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How has Unilever Updated its Climate Transition Action Plan?

May 26, 2024

Unilever has published a refreshed and “unashamedly realistic” Climate Transition Plan – weeks after a storm of protest about scaled-back targets.

Hein Schumacher, Unilever CEO, says the new commitments are “very stretching” and he revealed a determination to deliver against them.

CSO Rebecca Marmot, recently named in Sustainability Magazine’s Top 10 Women in Sustainability in the UK and Europe, said: “CTAP is really important, because it enables us to understand where our emissions sit across our business and our value chain.

“We’ve now got time-bound costed roadmaps that enable us to take action in each of the business groups.

“That means less exposure to volatility in the energy markets and more security of supply in key crops and commodities.”

A three-pronged approach
The refresh comes a few weeks after Unilever faced accusations that it was putting growth ahead of the planet by scaling back its ethical and environmental targets.

The company is now trying to draw a line under that by focusing on three keys sustainability mission statements:

To be more focused in allocating our resources towards our biggest sustainability priorities
To be more urgent in driving actions towards our long-term ambitions
To be more systemic in our advocacy to address the enablers and blockers of progress outside of our direct control.
Hein said: “Our updated commitments are very stretching, but they are also intentionally and unashamedly realistic. We are determined that Unilever will deliver against them.”

Why the refresh?
The press release accompanying the updated STAP says: “Sustainability has been important to Unilever for many years and responding to climate change has been a key part of this.

“We’ve reduced our operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 74% since 2015, largely through our transition to renewable electricity, and we’ve also lowered the climate impact of our products.”

Crucially, it adds justification of the recent changes.

It says: “As we look to our long-term ambition of reaching net zero across our value chain, the challenges we’re facing are changing and our solutions need to change too.

“We’re entering an era which rightfully places more scrutiny on how and when corporate climate action happens and we needed to evolve our strategy so that by 2030 we can achieve deep cuts in the emissions outside our direct control, while simultaneously growing our business.”

What comes next?
Unilever says it has an ambition to reach net zero across its value chain by 2039.

It says: “Our updated CTAP, which was supported by over 97% of shareholders at our 2024 AGM, sets out how we will progress towards our new near-term absolute greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“We know climate action is good for business. We’ve had results which support this, saving well over a billion euros through energy efficiency programmes alone.”

Ten key areas
The new plan arrows in on the following ten target areas:

  • A Supplier Climate Programme to accelerate key suppliers’ transition to climate leadership
  • Reformulating products
  • Building on work to manage a deforestation-free supply chain
  • Scaling up sustainable farming practices in its value chain
  • Reducing emissions from linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (a chemical used in cleaning products) and soda ash (a key ingredient in laundry powders)
  • Transitioning to renewable thermal energy
  • Using post-consumer recycled plastic
  • Improving transport network efficiency
  • Reducing GHG emissions from ice cream cabinets
  • Developing alternative aerosol propellants for the US and Canada market.

It says: “Over the years, we’ve learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

“We plan to use that experience, coupled with new developments in science, technology and innovation, and working in collaboration with others, to focus our efforts where we can have the most positive impact.”

What else is new?
The plan “outlines our strategy for reducing emissions in the short term, while we also put in place the building blocks to deliver in the long term”.

It includes new, “stretching” near-term science-based targets for lowering GHG emissions by 2030, approved by the Science Based Targets initiative.

Over the next three years, Unilever will invest €150m in its manufacturing decarbonisation programme, focusing on the decarbonisation of its thermal and electrical energy, increasing its use of renewable power and reducing emissions from refrigeration.

It is also investing in protecting nature, putting €325m into its Unilever oleochemicals facility in Indonesia, helping it to meet current and future demand for deforestation-free commodities.

The report adds: “And we’re continuing to invest €1bn in climate, nature and waste reduction projects by 2030 – of which we had already spent and committed €300m by the end of 2023.”

A voice for change?
The plan makes it clear that Unilever wants to use its considerable industry heft to be a sustainability influencer

It says: “Within the CTAP, we’ve outlined our dependencies and how we will need to work with governments, regulators, industry and consumers to address barriers, drive innovation and scale solutions, now and in the years ahead.

“Collaboration with key suppliers to accelerate climate action, with industry to find alternatives to chemical ingredients, with trade associations to align on our positions and with governments as we step up our advocacy will all help us to deliver our vision of a new era of sustainability leadership.”

It continues: “By more forcefully using our voice and convening power to address enablers and blockers of our progress, we believe we can move faster towards our goals and help accelerate the transition to net zero – while also driving success for our business.”

By Steven Downes


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