Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan bearing fruit
Unilever is celebrating the success of a rare and innovative partnership blossoming in the sunflower fields in Limpopo to ensure sustainable sourcing of sunflower oil.
Through the sunflower farming partnership, Unilever has successfully developed higher yielding hybrid seeds and it is now possible for the oils to be traced right back to the individual farms where the seeds were grown.
This project is currently underway in Limpopo Province where almost 30 000 hectares of land is under sunflower crops and is expected to yield 20% of Unilever’s oil requirements in South Africa, thus reducing dependency on importation of sunflower oil.
Helping Unilever keep its pledge to take from the soil sustainably are the members of a joint supplier partnership aimed at converting the current standard sunflower oil, used in the production of margarines, to sustainably farmed sunflower oil.
Control Union - a third-party verification company; Central Edible Oils Company with direct links to farmers, co-operatives and silo owners; and a private group of farmers, are following the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code to maintain soil fertility, enhance water quality, reduce GHG emissions, protect biodiversity and improve the livelihoods for the farmers and their workers.
The Sustainable Agriculture Code is a framework with guidelines and measurable deliverables on how crops can be grown in a sustainable manner.
The Code has 11 key indicators using several Lead Agricultural Projects over a period of 12 years. Each indicator focuses on a specific area of sustainable farming, such as soil health, pest management or energy, and has been tested around the world on all our agricultural raw materials.
On 22 April, Unilever announced its second Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) progress report in line with its global sustainable growth commitment of driving sales while reducing costs and risks. The USLP, established in 2010 - setting forward three international goals by 2020 - is at the heart of the organisation’s business model.
As part of its vision towards helping more than 1-billion people improve their health and well-being; halving its environmental footprint and wholly sourcing its agricultural raw materials sustainably, Unilever aims to inspire people everywhere to live well and within the natural limits of the planet - while enjoying the benefits that its everyday household products provide.
Unilever also announced that it is sourcing more than a third of its agricultural raw materials sustainably, having made significant progress towards its target of 100% by 2020. With 36% now sourced sustainably, it has exceeded the interim milestone of 30% it set itself in 2010 when launching the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
The improvement was made against a backdrop of the company reporting annual sales of €51 billion in 2012. Taken together, they represent significant milestones on the way to realising Unilever’s vision of doubling the size of its business whilst reducing its environmental impact and improving its positive social impact.
Unilever South Africa chairman Marijn van Tiggelen said the pilot year included 21000ha - or 5000-7000 million tons of oil - that escalated to 27000ha in 2012.
"The initial assessments showed varying gaps against Unilever's Sustainable Agriculture Code, but through dedicated work between CEOCo and the farmers, every participant now meets or exceeds the sustainability criteria," he said. The company planned to double the project scale in the current year.
Unilever South Africa was also aligned to the global target for wholly sourcing its palm oil from certified sustainable origins by 2015. Van Tiggelen said the company reached the goal-post last year via Green Palm certificate purchases.
Green Palm certificates allow Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil-certified growers to convert their certified oil into certificates with one ton of crude palm or palm kernel oil converting to one certificate.
Offers for these certificates are then placed on the Green Palm Market where manufacturers place offers and offset their physical oil with the equivalent amount of certificates.
"The producer receives the full value of each certificate, enabling him to reinvest the premium and tackle the environmental and social issues created via palm oil production," van Tiggelen said.
In the two years following the USLP implementation, Unilever South Africa has identified priority areas to maximise its efforts, including reducing consumers' water use; sustainably sourcing agricultural raw materials and enhancing livelihoods via job creation.
"These are noble ambitions and we are not immune to their challenges, but they are underpinned by time-bound targets. While the company has made steady progress towards our goal in the second year, there remains much to do," van Tiggelen said.
Considering the targets, he said Unilever South Africa aimed to touch the lives of 20 million South African consumers by promoting the benefits of hand washing with soap.
In 2012, Lifebuoy rolled out their ‘School of Five’ campaign that taught children to wash their hands at five key occasions in the day. As a result of the campaign, we have changed the handwashing behaviour of 306 000 people.
In October 2012, the Unilever Foundation and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched a campaign to strengthen the capacity of school and health professionals, building on UNICEF's strong collaboration with government and civil society.
"The initiative focuses on community health care and training of community care givers to reform South Africa's primary health care system," van Tiggelen said.
Unilever South Africa's partnership with the South African Dental Association and the FDI World Dental Association was also rolling out the global Live Laugh Learn programme nationally, teaching school children to improve their oral care habits. The pilot initiative began in KwaZulu-Natal during the first-half of 2013.
The Flora Think Red campaign, launched in partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, would raise awareness of cardiovascular disease (CVC) risks from 55% to 60%. The initiative was in line with raising CVD risks from 50% to 85% by 2015.
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