How sustainable sourcing from suppliers has become an integral part of Unilever

WRITTEN BY: Snowkap Research

19 September, 2021


Unilever was one of the first conglomerates to implement sustainable sourcing by launching their Sustainable Living Plan. Unilever’s products are used by 2.5 billion people a day – that’s around a third of the people on the planet. They need around 7 million tonnes of agricultural raw materials to make their products. They needed to make sure that these raw materials are sustainably produced. This was crucial to Unilever’s purpose of making sustainable living commonplace. 

They framed their Responsible Sourcing Policy which is a set of Mandatory Requirements to be chosen as a supplier to Unilever. Through the RSP, they aimed to work with their suppliers to drive up social and environmental standards in their supply chain.

What did Unilever do

They launched their ‘Less plastic. Better plastic. No plastic’ Framework to get closer to their sustainability goals in packaging

Less Plastic: cutting down how much they use in the first place

Better Plastic: switching to recycled content, and making sure their products are recyclable.

No Plastic: using refill stations to cut out new plastic completely and switching to alternative materials such as paper, glass or aluminium.

Through ‘Less Plastic’, Unilever explores new packaging formats, such as recyclable paper-based ice cream tubs and toothbrushes with replaceable heads.

Through ‘Better Plastic’, the brand Dove moved to 100% recycled plastic bottles in the North American market.
Hellmann’s, Bango, Sunlight and more switched to 100% recycled plastic jars and bottles. Magnum collaborated with supplier SABIC, to develop food-grade recycled plastic ice cream tubs in Europe.

Through ‘No Plastic’, the brand Seventh Generation launched a zero-plastic range and PG Tips will remove the plastic film on boxes in 2021, having already launched fully biodegradable tea bags. 

Unilever stepped up its use of post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR) to around 75,000 tonnes*. They expect the use of PCR to double in the coming year.

They started sourcing 100% of their volumes of sustainably sourced paper and board for packing their products in 2018. They made sure that all their paper & board now come from mills that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

In 2019, Unilever committed to an absolute plastic reduction across its portfolio. They also developed country-specific roadmaps to achieve its goal to help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.

By 2025, they aim to:

  • Halve their use of virgin plastic, by reducing  their absolute use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes.
  • Help collect and process more plastic packaging than they sell.
  • Ensure that 100% of their plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable.

Increase the use of post-consumer recycled plastic material in our packaging to at least 25%.

As of 2019

  1. They are disposing of 96%* less waste per tonne of production than they did in 2008.
  2. They have recycled, reused or recovered 97% of their operational waste.
  3. 99.6% of their palm oil and palm kernel oil is sustainably sourced.
  4. 98% of their top 13 vegetables are sustainably sourced.
  5. 90% of their tea purchased for all brands are from sustainable sources.
  6. In 2010, 14% of their raw agricultural materials were sustainably sourced. In 2019, that number is 62%.
  7. Unilever was able to drive sustainable sourcing together with their suppliers.
  8. Their efforts made sustainable sourcing more mainstream in the food industry and the farming industry