Rebecca Marmot Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever
THE RACE TO A ZERO CARBON ECONOMY IS ON
The science is clear; the world needs to decarbonise in line with the 1.5°C Paris Agreement or we face warming earth to a level that will cost lives, livelihoods and our future.
Even with current emissions reduction policies in place, our trajectory means we will still hit between 2.8 to 3.2°C by 2100. The race to a zero-carbon economy is on.
Since the release of the IPCC’s ground-breaking 1.5°C report in 2019, a coalition of initiatives representing 449 cities, nearly 1000 businesses, investors, and 500 universities has been mobilised – all with the collective aim of reaching net zero.
Together, this global movement joins 120 countries committed to achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest. Collectively these groups already cover nearly 25% of global CO₂ emissions and 50% of worldwide GDP.
The objective is to build momentum ahead of COP26, where governments must strengthen their contributions to the Paris Agreement. It also sends governments a resounding signal that business, cities, regions and investors are united in meeting the Paris goals and creating a more inclusive and resilient economy.
If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s the power of collective action.
This year has brought about unprecedented difficulties and change, with millions of people around the world reeling from the devastating human and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has also put the world’s ongoing challenges under the spotlight, highlighting the societal deprivation facing those most vulnerable in our communities.
At the same time, it has also brought issues like the climate emergency into sharp focus, reminding us all that we cannot forget the threat we and the planet are facing. So, while the health and wellbeing of people around the world is absolutely the top priority, we can’t drop the ball on the climate crisis. It is often the most vulnerable who already suffer the most from the negative impact of climate change.
In June this year, Unilever made a new commitment to achieve net zero emissions from all our products by 2039, well ahead of the Paris Agreement’s 2050 target. When we think about the land and farming that goes into producing the crops for our business, it’s not enough to do no harm, we need to go further. This means increasing local biodiversity, restoring soil health and preserving water conversation and access.
To do this we’re introducing a pioneering regenerative Agriculture code for all our suppliers. That means empowering a new generation of farmers and smallholders with great agricultural practices and access to finance to ensure a greater share of the value they are producing.
We cannot rest there. We need to leverage the power of our brands as a change agent. Unilever’s brands will invest €1 billion in a new dedicated Climate & Nature Fund to take meaningful and decisive action with a range of projects to achieve our targets.
The new initiatives will build on the great 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.
At Unilever, 2020 also marks the ten-year anniversary of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP); our blueprint for how we do business, embedding sustainability across our value chain.
At this seminal moment, I was honoured that Unilever was recognised as the global leader in sustainability in the annual survey compiled by GlobeScan and SustainAbility for the tenth year.
IF THE PAST FEW MONTHS HAVE TAUGHT US ANYTHING, IT’S THE POWER OF COLLECTIVE ACTION.
However, this isn’t a race where the winners will be lauded, or even one that they will ‘win’.
As governments, organisations, individuals and many co-contributors to this journal will echo; if we are to address these challenges, we need to ensure our “new normal” is built back better. We must reimagine our economies and societies in line with the future we want.
It’s this same determination to create a more sustainable future which led us to launch the USLP a decade ago.
For us, the USLP changed the game. At a time when most businesses saw sustainability and day to day operations as separate, we saw that they were intrinsically linked with our wider business strategy. Underpinned by multiple commitments and time-bound targets, the plan set out three goals to transform our social, environmental and economic performance across the value chain. This holistic strategy is also key to the Sustainable Development Goals that were launched in 2015.
The SDGs helped us galvanise action for sustainability right across the entire business – from the supply chain through to manufacturing and into the hands of consumers across the world.
Through structure and rigour, we are making sure all our brands have a sustainable model and tangible goals.
We’ve continued to invest and drive our USLP action over the past 10 years. We met
many of our goals and fell behind on a few, but we have certainly become a better business for trying and will continue to do so.
Both the successes and the learnings have reinforced our unwavering commitment to sustainability and have been instrumental for our new sustainable business strategy; The Compass. It will point us, and those in our value chain, in the right direction to become leaders in sustainable business globally, by tackling the key challenges of our time, such as waste, packaging, gender equality and, of course, climate change and social inclusion.
While we have our targets, models and strategies, it’s vital to remember that we certainly can’t do this alone. It will take immense dedication and collaboration across not only our business, but those in our supply chain, partners, competitors and governing bodies.
In the 1890s, Sunlight Soap was our first brand with purpose; to make cleanliness commonplace and that life may be more enjoyable and rewarding for the people who use the product.
It’s this mission and foundation that has set Unilever on course to become an agent of transformational change for people and planet.
Today, at the beginning of the 2020s, it’s clear that there have not been many times when we have witnessed such huge, global change. We’ve seen it after The Great Depression and World War II, but this is unprecedented.
It gives us a massive responsibility and opportunity to build a better future.