The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan for

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Sustainable sourcing

Growing for the future – sustainable sourcing has never been more important.

The widespread adoption of sustainable agriculture is crucial if we are to feed over 9 billion people without depleting the planet’s natural resources.

Sustainable farming methods have the potential to increase yields considerably, mitigate the effects of climate change and provide economic and social benefits to farmers, their families, and the surrounding communities. We believe sustainable agriculture will play a vital role in achieving the UN's Global Goals for Sustainable Development, particularly those on eradicating hunger and poverty. Our wider work on sourcing impacts a number of the other Global Goals, such as those on quality education (Goal 4); decent work and economic growth (8); climate action (13); life on land (15); and partnership for the goals (17).

The conversion of forests into agricultural plantations is one the major causes of deforestation. By using our scale and advocacy we are helping to drive transformational change whilst creating inclusive supply chains for smallholder farmers, who produce around 80% of the food consumed in emerging markets from Southern Asia to sub-Saharan Africa.

Sourcing sustainably helps secure our supplies, and reduces risk and volatility in our raw material supply chains. It also opens up opportunities for innovation: by focusing on people’s sustainable living needs and consumer preference, we build stronger brands. Sustainable farming methods can also improve the quality of our products, such as our sauces, soups, dressings or ice creams.

Our strategy

Sourcing our agricultural raw materials sustainably can help us support climate action and improve people's livelihoods, while improving quality, strengthening our supply chains, and giving consumers brands they can trust.

Palm oil farmer

The agriculture sector is vital - to the world, and to our business. The world needs to double food production by 2050 to help feed a population that could exceed 9 billion people - and many of the raw materials we use come from farms or forests.

Sustainable agriculture is at the heart of our approach to the climate and development challenge: we believe that sustainable agricultural practices are a vital way to help meet the aims of the Global Goals of eradicating hunger and poverty, while making our supply of ingredients more resilient. Sustainable farming methods have the potential to increase yields, mitigate the effects of climate change, and provide economic and social benefits to farmers, their families, and the surrounding communities.

We are also developing traceability in our supply chain through our Sustainable Agriculture Code. Knowing where our raw materials come from enables us to work with others to co-create responsible standards, and to make a positive impact on the livelihoods of the people whose work in our supply chain is so important to our success.

We are committed to sourcing 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably. Sourcing sustainably helps secure our supplies by reducing risk and volatility in our raw material supply chains. It also opens up opportunities for innovation: by focusing on people’s sustainable living needs and consumer preference, we can build stronger brands.

How will we source our raw materials sustainably?

Up to 2.5 billion consumers use our products every day. We need around 7 million tonnes of agricultural raw materials to make these products and millions of people play an important role in providing them. Our vision is for the supply chains that produce these agricultural raw materials to play a key role in Unilever’s purpose of making sustainable living commonplace.

By working with others, we aim to ensure all the major commodities on which we depend – notably palm oil, soy, paper and board, and tea – are produced sustainably for mainstream consumer markets.

We aim to create systemic change by:

  • sustainably sourcing to the highest standards from our network of suppliers
  • driving change through continuous improvement policies with suppliers
  • raising awareness of sustainable sourcing amongst our consumers
  • playing a leading role in the transformation of agriculture sectors relevant to our business
  • developing a sustainable tea and palm oil industry
  • protecting biodiversity.

Working in partnership with others is central to achieving our ambition of making sustainable agriculture mainstream. This includes collaborating with suppliers, farmers, NGOs, and local government, as well as working with other businesses in the sector.

Our approach

For more than 15 years, we have pioneered a number of programmes and initiatives designed to drive the highest standards of sustainable sourcing within our operations and supply chain, evolving and developing them alongside wider industry and multi-stakeholder initiatives where these now exist. These programmes and policies, notably our Sustainable Agriculture Programme and Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (PDF | 2MB), our Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP), and most recently the Code for Responsible Extraction (CORE), are at the heart of our approach.

Meeting our standards

Within agriculture, our programme is driven by our Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC), which we require all our suppliers to comply with. Suppliers comply through self-assessment against our Code, or through external certification that meets or exceeds our own standards. For example, the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal provides reassurance to consumers that certified products are sourced from farms applying rigorous sustainability standards.

In 2017 we relaunched our Responsible Sourcing Policy. This updates our 2014 RSP and replaces our previous Supplier Code. Our business depends on the integrity, strength and sustainability of the many thousands of partners in our supply chain and our new Policy ensures that we are working with our suppliers towards a long-term, successful future for all parties. The RSP’s continuous improvement ladder is designed to help suppliers drive further progress in responsible management of their operations. It includes, for example, standards for suppliers on promoting fundamental human rights.

Our commitment

We are committed to sourcing 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020.

Progress to date

51% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced by end 2016 (2015: 60%). This includes 48% as physical sustainable sources (2015: 39%) and 3% in the form of certificates used mainly in soy and sugar (2015: 3%).

2016, we stopped buying GreenPalm certificates (2015: 18%).

In 2016 we refreshed our Palm Oil Policy and brought forward our target for purchasing 100% physically certified palm oil from 2020 to 2019. We also stopped buying GreenPalm certificates, which accounted for 18% of our sustainably sourced agricultural raw materials in 2015. This has created a temporary dip in our performance from 60% in 2015 to 51% in 2016.

Had we continued to buy GreenPalm certificates at the same level our overall sustainable sourcing performance in 2016 would have been 66%. Instead, we have increased our purchasing of sustainable physical agricultural raw materials from 39% in 2015 to 48% in 2016 whilst maintaining the same proportion of certificates purchased for soy and sugar (3% in 2015 and 2016).

Future challenges

Sustainable sourcing of our raw materials remains an ambitious target. We know we will not reach all our 2020 goals unless others move with us to bring about systemic changes. That is why we take an active role in industry collaborations such as Field to Market and the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, and we are working closely with others to develop industry standards of assurance and certification, particularly regarding labour rights and working conditions.

We also know that verification and certification do not in themselves guarantee solutions. To make sustainable living commonplace, we need to communicate the value of sustainable sourcing to consumers. In doing so, we will influence their buying habits towards sustainably sourced products and drive growth for our business.

Transformational change - Discover how we're driving transformational change by eliminating deforestation, championing the role of women, supporting sustainable agriculture and smallholder farmers, and improving water, sanitation and hygiene.


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Targets & performance

We have set targets for a number of our agricultural raw materials.


Sustainable sourcing
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

51% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced by end 2016 (2015: 60%). This includes 48% as physical sustainable sources (2015: 39%) and 3% in the form of certificates used mainly in soy and sugar (2015: 3%).

In 2016, we stopped buying GreenPalm certificates (2015: 18%).*

*In 2016, had we continued to buy GreenPalm certificates our overall sustainable sourcing performance in 2016 would have been 66%.

Our perspective

Many of our raw materials come from farms and plantations. The decisions we make on who we source from, and how we work with them, can have profound implications on global natural resources and climate change. They also have a wider social impact on human development, affecting the livelihoods of many.

By sourcing sustainably, we can protect scarce resources. We want to eliminate deforestation and ensure that land use and social and community issues are managed responsibly. For our business, sustainable sourcing means we ensure security of supply while managing our environment footprint and reducing market volatility.

We are committed to sourcing all our agricultural raw materials sustainably. By working with others, we aim to ensure all the major commodities on which we depend - notably palm oil, soy, paper and board, and tea – are produced sustainably for mainstream consumer markets.

In 2016 we refreshed our Palm Oil Policy and brought forward our target for purchasing 100% physically certified palm oil from 2020 to 2019. 

We also stopped buying GreenPalm certificates, which accounted for 18% of our sustainably sourced agricultural raw materials in 2015. However, our goal to source 100% of our palm oil sustainably from physically certified sources by 2019 is still on track with 36% of our palm volumes already physically certified in 2016 (representing 9% of all agricultural raw materials).

We aim to repurpose $50 million over five years that would have been spent on GreenPalm certificates and invest it in place-based partnerships. This is to increase the availability of certified sustainable palm oil and scale up direct sourcing from smallholder farmers.

Palm oil has created a temporary dip in our sustainably sourced agricultural raw materials performance from 60% in 2015 to 51% in 2016. Had we continued to buy GreenPalm certificates at the same level our overall sustainable sourcing performance in 2016 would have been 66%. Instead, we have increased our purchasing of sustainable physical agricultural raw materials from 39% in 2015 to 48% in 2016 whilst maintaining the same proportion of certificates purchased for soy and sugar (3% in 2015 and 2016).


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Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Sustainable palm oil

We will purchase all palm oil from physically certified sustainable sources by 2019.

(Target revised 2016)

36% of palm oil from physically certified sources in 2016, achieved through a combination of segregated and mass balance supply and GreenPalm certificates.


Our Perspective

In 2016 we refreshed our Palm Oil Policy and brought forward our target for purchasing 100% physically certified palm oil from 2020 to 2019. We are on track to achieve this more ambitious target.

To reflect the commitment in our Palm Oil Policy and to focus on our 2019 target, we have discontinued reporting against our previous 2015 target.

We have decided to stop buying GreenPalm certificates. These accounted for 18% of our sustainably sourced agricultural raw materials in 2015; achieving 36% sustainable palm oil in 2016 represents 9% of all our agricultural raw materials.

We aim to repurpose $50 million over five years that would have been spent on GreenPalm certificates and invest it in place-based partnerships. This is to increase the availability of certified sustainable palm oil and scale up direct sourcing from smallholder farmers.

Sustainable paper and board

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.

99% of our paper and board came from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by end 2016, up from 98% in 2015.


Our Perspective

In 2016, 59% of our total volume (from sustainably managed forests or recycled material) was received with a third party certification claim and full chain of custody. The remaining 40% came from recycled material.

There are challenges for our suppliers in providing verifiable evidence to support the make-up of uncertified products in our recycled material. To this end, we will accelerate the volume of certified recycled products we purchase by 2019 and source the recycled fibre from suppliers with third-party certification.

Asking our suppliers to certify recycled materials offers reassurance for our business and equally importantly, helps support a market for certified recycled materials. In 2016, we achieved 62% – up from 56% in 2015.

Sustainable soy

We will source sustainably all soy beans by 2014 and all soy oils by 2020.

100% soy beans purchased from sustainable sources by end 2014.

65% soy oil covered from sustainable sources by end 2016.


Our Perspective

We achieved our target to source 100% of our soy beans sustainably by 2014 (through the physical purchase of RTRS certified beans for our AdeS brand).

In 2016, 65% of our soy oil came from sustainable sources. This includes Round Table for Responsible Soy (RTRS) certified soy oil, RTRS certificates redeemed in 2016 and self-verified soy oil in the US.

Our sustainable soy programme in the US has grown from just 44,000 acres under cultivation in 2013, to 675,000 acres in 2016. These farms are now providing 80% of the sustainable soy oil we need for our Hellmann’s brand in the US.

Sustainable tea

  • By 2015 we aim to have the tea in all Lipton tea bags sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ estates.

Since 2015, 100% of the tea in our Lipton tea bag blends has come from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ sources.


  • By 2020, 100% of Unilever’s tea, including loose tea, will be sustainably sourced.

Overall, 75% of the tea purchased for all our brands was sourced from sustainable sources in 2016: 68% was Rainforest Alliance Certified™ and 7% was trustea Verified.


Our Perspective

We buy around 10% of the world’s black tea and in 2007 we were the first major tea company to commit to sustainable sourcing of tea on a large scale. In 2015, we reached our target for 100% of the tea in our Lipton tea bag blends to come from sustainable sources. By 2016, 75% of all our tea came from certified sustainable sources and we are on track to reach our 2020 target.

Through the Farmer Field Schools we set up in partnership with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), we have enabled around 86,000 lead farmers, including around 42,000 women, to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices. Farmer Field Schools help to share best agricultural practices, increase yields, improve quality, and improve health and nutrition. Now an embedded part of the tea system in KTDA, in 2016 we handed over full responsibility for the Farmer Field Schools to KTDA.

Sustainable fruit and vegetables

  • We will purchase 100% of our fruit from sustainable sources by 2015.
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67% of fruit purchased sustainably by end 2015; 85% by end 2016.


  • 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.
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92% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs purchased from sustainable sources by end 2015, up from 59% in 2012. We reached 95% in 2016.


Our Perspective

We bought our first sustainable fruit in 2012. Progress has been slower than we would have liked and we have had some setbacks towards our 2015 target. For our top 13 vegetables, we exceeded our interim milestone of 50% by 2012 (reaching 59%), but fruit and vegetables is a complex portfolio of materials with a very large and diverse supply base.

These supply chain complexities made it difficult to achieve our 100% target across the entire portfolio by 2015. However, by 2016, 85% of our fruit was sustainably sourced, and 95% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs.

Nonetheless we continue to work toward 100%, working in partnership with peers across the industry to cover the entirety of our supply base.

Sustainable cocoa

We will source cocoa sustainably for our Magnum ice cream by 2015. All other cocoa will be sourced sustainably by 2020.

98% of cocoa for Magnum sustainably sourced through Rainforest Alliance certification by end 2015; 98% by 2016.

Overall, 64% of all cocoa sourced sustainably.


Our Perspective

Magnum is our biggest ice cream brand and is on sale in 52 countries, with all but two of them now sourcing Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa. The challenge remains in sourcing Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa for Venezuela and Israel and where the availability of certified beans is limited. We will find an alternative solution to complete the final 2% conversion.

We remain on track towards our 2020 target of sourcing all our cocoa sustainably, increasing from 60% in 2015 to 64% in 2016.

Sustainable sugar

We will source all sugar sustainably by 2020.

62% of sugar sustainably sourced by end 2016.


Our Perspective

We verify sugar beet primarily against our Sustainable Agriculture Code and mainly use Bonsucro certification for sugar cane. In 2016 we bought self-assessed and physical, certified sugar (beet and cane, 35%) and covered part of our sugar requirements with Bonsucro credits (27%).

In Europe our supplier Nordzucker became one of the first to complete the Farm Sustainability Assessment developed by the SAI Platform and agreed by many businesses in the food and beverages industries as a common code for the industry. While the sugar Nordzucker supplied already met our own Sustainable Agriculture Code standards, we welcome the transition to SAI as a step towards mainstreaming sustainability.

On cane sugar we pursued our dual strategy of creating more physical capacity on the ground whilst continuing to apply credits. Through the Bonsucro platform, a not for-profit, multi-stakeholder organisation promoting sustainable sugar cane, we are working in the Americas and Asia to apply this combined approach.

Sustainable sunflower oil

We will source all sunflower oil sustainably by 2020.

53% of sunflower oil sustainably sourced by end 2016.


Our Perspective

We have made good progress in sustainably sourcing our sunflower oil. We have increased our volume from 45% in 2015 to 53% in 2016 by rolling out our programme with our partners Cargill and ADM.

In 2016, we received our first volumes of oil from sunflowers grown in Turkey and Argentina by suppliers who have transitioned to our Sustainable Agriculture Code.

Sustainable rapeseed oil

We will source all rapeseed oil sustainably by 2020.

80% of rapeseed oil sustainably sourced by end 2016.


Our Perspective

We are making steady progress on rapeseed oil. In 2016, the vast majority of our European rapeseed volumes were sourced sustainably. This includes the oil for our German Rama spreads, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise in the UK. It also covers all our Flora range in the UK. The majority of these volumes are being sourced locally from growers located near our manufacturing plants.

We continue to work with our suppliers and other partners, including on a joint approach with our partner Bunge in Canada, where more than 170 farmers signed up to our Sustainable Agriculture Code programme in 2016, bringing the total to 278. In close co-operation with our farm advisers, Control Union, these farmers have transitioned their practices to our requirements well ahead of schedule.

Sustainable dairy & animal husbandry

We will source all dairy produce sustainably by 2020.

70% of dairy produce sustainably sourced by end 2016.


Our Perspective

We made good progress, increasing from 59% in 2015 to 70% in 2016. More of our suppliers and farmers achieved sustainable dairy status in countries as far apart as the US, Ecuador, Europe and New Zealand.

In Turkey we are trialling ways of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with milk - including techniques that aim to improve the comfort, health and longevity of cows. In India we continued our pilot with World Animal Protection, Nestlé and suppliers to train smallholder farmers in animal welfare and feeding practices.

We also continued our efforts to convert industry sectors to a sustainable sourcing standard, building on our success in Australia and Ireland – where since 2013 and 2015 respectively, the dairy sector has had programmes that are equivalent to our Sustainable Agriculture Code.

Fairtrade Ben & Jerry's

All flavours of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will be Fairtrade certified by 2013.

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77% of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavours achieved Fairtrade certification in 2013. We reached 100% in 2014.


Our Perspective

Ben & Jerry’s ice creams were the first to use Fairtrade (FT) ingredients in 2005. By the end of 2011 in Europe, we achieved Fairtrade certification for all our products produced and distributed in Europe.

In 2012, due to issues around quality and availability, we found we could not source all the FT-certified ingredients we needed for a global conversion. So we revised our target from our previous ‘all ingredients’ to ‘all flavours’ certified.

We identified that by using FT ingredients for the five major commodities in all our base mixes and for our chunks and swirls, and following proper Fairtrade derogation procedures, all our ice cream flavours would qualify for Fairtrade certification by 2013. We reached 77% in 2013.

In 2013 we also decided to source only non-GMO ingredients by seed source. As this added complexity to our conversion programmes, we delayed our plans, achieving FT-certification for all our flavours 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.

53% of eggs were cage-free by end 2016.


Our Perspective

Our research shows that consumers prefer products made with cage-free eggs. We use eggs in mayonnaises, dressings, sauces and ice cream. However, the conditions in which eggs are produced vary widely around the world. We take animal welfare seriously as a social and ethical concern.

In Western Europe, Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé have been 100% cage-free since 2009, and once we completed the conversion of our supply chain in Eastern Europe, all our European products were able to use cage-free eggs by 2014.

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has used only cage-free eggs in Europe since 2004; by the end of 2011, 99% of all eggs used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream mix worldwide were cage-free too.

We continue to make good progress with our North American supply base - where over 60% of our egg requirements originated from cage-free sources by the end of 2016.

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.

100% of paper-based materials from certified sustainable forests or recycled sources by end 2013.


Our Perspective

Our commitment covers office paper products such as printer paper, note books and envelopes. By using paper from sustainable or recycled sources, we avoid using wood from non-sustainable sources, helping our aim to end deforestation.

We achieved our target in 2013, when 100% of our paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries came from either certified, sustainable forests or recycled sources. All our suppliers sign a certificate of compliance, and we monitor compliance via quarterly reporting. Where necessary, we have changed from non-sustainable products to sustainable products.

We then extended our ambition from the top 21 countries to all other countries in Europe and Latin America, with the aim of reaching 100% compliance by the end of 2015, which we achieved.

While we no longer report on this target as we achieved it in 2013, we continue to drive greater use of sustainable paper across our business.

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