It’s fair to say that 2020 has been a year like no other. Dominated by a pandemic which has affected us all in one way or another, lives and economies continue to be turned upside-down. Thankfully, there appears to be a chink of light at the end of this very long tunnel, with vaccines starting to become available.
In the year that Unilever turned 90, we have drawn on our resources and expertise as a global, purpose-led business to help people manage through the crisis. And while that has been a major focus, we have also made good progress on other important issues that matter to us all and, at the same time, announced some bold new commitments.
As 2020 draws to a close, we look back at some of our key moments from the past year.
1. We supported individuals, communities and businesses through the pandemic
We announced a set of measures to support global and national efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic – to protect lives and livelihoods. We committed to providing free soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to the value of €100 million to consumers and communities. We offered €500 million of cash-flow relief to support customers and suppliers across our extended value chain. And we committed to protect the pay of our employees and contractors.
These big measures filtered down to a host of on-the-ground initiatives. For instance, we partnered with charities and NGOs to get product donations to those most in need – our United for America programme is a good example. We joined forces with the UK government to target a billion people with a handwashing behaviour change campaign. And we scaled up our hand sanitiser business – from two factories in January to 61 in May – to meet global demand.
2. We marked ten years of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan
In 2010, we set out to become the world’s most sustainable business with the launch of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). With far-reaching goals, this was a game-changer for us, and for others. And we’re proud of the positive impacts we’ve made.
For instance, we’ve reached 1.3 billion people through our health and hygiene programmes, and helped over 2.3 million women access initiatives aiming to promote their safety, develop their skills or expand their opportunities.
3. We announced new actions to help protect climate and nature
As the world turned its attention to Covid-19, the focus shifted from a far greater and ever-present threat to people and the planet: the climate and nature crisis. We announced ambitious new commitments and actions to fight climate change, protect and regenerate nature, and preserve resources for future generations.
These include a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023 and net zero emissions from all our products by 2039. As part of this, our brands will collectively invest €1 billion in a fund which will be used to take meaningful and decisive action.
4. We launched a vision to reimagine the future of cleaning
In addition to our Climate & Nature announcement, we launched Clean Future – an innovation strategy that will fundamentally change the way that our cleaning and laundry products are created, manufactured and packaged.
At its heart is the ambition to replace 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in our product formulations with renewable or recycled carbon by 2030. As part of this, Omo launched its cleanest, greenest products yet by incorporating plant-based stain removers.
5. We committed to making planet-friendly food an appetising option
We launched our Future Foods initiative: our plan to help people transition towards healthier diets and reduce the environmental impact of the food chain. In it we commit to an annual €1 billion sales target from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, and continuing to lower calories, salt and sugar across all our products. Also, by 2025, we will halve food waste in our direct operations and double the number of products that deliver positive nutrition.
6. We made progress on tackling plastic waste
We reported on our progress against the pledge we made in October last year that by 2025 we would halve the use of virgin plastic in our packaging and remove more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic entirely.
We’re on track to deliver on our promises. For example, post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR) now accounts for more than 10% of our plastics footprint. Our goal is at least 25% by 2025. As part of the update, we also shared our learnings on refill–reuse models for the first time.
7. We took a stand on animal testing
We’ve been developing and using non-animal approaches to assure the safety of our products for decades. But recent announcements from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) could undo the continued progress we want to see. So we joined forces with other organisations to co-sign an open letter calling for the EU Cosmetics Animal Testing Ban to be upheld as intended.
8. We stepped up our use of technology to end deforestation
To ensure that the land used to grow crops such as palm and soy isn’t connected to deforestation, we’re re-imagining our approach to traceability. We launched a pilot with US company Orbital Insight which uses geolocation data to give us a clearer picture of where harvested crops are coming from. This, in turn, allows us to predict – and act on – issues such as deforestation. This pilot – alongside our new partnership with Google Cloud – is another step towards building a digital ecosystem that will help us monitor our supply chain even more closely.
9. We achieved greater gender balance within our business
We’re on a longstanding mission to drive gender equality in the workplace, and we reached a target of 50% of all managerial roles across our global business being held by women. This delivers on a goal we set in 2010, when women accounted for 38% of our managerial roles.
Since then we have introduced a series of programmes, partnerships and policies – all designed to support women within the company and break down barriers to their recruitment, retention and development.
10. We moved to 100% renewable grid electricity globally
And finally, we go back to the very start of the year. On 1 January, we announced that all our factories, offices, R&D facilities, data centres, warehouses and distribution centres were using 100% renewable grid electricity. We’re pleased to reach that milestone, but now we’re going further and working to get our entire energy use from renewable sources. Our goal is to become entirely carbon neutral across the business before 2030.
How will we be taking action next year?
As we continue our efforts to look after people and contribute to a more inclusive society, we will also continue to help tackle some of the world’s biggest issues – like the climate emergency and plastic waste – by using our influence to drive change at a global level.
But there’s also a lot we can all do as individuals to make a difference.
That's why we launched our Take Action Hub, which brings together initiatives from various partners, NGOs and other organisations around the world. There’s a whole range of actions to get involved with, from global petitions to local volunteering.