Written by: Kimberly White

Consumer goods giant Unilever has announced a new €1 billion initiative to tackle the climate crisis and pledged to achieve net zero emissions across its value chain by 2039. 

Unilever’s new commitments are designed to “improve the health of the planet” through decisive action to combat climate change, protect and regenerate nature, and to preserve resources for future generations, said the company. 

The newly established Climate and Nature Fund will be used to invest in projects focused on landscape restoration, reforestation, carbon sequestration, wildlife protection, and water preservation over the next ten years. 

“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,” said Alan Jope, Unilever CEO. “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.”

The latest commitments build on existing science-based targets the company set to achieve zero carbon emissions from its operations and to halve its overall carbon footprint by 2030. To reach net zero emissions by 2039, Unilever has stated it will prioritize developing partnerships with suppliers who have set their own science-based targets.  

Additionally, Unilever aims to improve its sustainable sourcing practices. Currently, 89 percent of the company’s forest-related commodities are certified as sustainability sourced, according to Unilever. The company has pledged to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023 using emerging digital technologies to increase traceability and transparency and accelerating smallholder inclusion. 

Unilever, whose brands include Ben & Jerry’s, Lipton, and Marmite, has long been heralded as a leader in corporate sustainability. In September 2019, Unilever achieved its goal of 100 percent renewable energy across five continents. The company also vowed to halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025 and ensure its packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable. 

Globally, more than eight million tonnes of plastic makes its way into the oceans each year. Plastic pollution has become so pervasive it is even being found in everyday foods and beverages. Last year, a study found that people could be consuming 5 grams of microplastics each week– approximately the size of a credit card.

Virgin plastic production has increased more than 200-fold since 1950 and has grown at a rate of four percent each year since 2000. Seventy-five percent of all plastic produced is waste, a large portion of it is mismanaged due to an underdeveloped waste management infrastructure.

“The planet is in crisis, and we must take decisive action to stop the damage, and to restore its health. Last year, we set out a plan to tackle perhaps the most visible environmental issue we have in the consumer goods industry: plastic packaging. We set ourselves new and stretching targets that include halving our use of virgin plastic, and helping collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell,” added Jope. “While it’s critical to address the impact that our products have at the end of their life, it’s just as important to continue to look at the impact they have on the planet at the start of their life – in the sourcing of materials – as well as in their manufacture and transport. We will reduce the impact that our products and our operations have on the environment, and we will do our part to bring the planet back to health.”