Unilever tracks SDG alignment with new life-cycle based sustainability declaration

Last week saw Unilever, Edge Chile and the Chilean Ministry of Environment launch a pioneering new life cycle analysis-based sustainability declaration (developed by Edge), that will feature on 85% of the washing detergent products available in Chile, helping consumer make informed choices. The declaration was developed to recognise Unilever’s commitment to ongoing improvements to the products’ life cycle performance, and to help support the Country’s ambition to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Today we are in a virtuous circle where environmental and economic objectives are aligned, and where reducing impacts can mean much more profit for companies… this means that sustainable development is therefore inevitable.”  Minister of Environment, Marcelo Mena

The declaration (Translation: Continuous Improvement in its Life Cycle)

In recent years, Unilever Chile has implemented a range of initiatives to help reduce environmental footprint of their laundry products as part of its ambitious global sustainability programme. They have achieved zero waste to landfill and 100% renewable energy use at their detergent factory, while also removing phosphates from the formulation across their range. Local suppliers are prioritised, and it is expected that all packaging will soon be 100% recyclable. Yet little was known about the aggregate impact of these measures on the life cycle impacts of the products.

At the same time, the Chilean Government is pushing forward with its own, far-reaching sustainability agenda, with a strong focus on reducing carbon emissions, managing waste and water resources, protecting the natural environment, and implementing the Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Programme. More broadly, the Government is a strong advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has created a National Council to oversee progress against their achievement.

The two agendas came together this year in a plan to develop a new sustainability declaration to recognise continuous improvements in products’ life cycle impacts, and to investigate the extent to which Unilever’s environmental initiatives had contributed to the SDGs and the SCPP. Edge was commissioned as an independent expert to undertake the analysis and develop a rigorous analysis framework that could be applied more widely across a range of consumer products.

The analysis demonstrated improvements across the Unilever range, creating a range of direct environmental benefits while also contributing to half of the targets under both SDG #12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production) and the lines of action under the SCP Programme. The LCA highlighted a number of areas in which there is room for further improvement by Unilever and generated useful learning that they can share with others across the sector to support industry-wide progress. And the resulting declaration will soon be seen on detergent packets across Chile, helping to raise awareness of sustainability for millions of Chileans.

The “Continuous Improvement in its Life Cycle” declaration in situ

From an Edge perspective, it was fantastic to be involved in a project driven by a company with such strong commitment to sustainability, and to do so with the full support of the Government. It was a great example of collaboration, with outcomes that have the potential to drive action not only amongst Unilever’s peers in Chile, but also in other sectors and across the globe.

“We are very happy because ours are very ambitious goals, and I think that is what this is about. Set yourself ambitious goals, goals that are aligned with the SDGs, and see how your company can contribute to this agenda.”  CEO of Unilever Chile, Hans Eben

Edge is advocating better labelling of consumer products to help the public make more informed choices. This feels like a small but important step in that journey, and one that we look forward to sharing with the product manufacturing and retail sectors, as well as our own State and Federal Governments.

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