Embedding sustainability

We are integrating sustainability into our brands, marketing and innovation and exploring new ideas and approaches to achieve the goals in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Farmers growing sustainable tomatoes for Knorr

Employees have a key role to play. We are giving them the knowledge and tools they need to help drive our sustainable growth, particularly our marketing teams who are central to developing brands with a sustainable living purpose. We aim to use our marketing to encourage positive behaviour change and to share what we’ve learnt in this area with others. See Encouraging behaviour change.

We are integrating sustainability into the way we engage, train and reward our people and have embedded sustainability into our governance structures. And we’re collaborating with others in four areas where we’ve identified we can use our scale and influence to bring about change to whole systems.

Purpose-led brands will drive growth

Putting sustainable living at the heart of our brands is inspiring our consumers and growing our sales. The concept of ‘purpose-led’ brands is not new. Among our own brands, Lifebuoy and Ben & Jerry’s have had a social or environmental purpose at their heart since they were founded.

However, in today’s complex and interconnected world, a powerful purpose alone is not enough and brands must look their impacts up and down the value chain and across the public domain. Brands cannot do social good while harming the planet, or improve the lives of women who buy our products while ignoring the working conditions of the women who make them.

Purpose-led brands

Keith Weed


Our Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Keith Weed, leads our Marketing function as well as our Sustainable Business & Communications team.

“By putting purpose at the heart of our brands we can move from marketing to consumers to mattering to people. Purpose-led brands will drive growth for our business, connect us with our consumers and deliver a positive social impact.”

How we define a Sustainable Living brand

We have created a definition of what makes a true ‘Sustainable Living’ brand. Such a brand must not only have a clear purpose that, over time, helps to tackle a social or environmental concern; the product itself must also contribute to one or more of the targets we have set in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which, in turn contribute to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Living brands – making purpose pay

To assess product and purpose, we developed a methodology to help us determine how, and to what extent, each brand delivers against the two product and purpose criteria. It enables brands to generate a systematic view of their progress across social and environmental factors. We analysed our top brands using this methodology, revealing that in 2015 our 12 Sustainable Living brands delivered nearly half our growth and grew 30% faster than the rest of the business.

In 2016 the number of our top 40 brands qualifying as Sustainable Living brands rose from 12 to 18. These include our six biggest brands - Knorr, Dove, Dirt is Good (our laundry brands which have different names in different markets), Lipton, Rexona and Hellmann’s. Combined, in 2016 our Sustainable Living brands grew 50% faster than the rest of the business. And they delivered more than 60% of our growth. We will announce our 2017 Sustainable Living Brands in May 2018 once the analysis is complete.

We believe that if we want to effect change at scale, we will achieve this by making large, successful, category-defining brands recognisably sustainable. Consumers are becoming much more aware of the positive difference brands can make to social and environmental issues, and also the difference they themselves can make through their everyday shopping choices.

This has been fuelled by the growth in social media and the opportunity it provides for people to have closer, more intimate connections with brands. This in turn creates a growing need for brands to generate content that resonates with their consumers’ values. Brands with a sustainable living purpose help them do that.

In 2015, we carried out research to understand whether consumers’ views on sustainability translate to actual purchasing choices1. Our research revealed that over 50% of people want to buy brands that are more sustainable. It also revealed that sustainability issues are relevant to consumers in both developed and emerging markets. In 2017 we published the results of this research and our latest thinking on how purpose-driven brands can drive growth in Making Purpose Pay: Inspiring Sustainable Living (PDF | 2MB) to show how attitudes are changing.


Hellmann's rode en groene tomatenketchup

Purposeful products in action: Hellmann’s Red and Green Tomato Ketchup

Purpose: To reduce food waste associated with the making of our products

Product: Hellmann’s Red and Green Tomato Ketchup, launched in April 2017 uses green and red tomatoes whereas, traditionally only red tomatoes would be used. By only using red tomatoes, 10% of the total harvest was being discarded so, we developed a new recipe to include both. Hellmann’s Red and Green Ketchup has potentially saved 2.5 million tomatoes from going to waste each year with feedback telling us there’s no compromise on taste.

Find out more about action we are taking on reducing food waste.

Hellmann’s is just one of many examples of how we are addressing specific social and environmental concerns based on the targets in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Our work on sustainable living brands is based on detailed analysis of our brands’ environmental footprint across the lifecycle. See Life cycle assessment for more on our approach.

1 Unilever research in 2015 by Flamingo and Europanel

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