About our strategy

At Unilever we want to grow our business in the right way so that our consumers, employees, suppliers, shareholders and communities all benefit.

Woman collecting water from a Sunlight water centre

We have a clear purpose – to make sustainable living commonplace – and a vision to grow our business whilst decoupling our environmental footprint from our growth and increasing our positive social impact. These are set out in our ‘Compass’, our business strategy document.

We believe this is the best way to achieve business success in the long term, and in fact, we’re already seeing strong results. In 2015 our 12 Sustainable Living brands grew 30% faster than the rest of the business; in 2016 they grew 40% faster and delivered nearly half our growth. Sustainable Living brands are brands that combine a strong purpose delivering a social or environmental benefit, with products contributing to at least one of our USLP goals.

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:

Our brands and products

We create brands that offer balanced nutrition, good hygiene and give people confidence. We are making our products accessible and affordable to consumers, wherever they live and we’re innovating to find new products that make life better.

How we behave

We source our products carefully, so that we protect the earth’s resources. We treat people fairly and respect their rights, so employees, suppliers and communities all benefit from working with us.

Working with others

We are working with others to create transformational change beyond our business while our brightFuture campaign is motivating millions of people to take small, everyday actions that together make a big difference.

A strong business case

With 7 billion people on our planet, the earth’s resources are increasingly strained. Sustainable, equitable growth is the only acceptable model for our business. But growth and sustainability are not in conflict.

Our four-point framework shows how sustainability 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. Consumers are responding - our Sustainable Living brands are growing faster than the rest of our business.

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. Since 2008 we have avoided costs of over €700m through eco-efficiency in our factories.

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 2016, 51% 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, whilst inspiring Unilever’s current and future employees. For example, in 2016, we maintained our status as the Graduate Employer of Choice in the fast-moving consumer goods sector among 34 of the 60 countries we recruit from.

Our blueprint – the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan

Our Sustainable Living Plan provides the detailed blueprint for how we will achieve our purpose. It covers all aspects of our business, each of our brands and categories and every country we work in. It seeks to create change across our value chain – from our operations, to our sourcing and the way consumers use our products. It is designed to drive profitable growth and fuel innovation and to do so in the right way so that all our stakeholders feel the benefits.

The Plan, launched in 2010, is built around three big goals.

Improving health and well-being

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

Reducing environmental impact

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

Enhancing livelihoods

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

For each goal we have detailed targets and objective measurement techniques, see The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Transformational change beyond our business

Many sustainability challenges are complex and global in scale. Tackling them requires change to whole systems and ways of working. Collaboration between business, governments, NGOs and others is crucial if we are to achieve this change – through partnerships such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Action 2020, the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and the Global Task Force for Scaling up Nutrition.

Our Sustainable Living Plan provides the blueprint for change within our organisation and supply chain. But we want to go further and we’ve identified four key areas where we can use our scale and influence to help bring about transformational change:

  • taking action on climate and halting deforestation
  • improving livelihoods and creating more opportunities for women
  • improving health and well-being
  • championing sustainable agriculture and food security.

We support the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development and the UN Climate Conference’s Paris Agreement. Through our Sustainable Living Plan and transformational change agenda, we’ll play our part in helping to achieve the ‘zero poverty and zero carbon’ goals.

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 responding to campaigns by our Sustainable Living brands - such as Hellmann’s, Breyers and Omo - on issues ranging from sustainable sourcing to water scarcity.

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 stimulate change outside our business, where we don’t have direct control. For example, while we’ve made good progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from our factories and reached our 2020 target by 2016, the GHG impact of our products per consumer use has increased by 8% since 2010. We’ve updated ourGHG strategy to reflect what we’ve learnt.

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 us to bring about the systems change needed to address some of the most complex social and environmental problems.

What others think

We’re pleased that our strategy has been recognised by others, including:

  • Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) - following 15 years of industry group leadership in the Foods, Beverage & Tobacco Industry Group (out of 16 years’ participation), Unilever was named leader of the Household & Personal Products Industry Group with a score of 92 out of 100.
  • We were also selected as an index component of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) following our participation in the 2016 RobecoSAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment.

  • GlobeScan/SustainAbility Sustainability Leaders survey – we’ve retained our top ranking for six consecutive years.
  • CDP - in 2016 we were also listed in the ‘A’ performance bands in CDP’s Climate, Water and Forests Reports. We were also included in CDP’s Leadership Report on Supply Chain.
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