“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,” Unilever CEO Alan Jope said in a statement.
To protect water resources, it’s aiming to make its product formulations biodegradable by working with partners to produce decomposable alternatives where they don’t yet exist. More than 2.1 billion people consume unsafe drinking water and 40% of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity, according to the World Bank.
It is now going further and aims to entirely remove or offset the emissions from all its products by 2039, from the sourcing of materials to the point of sale. Suppliers will be required to disclose the carbon intensity of the goods and services they provide, so that Unilever can publicize how much carbon has been emitted in the process of manufacturing and getting its products to shoppers. The company has not yet decided whether this information will be disclosed on product labels or published online, a spokesperson said.
Unilever, which has around 60,000 suppliers globally, said it will prioritize those that have set their own emissions targets.
The company will not simply focus on “offsetting,” but will drive an absolute reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, said Unilever chief supply chain officer, Marc Engel. Carbon offsetting refers to the practice of balancing out emissions by funding equivalent carbon dioxide savings elsewhere, such as tree planting or sustainable development projects. Questions remain as to how effective offsetting is in combating climate change.
Unilever said Monday that it will achieve a “deforestation-free” supply chain by 2023, using satellite monitoring, geolocation tracking and blockchain to understand exactly where and how its commodities are sourced.
The company also said it will work with smallholder farmers to restore soil health, conserve water, and secure legal land rights and access to finance. It will implement water stewardship programs for local communities in 100 locations by 2030.
“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,” said Engel.