Sustainable sourcing

36% of agricultural raw materials sustainably sourced by the end of 2012

Our commitment

By 2020 we will source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably: 10% by 2010; 30% by 2012; 50% by 2015; 100% by 2020.

Our performance

36% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced by the end of 2012. This exceeded our interim milestone of 30%, and marks a significant rise from 24% in 2011.

What matters most

For the Sustainable sourcing commitment we have three targets that are most material to us: Sustainable palm oil, Traceable palm oil and Paper and board. (M) indicates our most material targets.

  • achieved: 1
  • on-plan: 15
  • off-plan: 1
  • %of target achieved: 0

Our perspective

Half of our raw materials come from farms and forests and the decisions that we make on who we source from, and how we work with them, can have profound implications on global resources, climate change and farmer livelihoods.

There is a clear business case for Unilever to source its raw materials sustainably. By taking a long-term view we can ensure security of supply, reduce costs and protect scarce resources. This long-term approach can also create a win-win for farmers.

For example, ensuring the traceability of palm oil back to its source can help Unilever secure supplies sustainably while also ensuring deforestation, land use and social and community issues are managed responsibly.

By sharing information about where products come from, we are also meeting emerging consumer needs. Lipton tea and Magnum ice cream’s Rainforest Alliance certification and the new Knorr soup labelling on sustainably grown tomatoes are leading the way.

Our progress on sourcing has been strong. We are concentrating first on our top ten agricultural raw material groups, which account for around two-thirds of our volumes: palm oil; paper and board; soy; sugar; tea; fruit and vegetables; sunflower oil; rapeseed oil; dairy ingredients; and cocoa. We are on track for all these materials. But the task remains immense, particularly where our volumes are small.

Our Sustainable Agriculture Code

The Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code was launched in 2010, after 15 years’ work. Our sustainable sourcing programme relies on compliance with the Code, through self-assessment or through external certification standards.

2012 was our first year of getting to scale and gave us deeper insights about suppliers’ challenges. We have now sustainably sourced tomatoes, dairy, rapeseed, sunflower seed, sugar beet and potatoes, demonstrating the Code’s flexibility across crops and countries. Chinese tomato farmers have significantly reduced fertilizer use while increasing yields, and we are tracking pest infestation using traps and smartphones, leading to lower pesticide use and better quality crops for Mediterranean tomato farmers.  

Sustainable palm oil (M)

  • We will purchase all palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015.
  • We will purchase all palm oil sustainably from certified, traceable sources by 2020.

    (New target 2012.)

  • 100% of palm oil from sustainable sources by end 2012: 97% via GreenPalm certificates; and
  • 3% of palm oil purchased from certified, traceable sources (through a segregated supply) by end 2012.†

More on sustainable palm oil

Our perspective

In April 2012, we announced that we would reach our 2015 target three years ahead of schedule. This has been achieved primarily through the purchase of GreenPalm certificates. We recognise that these make a significant contribution to a more sustainable palm oil industry, but they are only a first step.

To source sustainably we need to be able to trace our palm oil back to the plantation on which it is grown, and trace its route through certified mills, transport and use. Our new target is to source all our palm oil from certified, traceable sources by 2020.

We began sourcing traceable palm oil for our European markets in 2011, from suppliers certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. We are investing €69 million in a palm kernel oil processing plant in Indonesia and considering similar joint venture investments in processing crude palm oil derivatives elsewhere to help us achieve traceable supplies.

We are committed to working with suppliers, peers, competitors and governments to transform the industry. This will provide assurances to consumers and help to break the links between palm oil, deforestation and land conflict.

Promoting the uptake of sustainable palm oil in China

Around 14% of palm oil is now certified as sustainable by the RSPO, but only half the available certified sustainable palm oil is being taken up in the market.

In 2012 Unilever joined key players in industry and government for the China Sustainable Palm Oil Supply Chain Forum, for talks on promoting faster uptake in China, the world’s second-largest consumer of palm oil.

† Independently assured by PwC

Sustainable paper and board (M)

  • We will source 75% of the paper and board for our packaging from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by 2015. We will reach 100% by 2020.
  • 63% of our paper and board came from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by end 2012.

More on sustainable paper and board

Our perspective

Of the 63%, 87% comprised recycled fibre and 13% certified virgin fibre.

In our 2011 Progress Report we estimated that 60% of our paper and board came from sustainable sources. Since then, we have made significant improvements to our data collection and reporting processes so that we now have more detailed, auditable data that does not rely on estimates.

In 2012 we rolled out sustainable paper packaging certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for our Knorr wet soups in Europe, and for our AdeS soy drinks in Brazil.

Sustainable soy

  • We will source sustainably all soy beans by 2014 and all soy oils by 2020.
  • 10% of soy oil sustainably sourced in the form of RTRS certificates by end 2012.†

  • For soy beans, in 2012 we made steady progress towards certified supplies in 2013.

More on sustainable soy

Our perspective

We use soy oil in our spreads, mayonnaise and dressings. We have supported the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) since it first issued certificates and in 2012 we were one of the largest single purchasers of the certificates.

We buy most of our soy oil in the US, where there is currently no RTRS certified soy. Over 2011-12 we explored the potential for an RTRS National Interpretation for the US soy industry with the United Soybean Board (USB) and WWF US, but were unsuccessful. However, we have joined Field to Market: The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. This brings together US producers, agribusinesses, food companies and conservation organisations to create sustainable outcomes for agriculture. Its Fieldprint Calculator enables growers to analyse how their management choices impact natural resources and operational efficiency. Making use of this tool, we continue to work with the USB as it refines its Soy Pledge’s assurance protocol for sustainable soy.

In 2012, we did not purchase as much sustainable soy oil as we hoped; however, in 2013 we will begin a pilot with US soy farmers to track and verify performance improvements to achieve equivalence to our Sustainable Agriculture Code.

Soy beans make up about 10% of our soy purchases, for use in our AdeS soy drinks. We expect to make the first purchases of sustainable beans in 2013. We are determined to make progress and have a roadmap in place to meet our 2014 target.

† Independently assured by PwC.

Sustainable tea

  • By 2015 we aim to have the tea in all Lipton tea bags sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ estates. By 2020, 100% of Unilever’s tea, including loose tea, will be sustainably sourced.
  • 75% of our Lipton tea bag blends contained a proportion of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ tea by end 2012.†  
  • Overall, 39% of the tea purchased for all our brands was sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms.†

More on sustainable tea

Our perspective

In 2007 we were the first major tea company to commit to sustainable sourcing of tea on a large scale. We are on track to achieve our 2015 milestone and 2020 target.

Over the last five years Unilever and our suppliers have invested heavily in improving farming practices among tea farmers, building capacity to more than 170,000 tonnes of Rainforest Alliance certified tea. For example, all the tea we source from Argentina is now Rainforest Alliance certified, and this effort has contributed significantly to the development of the tea industry in the Misiones Province.

Between 2007 and the end of 2012, a total of around 450,000 farmers had been trained to the Rainforest Alliance standard, in partnership with Unilever, in preparation for certification.

During 2012 we continued to partner with the Netherlands-based Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to co-fund farmer field schools which promote sustainable agriculture through group learning and field observation techniques.

Unilever and IDH have jointly agreed to invest a further €4 million over the next two years to help take our sustainability initiatives to scale in Africa, Vietnam and India. This training will not only benefit Unilever but also the tea industry as a whole.

† Independently assured by PwC.

Sustainable fruit and vegetables

  • We will purchase 100% of our fruit from sustainable sources by 2015.
  • We will purchase 50% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs from sustainable sources by 2012 and 100% by 2015. This accounts for over 80% of our global vegetable and herb volume.
  • 7% of fruit purchased sustainably by end 2012.
  • 59% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs purchased from sustainable sources by end 2012.

More on sustainable fruit and vegetables

Our perspective

We bought our first sustainable fruit in 2012. In 2013 we will focus our efforts on working with our suppliers and looking for further partnership opportunities as we are a small player in this market. We have not made as much progress as we would have liked. This makes our 2015 target challenging, but we have a plan in place which makes us confident we will reach it.

We exceeded our interim target for our top 13 vegetables and herbs; more than half our suppliers had self-verified their practices according to the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code by the end of 2012. We now have 24 ‘Landmark Farms’ supplying vegetables for our Knorr brand and acting as agricultural role models for other suppliers.

To meet our target, we have been working with suppliers and their farmers around the world to identify areas for improvement and assess their progress using the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code. We work with suppliers of onions, garlic and tomatoes in California, US and suppliers of gherkins and fruit in India. In India we aim to boost yields to at least the global average.

Knorr’s first product with sustainably sourced label

Knorr’s new Tomato and Mascarpone soup was launched in France in 2012 carrying the label ‘Made with sustainably grown tomatoes’. This is the first time we have promoted an ingredient as sustainably sourced with farmers verifying their progress in accordance with Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code.

We have been working with tomato suppliers for the last 15 years to reach this point. Building traceability has been key – to ensure that the tomatoes that reach our packs are sustainably grown and traceable right through the supply chain and manufacturing process.

Sustainable cocoa

  • We will source cocoa sustainably for our Magnum ice cream by 2015. All other cocoa will be sourced sustainably by 2020.
  • 64% of cocoa for Magnum sustainably sourced through Rainforest Alliance certification by end 2012. Overall, 43% of all cocoa sourced sustainably.

More on sustainable cocoa

Our perspective

On pack and online, Magnum shares with its consumers why it has teamed up with Rainforest Alliance: to source high-quality cocoa beans, to increase the income of farmers and deliver social benefits such as improved health and safety practices.

To achieve certification, we are working with 20,000 small farmers across West Africa. Our strategic supply partner, Barry Callebaut, runs farmer training schools. The schools work with groups of local farmers to build their skills and knowledge around sustainable cultivation practices. Those farmers then act as trainers spreading good practice amongst their community and encouraging more farmers to follow the programme.

Sustainable sugar

  • We will source all sugar sustainably by 2020.
  • 8% of sugar sustainably sourced by end 2012.

More on sustainable sugar

Our perspective

Unilever has joined the Bonsucro roundtable, a not-for-profit initiative that is dedicated to reducing the environmental and social impacts of sugar cane production.

In December 2012, we purchased the first-ever Bonsucro sustainable sugar credits in Brazil. Although we are not a major buyer of sugar, we were the first Bonsucro member to buy credits as we are committed to the sustainable production of sugar.

In 2012, we also sourced our first sugar from beet farmers in France, Germany and the Netherlands. This was verified according to our Sustainable Agriculture Code.

Sustainable sunflower oil

  • We will source all sunflower oil sustainably by 2020.
  • 14% of sunflower oil sustainably sourced by end 2012.

More on sustainable sunflower oil

Our perspective

In 2011 we scoped pilot projects for sustainable sunflower oil in several regions, but these took longer than expected to come to fruition. However, in 2012, we were able to source our first sustainable sunflower oil and are back on track to achieve our target.

Our supplies were self-verified according to our Sustainable Agriculture Code and sourced from Hungary via Cargill and from South Africa.

Investing in traceability for sunflower oil

In South Africa we have been working with our supplier Ceoco to improve traceability in the supply chain. We identified a farming community in Limpopo with good practices that we could build on, then worked with the farmers by providing financial incentives to develop hybrid seeds with higher yields. We can trace the oils right back to the individual farms where the seeds were grown.

Our next step will be to scale up the project and roll it out to different provinces and more farmers.

Sustainable rapeseed oil

  • We will source all rapeseed oil sustainably by 2020.
  • 16% of rapeseed oil sustainably sourced by end 2012.

More on sustainable rapeseed oil

Our perspective

During 2012, we worked with one of our major suppliers, Cargill, to verify German oilseed rape production against the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code. This builds on a pilot project we began in 2009, which has helped us to agree annual improvement plans that go beyond European good agricultural practice, including biodiversity action plans to enhance habitats. We now have a model that can be applied to other oilseed crops.

In the UK, we have worked closely with the sustainable agriculture NGO, LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), and our supplier ADM to source certified rapeseed oil at scale for the first time.

Sustainable dairy

  • We will source all dairy produce sustainably by 2020.
  • 31% of dairy produce sustainably sourced by end 2012.

More on sustainable dairy

Our perspective

We made significant progress in 2012, increasing the proportion of sustainably sourced dairy ingredients from 10% in 2011 to 31% in 2012.

Following a successful pilot in 2011, we have scaled up our work with one of the largest dairy co-operatives in the world, FrieslandCampina. The company has its own sustainability commitments, such as the treatment of cows, grazing conditions, local biodiversity and waste impacts. These are aligned with the standards of our Sustainable Agriculture Code.

Fairtrade Ben & Jerry’s

  • All flavours of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will be Fairtrade certified by 2013. (Target revised 2012.)
  • In 2012 we made steady progress towards achieving Fairtrade certification on all our ice cream flavours.

More on Fairtrade Ben & Jerry’s

Our perspective

In Europe, our five key commodities (sugar, cocoa, coffee, vanilla and bananas) were converted to Fairtrade (FT) by the end of 2011.

Converting the rest of our ice creams is a major undertaking, involving around 200 ingredients for nearly 90 flavours. In 2011 we reported setbacks in the US which meant that we could not source all the FT-certified ingredients we needed for our US business.

We have found that FT ingredients are simply not available or do not meet our specifications for a range of the ingredients we use (such as some nuts and spices). So we have had to revise our target from our previous ‘all ingredients’ to ‘all flavours’.

In 2012 we worked with Fairtrade International to adjust our US conversion plan and identified that by using FT ingredients for the five major commodities in all our base mixes and for our chunks and swirls, all our ice cream flavours will qualify for FT certification by 2013. The vast majority of our ice creams will be available in stores by the end of the year, with the remainder becoming available early in 2014.

Cage-free eggs

  • We aim to move to 100% cage-free eggs for all our products,* including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé mayonnaises

  • Our roll-out of products using cage-free eggs continued, with around one-third of our mayonnaise portfolio in North America becoming cage-free by end 2012*.

More on cage-free eggs

Our perspective

In Western Europe our Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé brands have been 100% cage-free since 2009 and by the end of 2011, 99% of all eggs used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream mix worldwide were cage-free.

We have made good progress in North America in 2012, and are confident that we will achieve 100% cage-free eggs in our mayonnaise portfolio in this region over the coming years.

Our progress has been helped by the fact that we have built long-term contracts to give suppliers the confidence to invest in cage-free production.

*Where allowed by local legislation.

Increasing sustainable sourcing of office materials

  • By 2013 we will source all paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries from either certified sustainable forests or recycled sources.
  • More than 95% of paper-based materials from certified sustainable forests or recycled sources by September 2012.

More on increasing sustainable sourcing of office materials

Our perspective

We are making good progress towards our 2013 target and will continue to work closely with our suppliers to ensure the robustness of our reporting process.

"More than a third of our agricultural raw materials are now sourced sustainably."

Future challenges

Sustainable sourcing of all our raw materials remains an ambitious target, especially where our market influence is lower because of our smaller volumes. We started with our top 10 agricultural materials and are now considering the next 30. These account for around 20% of our volume, so progress in these areas will mark a significant milestone. In 2012 we made considerable progress with ingredients such as vanilla and meat.

We recognise that verification and certification are not end goals. The real challenge is to show the positive impacts that sustainability can have on the lives of farmers, the environment and the communities in which they live and work.

These issues are complex to tackle. Working with others is a critical success factor: by transforming global supply chains together, we can move faster and also increase awareness among consumers of the benefits of sustainably sourced products.

Our non-agricultural (and therefore non-renewable) raw materials have also been a focus in 2012.

We have been mapping the landscape for mineral mining to identify sustainability improvements and we now have visibility on the origins and extraction sites for about half our portfolio. We have also looked into existing initiatives and programmes to reduce the environmental, health and safety impacts of the raw materials we use (‘product stewardship programmes’).