Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, launched in November 2010, has achieved some early wins, but the real story lies in the long-term strategy. Only by working with others does it stand any chance of success
Seven pillars. Fifty core commitments. Horizons of two to 10 years. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan all made for impressive reading, rather like an election manifesto.
Politicians usually get a 100-day grace period before the critics plunge in. Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever has had six months, which is generous by comparison, but in sustainability terms, that’s still early days.
Its targets are far from being a doddle (see box). Some, as green guru and sometime adviser to Unilever John Elkington puts it, are “almost insanely ambitious”. The goal of making its entire agricultural sourcing 100% sustainable by 2020 fits that bill. (The current figure stands at about 10%).
It remains legitimate to ask how the company is getting on. So what does its early report card look like?
Talk to Unilever and it will point to a number of early wins. Karen Hamilton, global vice-president for sustainability at the company, rolls off three.
The first is PureIt, Unilever’s water purifier. Targeted particularly at low-income consumers, the product has provided access to safe drinking water for 20 million people.
Another is renewable energy. Every single Unilever factory in the Netherlands now runs 100% on power from renewable sources. The company is also on course to...