The multinational Blue Chip brand is pivoting toward more sustainable practices as the market responds to greener products.
Consumer-goods giant Unilever says it is planning to put carbon-footprint details on all 70,000 of its products. This is because sales of its sustainable brands, which includes Ben & Jerry’s and The Vegetarian Butcher, are growing significantly faster than those of its brands that aren’t yet as green.
Since 2019, the Dove soap producer’s purpose-led brands have been growing 69% faster than the rest of the business and delivering 75% of the company’s growth. In fact, seven of the company’s seven top ten performers – Dove, Knorr, Omo/Persil, Rexona/Sure, Lipton, Hellmann’s, and Wall’s ice cream – are Sustainable Living Brands. These communicate a strong environmental or social purpose and achieve Unilever’s aim of cutting its environmental footprint by 50%. Now, with the move to carbon labelling, the company is hoping to further build its sustainability credentials.
In a recent press release, Unilever CEO, Alan Jope, explains, “Two-thirds of consumers around the world say they choose brands because of their stand on social issues. But talking is not enough, it is critical that brands take action and demonstrate their commitment to making a difference.”
The move is part of Unilver’s shift toward elevating its sustainability initiatives. Next month, company shareholders will get to vote on its sustainability efforts at the annual shareholders meeting — a first for the brand.
According to Myles McCarthy, director at UK emissions consultancy Carbon Trust, Unilever is just one of many companies responding to public and political pressure to be carbon-responsible. The Carbon Trust has labelled thousands of products, and works with organisations such as the BBC and Transport for London.
Speaking to the Financial Times, McCarthy explains, “There has been huge growth in the number of companies wanting to put labels on to their products that demonstrate their environmental impacts, and in particular carbon. It’s driven by an increase in consumer appetite. . . and also by the growing pressure on organisations and countries to decarbonise and meet much more ambitious targets.”
A 2020 European Commission plan is currently proposing a revision of EU consumer law to include sustainability information on products at the point of sale.
Carbon labelling is designed to provide consumers with information about how much GHG is produced during a products’ lifecycle. This includes extraction, manufacture, distribution, use, and eventual disposal. However, the process of calculating emissions is complicated and open to different interpretations. According to the Eco Label Index, there are currently just under 500 eco-label certifications in operation. A range of categories are covered, from energy efficiency, and organic content, to building sustainability. As a result, many brands have opted for simpler certification schemes – the Rainforest Alliance is one – which indicate a certain level of sustainability has been reached.
Unilever’s chief supply chain officer, Marc Engel, is adamant that carbon labelling is essential to allow businesses prepare for an era of carbon taxes, and consumers will want to calculate their own personal environmental impact. However, Engel also stresses the need for corporate collaboration, “You need to have alignment . . . on the methodology you use, otherwise it’s going to be a jungle of all kinds of labels,” he says.