We are delighted to be once again ranked as the global leader in corporate sustainability in the annual survey compiled by GlobeScan and SustainAbility.
This survey canvasses the opinions of experts from business, government, NGOs and academia. Its aim is to track how the sustainability agenda is evolving and find out stakeholders’ views on which companies are leaders and why.
This year, more than 700 experts in over 70 countries were asked, unprompted, to name companies that they see as being leaders in integrating sustainability into their business strategy.
We were mentioned by 42% of those who responded – that’s up five points on our 2019 score.
Also featuring on this year’s list are Patagonia (26%) and IKEA (14%), followed by Interface and Natura, both on 8%.
GlobeScan also analyses the scores by region. Unilever, Patagonia and IKEA take the 1-2-3 spots in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. In Africa, we’re top, but Anglo American comes in second, ahead of Patagonia. In Latin America, home-grown cosmetics company Natura is No.1, with Unilever second and IKEA third.
As Chief Sustainability Officer Rebecca Marmot says: “This geographic spread of leadership is a notable step-change from previous years. It indicates that our strategy to democratise sustainability through our Compass is being recognised externally on the ground where it really matters.”
Proud of our achievements, but more to do
We first rose to the top of the GlobeScan survey in 2011, just a few months after we launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP).
The Plan’s 2020 targets were to improve the health of 1 billion people, buy 100% of our agricultural materials from sustainable sources and halve the environmental impact of our products.
At the time, GlobeScan’s Senior Vice President Chris Coulter said of our ambitions: “The stakes for sustainability leadership have been raised to a new level.”
So, how have we done against those goals?
In the ten years of the Plan, we've seen the way our work has changed the world around us – empowering women, protecting forests, improving health and supporting sustainable farming.
For instance, we helped more than 1.3 billion people improve their health and hygiene. We increased the amount of our agricultural raw materials that are sustainably sourced from 14% to 62%. And we are now using 100% renewable grid electricity in our manufacturing operations worldwide.
We also empowered over 2.3 million women, supporting them to develop new skills and expand their opportunities. And we helped 1.8 million small-scale retailers around the world access initiatives to improve their income.
We’re proud of our achievements, but we know we still have a lot of work to do.
An even more ambitious strategy
We haven’t met every one of our USLP targets. And at times, we’ve learnt some hard lessons. We’re taking these learnings and putting them at the heart of a new, even more ambitious strategy.
For instance, we found it difficult to maintain and deliver our sustainable sourcing targets when we don’t have full visibility of the supply chain for some ingredients. However much time and money we invest, we’re not always going to be able to deliver a more sustainable crop. So, we’re focusing on the ingredients where we can have the greatest impact.
Similarly, we found it difficult to measure the actual impact of many of our programmes to improve livelihoods and enhance opportunities for women. This is something we’re still working on.
We also found that because the pace of change is fast, we need to be flexible to stay ahead of the curve. We realised, for example, that our work on waste had to be accelerated to address plastic specifically. We introduced new commitments in 2017, followed by very stretching targets in 2019.
And in June, we launched ambitious new commitments and actions to fight climate change, protect and regenerate nature, and preserve resources for future generations. These include net zero emissions from all our products by 2039 and a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023.
“Our vision is to be the leader in sustainable business globally,” says Rebecca. “We want to be a business that delivers value to all stakeholders – socially, environmentally and economically. We will do more of what has worked well and correct what hasn’t. And we’ll continue to set ourselves even more ambitious and progressive targets.”