About our strategy

We believe that sustainable and equitable growth is the only way to create long-term value for our stakeholders. That’s why we have placed the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan at the heart of our business model.

Woman collecting water from a Sunlight water centre

Driven by our purpose & vision

We have a clear purpose – to make sustainable living commonplace – and a vision to grow our business while decoupling our environmental footprint from our growth and increasing our positive social impact.

What do we mean by sustainable living?

We want to help create a world where everyone can live well within the natural limits of the planet. We’re putting sustainable living at the heart of everything we do including through our brands and products, our standards of behaviour within and beyond Unilever, and our partnerships which are driving transformational change across our value chain.

However volatile and uncertain the world becomes, Unilever’s purpose and vision will remain because we believe that managing for the long term is the best way for us to grow. Find out more about how we create value (English) (PDF | 433KB).

Our blueprint for sustainable growth

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) provides the detailed blueprint for how we will achieve sustainable growth, while delivering our purpose and vision. It covers all aspects of our business, incorporates all our brands and Divisions, and covers every country we work in. It aims to create change across our value chain – from our operations, to our sourcing and the way consumers use our products. And it is designed to drive profitable growth and fuel innovation, in the right way, so that all our stakeholders benefit.

The Plan, launched in 2010, is built around three big goals and nine pillars. To check these are still the right priorities, we conduct a materiality analysis every two years. For each goal, we have detailed targets and metrics. Find out more about our performance on the relevant pillars pages.

Improving health and well-beingReducing environmental impactEnhancing livelihoods

Goal: By 2020 we will help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being.

Health & hygiene
Improving nutrition

Goal: By 2030 our goal is to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products as we grow our business.

Greenhouse gases
Water use
Waste & packaging
Sustainable sourcing

Goal: By 2020 we will enhance the livelihoods of millions of people as we grow our business.

Fairness in the workplace
Opportunities for women
Inclusive business

We have long known that growth and sustainability are not in conflict – and we now have evidence to prove this. Our four-point framework shows how the USLP drives value for our business:

  • More growth: sustainability creates innovation opportunities, opens up new markets and allows our brands to connect with consumers in new ways. Unilever's Making Purpose Pay research found that over 50% of consumers want to choose brands that are more sustainable – our brands are well-placed to capitalise on this growth opportunity.
  • Lower costs: by cutting waste and using resources carefully we create efficiencies, cut costs and improve margins, while becoming less exposed to the volatility of resource prices. For example, by using less energy we avoided energy costs in our factories of over €490 million since 2008. And by using fewer materials and producing less waste we have avoided costs of over €260 million over the same period.
  • Less risk: operating sustainably helps us future-proof our supply chain against the risks associated with climate change and long-term sourcing of raw materials. By 2017, 56% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced.
  • More trust: placing sustainability at the heart of our business model strengthens our relationships. It helps us maintain our value and relevance to consumers, while inspiring Unilever’s current and future employees. For example, in 2017, we maintained our status were as the Graduate Employer of Choice in the fast-moving consumer goods sector among 44 of the 60 countries we recruit from.

Transformational change beyond our business

We are aware that the biggest challenges facing the world cannot be addressed by one company alone. We are changing ourselves as a business, but we also want to help transform the system in which business is done. We’ll do this by acting as catalysts for change more broadly – as conveners to facilitate progressive discussion and bring others together, and as collaborators in partnerships to deliver positive business, social and environmental impact at scale.

By being part of the solution to challenges, businesses have the opportunity to win the trust of consumers while helping create societies and economies in which they can grow and succeed.

We aim to use our scale and influence to help bring about transformational change in four areas where we can make the biggest difference and which represent the biggest market opportunities for us:

Our multi-stakeholder approach enables us to understand the challenges preventing society and our ecosystems from thriving, and helps us find ways to begin addressing them. We engage shareholders, governments, NGOs and civil society organisations, and shape the business landscape through advocacy. By leveraging partnerships, blended (public/private) finance, digital and new business models, we believe transformational change is possible.

Our Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals

One way in which we are using partnerships to deliver change at scale is through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are fundamental to future economic and business growth. The Business & Sustainable Development Commission, co-founded by Unilever, concluded that successful delivery of the SDGs will create market opportunities of at least $12 trillion a year.

We are working across many of the SDGs through the USLP. In doing so, we are unlocking new markets and investing in brands with purpose and innovation. The interdependence and mutuality of the goals ensures that progress against one, leads to progress against others. Find out about our approach to SDGs and how we are taking action on the them, throughout our Sustainable Living Report.

We’re still learning

We’ve had some great results from our Sustainable Living Plan. We know it contributes to business growth as we see consumers choosing our brands with purpose – such as Hellmann’s, Ben & Jerry’s, Dove and Omo.

We’ve also learnt a lot about what does and doesn’t work, and we’ll keep making changes to get things right. One of our biggest challenges is our ability to influence change outside our business, where we don’t have direct control.

For example, we’ve made good progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from our factories and reached our 2020 target by 2017. However, the GHG impact of our products per consumer use has increased by 9% since 2010. We’ve updated our GHG strategy to reflect what we’ve learnt. Similarly, although we have reduced water use by 2% through innovations such as low rinse laundry products, this has been offset by the growth of products in our portfolio with higher water use.

We are continually looking for new ideas and ways to influence our wider value chain. We know that collaboration with others holds the key to tackling many sustainability challenges and we will be focusing even more on this in the years ahead. Our transformational change initiatives will help to bring about the systems change needed to address some of the most complex social and environmental problems.

Purpose-driven people

To achieve real change, we need to create a movement for sustainable growth within Unilever. We are always finding new ways to engage our people on sustainability and to harness their passion to achieve our goals. One particular area of focus is helping our employees find their own our purpose so that they can fulfil their potential.

‘Bringing Sustainability to Life’ is one of the six key business skills addressed in our learning programmes with our employees. We integrate sustainability into existing training and create bespoke courses to develop employees’ capabilities and understanding of how sustainability applies to their role.

Our employee sustainability champions in key functions, Divisions and countries, help engage employees on sustainability, support our leadership teams to identify local priorities and review progress quarterly against our targets. During 2017, we ran a ‘Have Your Say’ survey – the biggest consultation of employees on the future of the business that Unilever has ever conducted.

Purpose-driven leadership

Leadership will be critical in the delivery of Unilever’s purpose and in our performance over the coming years. Our leadership programmes will nurture the purpose-driven and values-led leaders that Unilever, and our world, need today.

Tim Munden, Chief Learning Officer

As a values-led and purpose-driven organisation, we have been using our Unilever Leadership Development Programme (ULDP) as the vehicle to help our executives to discover their purpose, and to use this to guide them in their decisions and careers.

Our recently refreshed General Manager (GM) programme helps equip our GMs with the mindset to develop innovative, sustainable and inclusive business models to achieve responsible growth. GMs play a key role in creating the right conditions for delivering the USLP as they have oversight of our markets and commercial operations.

In addition, we now link progress on sustainability to remuneration for a growing number of management employees, up to and including our CEO and Unilever Leadership Executive. Find out more in our Annual Report and Accounts (PDF).

External recognition

We’re pleased that our approach to sustainability has been recognised by others in 2017, including:

  • Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) – Unilever was named leader of the Personal Products sector.
  • CDP – Unilever was included in the ‘A’ list in CDP’s Climate, Water, Forests and Supplier Engagement Reports.
  • GlobeScan/SustainAbility Sustainability Leaders survey – we’ve retained our top ranking for seven consecutive years.
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