Sector News

Unilever steps up climate crisis fight with US$1.1bn investment fund

June 16, 2020
Food & Drink

Unilever is investing €1 billion (US$1.1 billion) in a fund over ten years that will tackle climate change projects. The British-Dutch multinational has pledged to reduce to net zero greenhouse gas emissions from all its products by 2039, more than a decade ahead of the Paris Agreement deadline.

Unilever says the new range of measures and commitments are designed to improve the health of the planet by stepping up action to fight climate change, and protect and regenerate nature, preserving resources for future generations.

Unilever will collaborate with a new generation of farmers and smallholders, driving programs to protect and restore forests, soil and biodiversity, as well as work with governments and other organizations to improve access to water for communities in water-stressed areas.

Unilever’s brands will collectively invest €1 billion (US$1.1 billion) in a new dedicated Climate & Nature Fund, to be used over the next ten years on projects likely to include landscape restoration, reforestation, carbon sequestration, wildlife protection and water preservation.

The new initiatives will build on the work that is already underway, such as Ben & Jerry’s initiative to reduce GHG emissions from dairy farms; Seventh Generation advocating for clean energy for all; and Knorr supporting farmers to grow food more sustainably.

“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,” says Alan Jope, Unilever CEO.

“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 recognize 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.”

Unilever’s existing science-based targets are: to have no carbon emissions from its 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, the British-Dutch multinational is additionally committing to net zero emissions from all its products by 2039 – from the sourcing of the materials used, up to the point of sale of Unilever products in the store.

To achieve this goal 11 years ahead of the 2050 Paris Agreement deadline, Unilever must work jointly with our partners across our value chain, to collectively drive lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Unilever says it will, therefore, prioritize building partnerships with its suppliers who have set and committed to their own science-based targets.

“We believe that transparency about carbon footprint will be an accelerator in the global race to zero emissions, and it is our ambition to communicate the carbon footprint of every product we sell. To do this, we will set up a system for our suppliers to declare, on each invoice, the carbon footprint of the goods and services provided; and we will create partnerships with other businesses and organizations to standardize data collection, sharing and communication,” says Unilever.

“The race to zero must be a collective effort, and business alone cannot drive the transition at the speed that is required. We call on all governments to set ambitious net-zero targets, as well as short term emissions reduction targets, supported with enabling policy frameworks such as carbon pricing.”

Unilever has been working with sustainable sourcing practices for over a decade. Eighty-nine percent of its forest-related commodities are certified as sustainably sourced to globally recognized standards. However, to end deforestation, Unilever stresses that higher standards are needed. “This means that we need to have visibility on exact sourcing locations, and no longer rely on the mass balance system, which does not allow for accurate verification of deforestation-free when sourcing derivatives of our commodities,” it says.

Achieving a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023
To do this, Unilever will increase traceability and transparency by using emerging digital technologies – such as satellite monitoring, geolocation tracking and blockchain – accelerating smallholder inclusion and changing its approach to derivates sourcing.

“We are also committed to working with the industry, NGOs and governments, to look beyond forests, peatlands and tropical rainforests, and to protect other important areas of high conservation value and high carbon stock which are under threat of conversion to arable land, with potentially devastating impact on the natural habitats,” continues the company.

In addition to continuing to drive sustainable sourcing and an end to deforestation, Unilever is setting out to help regenerate nature: increasing local biodiversity, restoring soil health, and preserving water conservation and access. To do this, we will empower a new generation of farmers and smallholders who are committed to protecting and regenerating their farm environment. Initiatives that we will drive include securing legal land rights, access to finance and financial inclusion, and development of restorative practices. This integrated approach will improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and give them leverage to drive the regeneration of nature.

Unilever is also introducing a pioneering Regenerative Agriculture Code for all its suppliers. The new code will build on our existing Sustainable Agriculture Code, which is widely recognized as being best-in-class in the industry, and it will include details on farming practices that help rebuild critical resources.

Unilever will also step up direct efforts to preserve water. Already, 40 percent of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity, and more than 2.1 billion people consume unsafe drinking water. Unilever will implement water stewardship programs for local communities in 100 locations by 2030.

Unilever will also join the 2030 Water Resources Group, a multi-stakeholder platform hosted by the World Bank, to contribute to transformative change and building resilience in water management in key water-stressed markets, such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia.

To further protect water resources, Unilever also aims to make its product formulations biodegradable by 2030, to minimize their impact on water and the aquatic ecosystems. Although some of the ingredients that Unilever currently uses have no viable biodegradable alternatives, the company will work with partners to drive innovation and find solutions.

“Our collective responsibility in tackling the climate crisis is to drive an absolute reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, not simply focus on offsetting – and we have the scale and determination to make it happen. But this is not enough. If we want to have a healthy planet long into the future, we must also look after nature: forests, soil biodiversity and water ecosystems,” says Marc Engel, Unilever Chief Supply Chain Officer.

“In most parts of the world, the economic and social inclusion of farmers and smallholders in sustainable agricultural production is the single most important driver of change for halting deforestation, restoring forests and helping regenerate nature. In the end, they are the stewards of the land. We must, therefore, empower and work with a new generation of farmers and smallholders in order to make a step change in regenerating nature.”

By: Gaynor Selby

Source: Food Ingredients First

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