The health of our planet has reached a dangerous tipping point, with a massive loss of nature and biodiversity putting economies at risk and threatening the livelihoods of millions of people.
We cannot save the climate without saving biodiversity. The flipside of that is also true: if we fail to protect the natural world, we lose our biggest asset in the fight against climate change.
At Unilever, many of the raw materials we use in our brands come from farms and forests. And with naturals trends on the increase, this may grow over time.
That’s why the next two years are the critical window of opportunity for the world – and especially for businesses like ours – to speed up the development and adoption of solutions, and make the right collective choices about how we feed ourselves, protect nature and avoid global ecological chaos.
But while the issues we face are immediate and acute, there is hope.
The business community is getting behind the global biodiversity agenda. There’s momentum building ahead of the Convention on Biological Diversity taking place in Beijing next year, just as there was in the lead up to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris in 2015.
Why is nature important for business?
All businesses depend on nature to a greater or lesser degree. For example, they need access to resources such as food, fuel and minerals, and rely on ecosystems such as clean water, air and healthy soil. With that dependency comes risk, most notably the predictability and resilience of supply chains.
At the same time, there are huge economic opportunities associated with more sustainable practices. The Business and Sustainable Development Commission’s Better Business, Better World report identified around $3 trillion in opportunities in food and land system transformation alone.
The potential for growth resulting from eco-innovations that both protect the environment and advance human welfare is vast.
Our Planet: Our Business
This momentum within the business community is being fuelled in part by a documentary called Our Planet: Our Business.
Following the huge success of Netflix’s Our Planet series, which launched in April 2019, this new film has been produced by the award-winning team behind the series specifically for a business audience. It combines stunning wildlife footage with the voices of influential business leaders.
The film shows how economic stability depends on nature’s stability – we can’t have one without the other. And like the Our Planet series, it has a positive message that change is possible and businesses can play a fundamental role in saving the planet.
Unilever playing a leading role
Unilever has a long history of helping to address many of the areas highlighted in the film, especially through our Sustainable Living Plan.
For example, protecting biodiversity is central to our Sustainable Agriculture Programme, which was inspired by our ambition to buy agricultural raw materials from farms applying sustainable agricultural practices – growing crops in ways which sustain the soil, minimise water and fertiliser use, protect biodiversity and enhance farmers’ livelihoods.
We’re also investing a huge amount into developing new packaging solutions that use less, better and no plastic, including options around refill and reuse. And we made an industry-leading public commitment in 2015 to become carbon positive in our operations by 2030.
Greater power through partnerships
As Marc Engel, Unilever's Chief Supply Chain Officer, says: “Through the pioneering work of our sustainable sourcing team in developing tools such as the Sustainable Agriculture Code, Unilever has been at the forefront of the business response to biodiversity loss.
“But the issue is now urgent, and all businesses must do more to understand and manage their footprint. We were delighted that, last month, leading business organisations came together to launch the Business for Nature coalition which is calling for action to reverse nature loss and restore the planet’s vital natural systems.”
Unilever is also part of other coalitions working to further this agenda. These include the World Economic Forum’s Nature Action Agenda, which brings together governments, business, investors and civil society to cooperate for action on biodiversity, and One Planet Business for Biodiversity, which aims to create a movement of private companies around concrete transformative actions in their supply chains that protect and/or restore biodiversity.
Main photo taken by Unilever employee Anibal Novo from Lisbon.