Go­liath goes green

Two bil­lion peo­ple use a Unilever prod­uct ev­ery day, so en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly tweaks to the prod­uct line can make a huge dif­fer­ence

Element - - Snapshot - By Adam Gif­ford

Sav­ing the world can’t just be done by in­di­vid­u­als and small com­pa­nies. At some stage the giants have to do their part. Bri­tish-Dutch multinational Unilever, whose brands in­clude Lip­ton and Ber­tolli, Dove and Lifebuoy, Per­sil and Surf, is weigh­ing in.

Its Sus­tain­able Liv­ing Plan com­mits it to halve the en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print of its prod­ucts by 2020, help more than a bil­lion peo­ple take ac­tion to im­prove their health and well-be­ing, and source 100 per cent of its agri­cul­tural raw ma­te­ri­als sus­tain­ably.

Se­bas­tian Lazell, the head of Unilever’s Aus­tralian and New Zealand op­er­a­tions, says the $45 bil­lion com­pany is get­ting smaller to get big­ger.

“There was a recog­ni­tion go­ing into 2010 that the only ac­cept­able and in­deed com­pet­i­tive model for sig­nif­i­cant and ag­gres­sive growth is a strong drive for sus­tain­able growth, that you can­not dou­ble your busi­ness and also dou­ble your en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print or your im­pact, so hence these three big bold goals in the sus­tain­able liv­ing plan,” Lazell says.

When the plan started, less than 15 per cent of its global pur­chases of tea and palm oil came from sus­tain­able sources. Unilever is the largest buyer of palm oil in the world.

Lazell says this year more than a third of its palm oil and half of its black tea will come from cer­ti­fi­ably sus­tain­able sources, with the tar­get be­ing 100 per cent by 2015. The Sus­tain­able Liv­ing Plan has 47 tar­gets and work­streams, and Aus­trala­sia has fo­cused on the 20 most rel­e­vant to this part of the world.

These in­clude im­prov­ing the nu­tri­tional pro­file of the food prod­ucts, sourc­ing sus­tain­able ingredients, and re­duc­ing pack­ag­ing waste and en­ergy foot­print.

“We look at the to­tal life­cy­cle im­pact of our prod­ucts. In gen­eral com­pa­nies find less than five per cent of en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts comes from in­side the op­er­a­tion, the man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion etc,” Lazell says. “Look­ing at the whole foot­print of our laun­dry de­ter­gent busi­ness in New Zealand, the likes of Per­sil and Surf, we iden­ti­fied that get­ting on to 50 per cent of the car­bon foot­print came from the sourc­ing of ma­te­rial long be­fore it reaches fac­tory, then 45 per cent is en­ergy used in consumer use.”

Ear­lier this year Uniliever re­placed the phos­phates used for water soft­en­ing, which have to be mined in China, with a much lower en­ergy set of ingredients.

“That re­duced by 32 per cent the tonnes of car­bon the prod­uct uses each year.”

More con­cen­trated for­mu­las re­duce the size of pack­ag­ing and the num­ber of road trips needed to dis­trib­ute the prod­uct.

Lazell says the com­mit­ment to sus­tain­abil­ity makes em­ploy­ees proud of the com­pany.

The pro­gramme is mo­ti­vat­ing, in­spir­ing, en­er­gis­ing peo­ple and they are able to help in prac­ti­cal ways from im­prov­ing re­cy­cling within the of­fice, re­duc­tion of food waste, sim­ple things around putting in place move­ment sen­si­tive lights, re­duc­tion in power us­age through blinds that keep out sun­light so you don’t need air con­di­tion­ing – all those sorts of things.

“Be­ing a big com­pany means two bil­lion peo­ple are us­ing our prod­ucts ev­ery day, so a third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

“Through prod­uct de­sign and in­for­ma­tion we can drive small be­hav­iour changes each day with brands that are in their homes – turn­ing the tem­per­a­ture down a lit­tle bit, run­ning the shower shorter, rins­ing with water one less time.

“A lot of small ac­tions which feel tiny to one in­di­vid­ual, add them all up with a bil­lion peo­ple and you can make a big im­pact,” Lazell says.

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