big difference.”

Other key goals Unilever plans to achieve by or before 2020 include:

  • sourcing 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably including, by 2015, 100% sustainable palm oil;
  • changing the hygiene habits of 1 billion people in Asia, Africa and Latin America so that they wash their hands with Lifebuoy soap at key times during the day - helping to reduce diarrhoeal disease, the world’s second biggest cause of infant mortality;
  • making safe drinking water available to half a billion people by extending sales of its low-cost in-home water purifier, Pureit, from India to other countries;
  • improving livelihoods in developing countries by working with Oxfam, Rainforest Alliance and others to link over 500,000 smallholder farmers and small-scale distributors into its supply chain.

Commenting that Unilever wants to be sustainable ‘in every sense of the word’, Paul Polman said:

“There are billions of people who want the improvements to their health and wellbeing that everyday products like ours provide and who want to live sustainably. Our aim is to help people in developing countries improve their quality of life without a big increase in their environmental impacts, and to help those in developed markets maintain a good standard of living while reducing theirs.”

Paul Polman sees no conflict between Unilever achieving its sustainability goals and growing its business. “We are already finding that tackling sustainability challenges provides new opportunities for sustainable growth: it creates preference for our brands, builds business with our retail customers, drives our innovation, grows our markets and, in many cases, generates cost savings.”

Polman emphasized that Unilever did not have all the answers and that the company would need to work in partnership with customers, suppliers, governments and NGOs if it was to achieve its goals.

Download the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and view the global launch webcast at: www.sustainable-living.unilever.com


Notes to Editors

About Unilever

Unilever works to create a better future every day. We help people feel good, look good and get more out of life with brands and services that are good for them and good for others.

Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of fast moving consumer goods with strong operations in more than 100 countries and sales in 170. Unilever products are present in more than half the households on the planet and are used over two billion times a day.

Our portfolio includes some of the world’s best known and most loved brands including eleven €1 billion brands, and global leadership in many categories in which we operate. The portfolio features iconic brands such as: Knorr, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Dove, Vaseline, Persil, Cif, Marmite and Pot Noodle.

We have around 163,000 employees in approaching 100 countries, and generated annual sales of€40 billion in 2009. For more information about Unilever and its brands, please visit www.unilever.com

Unilever is Food Industry Leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Indexes for the 12th year running. We are included in the FTSE4Good Index Series and attained a top environmental score of 5, leading to inclusion in the FTSE4Good Environmental Leaders Europe 40 Index. We are also ranked 7th in the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World, a list compiled by Corporate Knights Magazine. We achieved Platinum Plus standard in the UK’s Business in the Community Corporate Responsibility Index 2009, and were named Company of the Year in 2010.

The Unilever Sustainability Journey

In the UK, William Lever opened a factory near Liverpool to produce Sunlight, the world’s first packaged laundry soap. A few years later he launched Lifebuoy, the world’s first health soap, with the slogan ‘Lifebuoy saves lives’.

The values of our founders have stayed with the company and become an integral part of who we are and how we do things. We continue to see sustainability challenges as opportunities for business growth.

In 1995, faced with the prospect of declining fish stocks, we joined forces with WWF to create the Marine Stewardship Council, the international certification body for sustainable fisheries.

The following year we started our Sustainable Agriculture Initiative. Working with farmers and suppliers we developed a set of sustainability indicators that over time became our Sustainable Agriculture Code. Today, 10% of our agricultural and forestry ingredients come from sustainable sources.

In 2004 our ice-cream business worked with Greenpeace to develop ice-cream freezers using natural refrigerants instead of HFCs. So far we have converted nearly half a million cabinets to ones using Hydro Carbon refrigerants.

We launched Small & Mighty concentrated laundry detergent in Europe in 2007. This enables people to wash clothes at lower temperatures, saving them money on household bills, reducing packaging and cutting millions of kilograms of CO2.

2007 was also the year we became the first mainstream tea company to commit to sustainably sourcing all the tea that goes into our Lipton and PG Tips teabags by 2015. So far all our Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips teabags in Western Europe are 100% Rainforest Alliance certified.

In 2008, we became the first large company to commit to buying all our palm oil from sustainable sources by 2015. To date 30% of our palm oil purchases are covered by sustainable GreenPalm certificates.

And in February this year, Ben & Jerry’s, who launched the world’s first Fairtrade vanilla ice-cream in 2006, announced that every ingredient that can be Fairtrade certified, from nuts to sugar and bananas to cocoa, will be certified by 2013.

Safe Harbour

This document may contain forward-looking statements, including ‘forward-looking statements’ within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Words such as ‘expects’, ‘anticipates’, ‘intends’, ‘believes’ or the negative of these terms and other similar expressions of future performance or results, including any financial objectives, and their negatives are intended to identify such forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are based upon current expectations and assumptions regarding anticipated developments and other factors affecting the Group. They are not historical facts, nor are they guarantees of future performance. Because these forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, there are important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements, including, among others, competitive pricing and activities, economic slowdown, industry consolidation, access to credit markets, recruitment levels, reputational risks, commodity prices, continued availability of raw materials, prioritization of projects, consumption levels, costs, the ability to maintain and manage key customer relationships and supply chain sources, consumer demands, currency values, interest rates, the ability to integrate acquisitions and complete planned divestitures, the ability to complete planned restructuring activities, physical risks, environmental risks, the ability to manage regulatory, tax and legal matters and resolve pending matters within current estimates, legislative, fiscal and regulatory developments, political, economic and social conditions in the geographic markets where the Group operates and new or changed priorities of the Boards. Further details of potential risks and uncertainties affecting the Group are described in the Group’s filings with the London Stock Exchange, Euronext Amsterdam and the US Securities and Exchange Commission, including the 20-F Report and the Annual Report and Accounts 2009. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this announcement. Except as required by any applicable law or regulation, the Group expressly disclaims any obligation or undertaking to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statements contained herein to reflect any change in the Group’s expectations with regard thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based.

Paul Matthews - Unilever Corporate Media Relations Manager

01372 945 925 / 0775 276 8888


Anita Larsen

Unilever US, Inc
800 Sylvan Avenue
Englewood Cliffs
NJ 07632

+1 201-894-7760

Flip Dötsch


Explore more on these topics:

Back to top


We're always looking to connect with those who share an interest in a sustainable future.


Get in touch with Unilever and specialist teams in our headquarters or find contacts around the world.

Contact us