Unilever to reach net zero by 2039

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UNILEVER has set out a new range of measures and commitments designed to achieve Net Zero emissions from all their products by 2039.

To accelerate action towards this, Unilever’s brands will collectively invest €1 billion in a new dedicated Climate & Nature Fund.

This will be used over the next ten years to take ‘meaningful and decisive action’, with projects likely to include landscape restoration, reforestation, carbon sequestration, wildlife protection and water preservation.

The new initiatives will build on the great work that is already underway, such as Ben & Jerry’s initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms, Seventh Generation advocating for clean energy for all, and Knorr supporting farmers to grow food more sustainably.

Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, commented on the announcement: “While the world is dealing with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and grappling with serious issues of inequality, we can’t let ourselves forget that the climate crisis is still a threat to all of us.

“Climate change, nature degradation, biodiversity decline, water scarcity – all these issues are interconnected, and we must address them all simultaneously.

“In doing so, we must also recognise that the climate crisis is not only an environmental emergency, it also has a terrible impact on lives and livelihoods.

“We, therefore, have a responsibility to help tackle the crisis, as a business, and through direct action by our brands.”

The company’s existing science-based targets are to have no carbon emissions from their own operations, and to halve the greenhouse gas footprint of our products across the value chain, by 2030.

A spokesperson for the company commented: “To achieve this goal 11 years ahead of the 2050 Paris Agreement deadline, we must work jointly with our partners across our value chain, to collectively drive lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

“We will, therefore, prioritise building partnerships with our suppliers who have set and committed to their own science-based targets.

“We believe that transparency about carbon footprint will be an accelerator in the global race to zero emissions, and it is our ambition to communicate the carbon footprint of every product we sell.

“To do this, we will set up a system for our suppliers to declare, on each invoice, the carbon footprint of the goods and services provided, and we will create partnerships with other businesses and organisations to standardise data collection, sharing and communication.

“The race to zero must be a collective effort, and business alone cannot drive the transition at the speed that is required.

“We call on all governments to set ambitious net-zero targets, as well as short term emissions reduction targets, supported with enabling policy frameworks such as carbon pricing.”

89% of Unilever’s forest-related commodities are certified as sustainably sourced to globally recognised standards but to end deforestation, the company is aiming for even higher standards.

This means that Unilever ‘needs to have visibility on exact sourcing locations, and no longer rely on the mass balance system, which does not allow for accurate verification of deforestation-free when sourcing derivatives of our commodities’, aiming to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023.

In addition to continuing to drive sustainable sourcing and an end to deforestation, Unilever is setting out to help regenerate nature: increasing local biodiversity, restoring soil health, and preserving water conservation and access.

Marc Engel, Unilever Chief Supply Chain Officer, explained: “Our collective responsibility in tackling the climate crisis is to drive an absolute reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, not simply focus on offsetting – and we have the scale and determination to make it happen.

“But this is not enough. If we want to have a healthy planet long into the future, we must also look after nature: forests, soil biodiversity and water ecosystems.

“In most parts of the world, the economic and social inclusion of farmers and smallholders in sustainable agricultural production is the single most important driver of change for halting deforestation, restoring forests and helping regenerate nature.

“In the end, they are the stewards of the land. We must, therefore, empower and work with a new generation of farmers and smallholders in order to make a step change in regenerating nature.”

Unilever is also introducing a pioneering Regenerative Agriculture Code for all their suppliers.

The new code will build on our existing Sustainable Agriculture Code, which is widely recognised as being best-in-class in the industry, and it will include details on farming practices that help rebuild critical resources.

Unilever will also join the 2030 Water Resources Group, a multi-stakeholder platform hosted by the World Bank, to contribute to change and building resilience in water management in key water-stressed markets, such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia.

To further protect water resources, they also aim to make their product formulations biodegradable by 2030, to minimise their impact on water and the aquatic ecosystems.

Mr Jope concluded: “The planet is in crisis, and we must take decisive action to stop the damage, and to restore its health.

“Last year, we set out a plan to tackle perhaps the most visible environmental issue we have in the consumer goods industry: plastic packaging.

“We set ourselves new and stretching targets that include halving our use of virgin plastic, and helping collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell.

“While it’s critical to address the impact that our products have at the end of their life, it’s just as important to continue to look at the impact they have on the planet at the start of their life – in the sourcing of materials – as well as in their manufacture and transport.

“We will reduce the impact that our products and our operations have on the environment, and we will do our part to bring the planet back to health.”