Unilever vows to go 'carbon positive' by 2030

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On eve of Paris Summit consumer goods giant unveils a new wave of environmental targets

Just days before the start of the UN climate talks in Paris, consumer goods giant Unilever has announced a fresh wave of environmental commitments in a bid to ensure it becomes "carbon positive" by 2030.

The company has today pledged to source all energy across its operations from renewable sources by 2030, while also setting a 2020 target for ensuring all the electricity it buys from the grid comes from renewable sources.

In addition, in order to achieve the 2030 "carbon positive" goal - which would see the company deliver emissions cuts in excess of its direct carbon footprint - the firm said it will directly support the generation of more renewable energy than it consumes.

In the wake of a surge of bad news for the coal industry, the company has also set a new target to eliminate coal from its energy mix by 2020.

"A high level of ambition is needed from Paris, which will act as a strong signal to investors. We also need to see businesses doing more to tackle climate change in their own operations and encouraging world leaders to be bold," said Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, in a statement. "We must seize the business opportunities presented by the green economy to make sure the Paris commitments are met, or even better, exceeded."

The new targets mark the first time the company has put a deadline on its goal to source 100 per cent renewable energy for its operations. The targets represent a significant strengthening of the company's previous pledge to source 40 per cent renewable energy by 2020 and "work towards" 100 per cent renewable energy in the future.

Unilever is a signatory of the high-profile RE100 initiative which pushes for companies to purchase their electricity exclusively from renewable sources, and is one of several companies who express their commitment to adopting "science based" targets. But now the company says it wants to go further and faster in cutting emissions from those areas over which it has direct control.

The firm said it hopes the move will encourage others companies to step up their efforts to curb emissions, while also providing a signal to world leaders in Paris that business supports and is planning for accelerated decarbonisation of the economy.

"As businesses, we will need to give confidence to governments that economies can grow inclusively and sustainably and that policies which reward sustainable behaviour are better for the bottom line," Polman told BusinessGreen earlier this year.

However, Unilever did admit that the new targets will be challenging to achieve, and meeting them will be highly dependent on market conditions.

Sally Uren, chief executive at Forum for the Future, which helped Unilever develop the targets, said the new committments shows how confident the company is about the benefits to be reaped from a push towards renewables.

"Renewables are now outcompeting fossil sources of energy for businesses around the world," she said in a statement. "Leading corporations are recognising the fact that individual action alone won't be enough to avert the massive threats that unmitigated climate change poses for business and society. We need to see more pioneering businesses such as Unilever advocate for a deal in Paris that will give them and the rest of society a stable climate in which to flourish."

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris hub, hosted in association with PwC.

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