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Sustainability Delivering Ever Faster Growth for Unilever

Image credit: Unilever

Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands continue to show superior performance, as the company reports on the fifth year of progress of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Consumers expect more of brands and businesses now — and they reward those that deliver a wider social benefit in addition to the traditional product performance at an affordable price.

In 2015, Sustainable Living brands — which have integrated sustainability into both their purpose and products:

  • Grew even faster than they did in 2014
  • Delivered nearly half Unilever’s growth
  • Grew significantly faster — in fact, 30 percent faster — than the rest of the business
  • Included Unilever’s five biggest brands — Knorr, Dove, Dirt Is Good, Lipton and Hellmann’s
Click to enlarge.

These findings were shared with sustainability specialists from NGOs, academia and business, who gathered in London to determine how collective action can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Business can play a leadership role in disrupting markets in support of sustainable living — and they will be rewarded by consumers who are also seeking responsibility and meaning as well as high quality products at the right price,” said CEO Paul Polman. “There is no trade-off between business and sustainability; it is creating real value for Unilever.”

Participants also discussed shifting trends in consumer attitudes around sustainability, including new Unilever research1challenging the commonly held perception that sustainability doesn’t sell. The research shows that:

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  • Sustainability is no longer a niche issue.
  • 54 percent of consumers want to buy more sustainably; many already are. And it tells us that more want to.
  • Consumers want it all — high-performing products, the right price and with a purpose that they can connect with.

Unilever confirmed that, five years in, it is on track to meet the vast majority of the targets within its Sustainable Living Plan, the company’s blueprint for achieving its vision to grow the business, whilst decoupling environmental impacts from growth and increasing its positive social impact. Sustainability is helping to deliver more growth and lower costs, as well as less risk and more trust.

This comes against a global backdrop of growing volatility and uncertainty, which is a constant challenge to Unilever’s progress against its targets. An additional complexity is in the consumer use phase of the value chain, where wider systems and behavior change are required to further reduce the environmental impact associated with the use of products. The company will accelerate efforts to design products that are less carbon- and water-intensive, and continue to work with partners to address challenges in the consumer use phase and to help consumers understand how they can live more sustainably.

Since the launch of the Plan, Unilever has helped around 482 million people to improve their health and hygiene, including through handwashing, improving self-esteem and oral hygiene. The majority of its foods and beverage portfolio met, or are better than, benchmarks based on national nutritional recommendations — and 34 percent met highest nutritional standards. Unilever also enabled around 600,000 smallholder farmers and 1.8 million small-scale retailers to access training and support.

In its own operations, Unilever continues to make good progress – since 2008, the company has reduced CO2 emissions from energy by 39 percent per tonne of production; water by 37 percent per tonne of production; and waste sent to disposal by 97 percent per tonne of production. 

1 A customized research project commissioned by Unilever, executed by Europanel in five markets. Households surveyed recorded their actual purchases and were asked questions about specific purchases, not just purchase intent. 

Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]

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