Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever has announced a series of new environmental measures and commitments designed, it says, to fight climate change, regenerate nature and preserve resources.

The company has also set a date of 2039, by when all its products will have achieved Net Zero (greenhouse gas) emissions. 

To accelerate these actions, 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 fund projects that will include landscape restoration, reforestation, carbon sequestration, wildlife protection and water preservation.

Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, said: “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.”

Fighting the climate crisis
Unilever has previously pledged to have no carbon emissions from its own operations, and to halve the GHG footprint of its products across the value chain, by 2030. In response to the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, it says it is now additionally committing to net zero emissions from all its products by 2039 – from the sourcing of the materials, up to the point of sale of products in store.

Protecting and regenerating nature
Unilever says it has been leading the FMCG industry on sustainable sourcing practices for over a decade, but that it now needs to further challenge itself. This includes higher visibility on exact sourcing locations, and no longer relying on the mass balance system. The company is now pledging to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023.

In addition to sustainable sourcing policies and ending deforestation, Unilever is pursuing an ambitious targets aimed at “regenerating nature”, including increasing local biodiversity, restoring soil health, and preserving water conservation and access. And the company says is also introducing a Regenerative Agriculture Code for all its suppliers.

Empty PR stategy
But Greenpeace has called Unilever’s climate announcement “an empty PR exercise”. 

In a response to the company’s announcement, the campaign group said: “In 2010, Unilever committed to end deforestation for commodities by 2020. It failed and has now kicked the can even further down the road to 2023.

“Unilever’s business model is based on environmental destruction. Today’s announcement is an empty PR exercise with no concrete plan to stop the harm its business is causing right now to people and the planet.

“Unilever needs to come clean about where it stands at this pivotal time. As governments like Brazil and Indonesia continue to dismantle already inadequate safeguards for the environment, people and wildlife, whose side is it on? How will the indigenous peoples whose land rights are being violated, whose forests are being destroyed for commodity expansion and who are dying as a result of fires and Covid-19 actually benefit now from what Unilever is announcing?

“Climate change, social justice and biodiversity loss don’t operate according to multinational timelines. It’s urgent now and requires action immediately.”

Reforestation projects form part of Unilever’s climate and nature strategy Photo by Hidayat Abisena on Unsplash