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Embedding sustainability

We are integrating sustainability into our brands, marketing and innovation and exploring new ideas and approaches to achieve the goals in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Farmers growing sustainable tomatoes for Knorr

Employees have a key role to play. We are giving them the knowledge and tools they need to help drive our sustainable growth, particularly our marketing teams who are central to developing brands with a sustainable living purpose. We aim to use our marketing to encourage positive behaviour change and to share what we’ve learnt in this area with others.

We are integrating sustainability into the way we engage, train and reward our people and have embedded sustainability into our governance structures. And we’re collaborating with others in four areas where we’ve identified we can use our scale and influence to bring about change to whole systems.

Purpose-led brands will drive growth

Putting sustainable living at the heart of our brands is inspiring our consumers and growing our sales. The concept of ‘purpose-led’ brands is not new. Among our own brands, Lifebuoy and Ben & Jerry’s have had a social or environmental purpose at their heart since they were founded.

However, in today’s complex and interconnected world, a powerful purpose alone is not enough and brands must look their impacts across the board. Brands cannot do social good while harming the planet, or improve the lives of women who buy our products while ignoring the working conditions of the women who make them.

Purpose-led brands

Keith Weed


Our Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Keith Weed, leads our Marketing function as well as our Sustainable Business & Communications team.

“By putting purpose at the heart of our brands we can move from marketing to consumers to mattering to people. Purpose-led brands will drive growth for our business, connect us with our consumers and deliver a positive social impact.”

How we define a Sustainable Living brand

We have created a definition of what makes a true ‘Sustainable Living’ brand. Such a brand must not only have a clear purpose that contributes to a social or environmental concern; the product itself must also contribute to one or more of the targets we have set in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

To assess product and purpose, we developed a methodology to help us determine how, and to what extent, each brand delivers against the two criteria. It enables brands to generate a systematic view of their progress across social and environmental factors. In 2016, we analysed our top brands using this methodology. Our analysis revealed that in 2015 our 12 Sustainable Living brands delivered nearly half our growth and grew 30% faster than the rest of the business. These brands again drove nearly half our growth in 2016, but this time they grew 40% faster.

We believe that if we want to effect change at scale, we will achieve this by making large, successful, category-defining brands recognisably sustainable. Our big brands such as Dove, Dirt is Good, Knorr, Hellmann’s and Lipton are all Sustainable Living brands.

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Lipton logo

Purpose and product in action: Lipton

Purpose: Lipton supports farmers by working to improve their livelihoods and those of their families while protecting the planet for the future.

Product: By the end of 2015, all the tea for our Lipton tea bag blends was sourced from Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM estates, a major step for the world’s biggest tea brand.

The examples from Lipton and Domestos show how each has a purpose that addresses a specific social and environmental concern. And how they have made changes and improvements to their products to address a specific target in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Our work on sustainable living brands is based on detailed analysis of our brands’ environmental footprint across the lifecycle. See Lifecycle assessment for more on our approach.

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Domestos logo

Purpose and product in action: Domestos

Purpose: To help 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet by 2020 by promoting the benefits of using clean toilets and by making toilets accessible.

Product: We have reduced the plastic used for our Domestos bottles by up to 15%, making them lighter yet maintaining their strength. Once rolled out across the range worldwide, this will save around 1,000 tonnes of plastic a year.

Consumers believe sustainability is important

In 2015, we carried out research to understand whether consumers’ views on sustainability translate to actual purchasing choices1. The majority of people we spoke to not only believe that sustainability is important but also take action to live more sustainably. Our research also revealed that sustainability issues are relevant to consumers in both developed and emerging markets. This supports our thinking that sustainability presents a growth opportunity for business.

1 Unilever research in 2015 by Flamingo and Europanel

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