As consumer goods giant marks anniversary of industry-leading sustainability plan, chief executive Alan Jope promises beefed up new strategy and urges companies, governments, and NGOs to reject a return to 'business-as-usual' in the wake of Covid-19 crisis
Unilever's chief executive Alan Jope has called on governments and businesses to "double down" on environmental commitments in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic in order to establish a more climate-friendly model of capitalism.
Speaking at a virtual event yesterday to mark the 10-year anniversary of Unilever's sustainability strategy, dubbed the Sustainable Living Plan, Jope said all actors must reject a business-as-usual approach in favour of action that tackles the climate crisis and social inequality.
"2020 is the year in which an unthinkable amount of public money is going to be spent in support of getting the economy back on track," he said. "But we should not be seeking to get the economy 'back to normal'. We must emerge stronger and more resilient, ready to take decisive action and definitive action to look after people and planet."
Jope argued the existing capitalist model had been in "need of repair" for some time and that it was the responsibility of businesses like Unilever to work with partners to "drive a new model of capitalism, and build a better future".
Unilever said that its Sustainable Living Plan, launched in the wake of the last major shock to the global economy, will be retired this year and replaced with a new multi-year sustainability corporate strategy dubbed Unilever Compass.
The new strategy will tackle issues that include climate change, social inclusion, waste, gender equality, human rights, and fair value, with 15 multi-year priorities unveiled in due course.
In the meantime, the firm is working towards meeting a commitment to reduce its use of plastic by around 100,000 tonnes by 2025, and to collect and recycle more plastic packaging than it sells in the same time frame. The pledge, unveiled in October, made waves in an industry under increasing scrutiny to curb its plastic use, with the move marking the first time a major global consumer goods firm had committed to an absolute plastics reduction figure.
Jope said the multinational intended to integrate what it had learned over the past decade through its pioneering Sustainable Living strategy in its new sustainability offering. "We will do more of what has worked well, we will correct what hasn't, and we will set ourselves new challenges," he said. "And while we don't really know what the world will look like post- Covid-19, I am convinced that there will be no future unless we double down on our commitments to look after people and the planet."
Rebecca Marmot, chief sustainability officer at the company, said that overall the Sustainable Living Plan had avoided more than €1bn in costs by spurring improvements to waste management and water and energy efficiency at Unilever facilities over the past decade. She added that the plan had also been a "decisive factor in hiring the best talent" and helped the company forge strong partnerships with NGOs, governments, and other businesses over the years.
Moreover, sustainability sells, Marmot added. The firms' most sustainable brands, such as Dove, Hellman's, and Domestos, had "consistently outperformed" the average growth rate of rest of Unilever's portfolio, she said.
Consumer goods companies are under pressure to ramp up their environmental performance over the coming months as the deadline looms for an industry-wide pledge to deliver net zero deforestation by the end of this year, a target that experts have warned will be missed. Unilever came under fire earlier this year after a report from the Rainforest Action Network noted that eight of the world's largest global brands - including Unilever, PepsiCo and Nestlé - were not going far enough to avoid working with 'conflict palm oil' - in other words palm oil that leads to deforestation, loss of habitats, or the exploitation of workers of Indigenous peoples.
Deal beefs up Iberdrola's presence in French generation market, where Aalto Power is developing a 636MW onshore wind pipeline
Lewis appointed chair of WWF UK's trustee board, as he prepares to step down from helm of UK supermarket chain later this year
Agriculture faces a more challenging ride to net-zero than other sectors, warn the analysts, due to the sector being enormous in scale yet highly decentralised.
UK concern over climate change remains high but few understand or have heard of 'net zero' survey finds