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Unilever to put carbon labels on all of its 70,000 products around the world

Unilever is one of the largest food and household goods companies in the world – owning brands from Dove to Ben & Jerry’s to Vaseline to Lipton’s and securing more than $50 billion in revenues in 2019.

It has now committed to adding carbon footprint labels to all 70,000 of its products, making it among the first major companies in the world to do so.

Unilever brands
Source: ThreeRooms

The move demonstrates not only the company’s commitment to empowering its customers to make informed purchasing decisions, but also improving customers’ ability to hold the company to account. It is a breakthrough not only climate action, but for transparency and accountability as well .If the company is successful, we should all see the GHG emissions associated with each product drop over the next several years. If not, we can vote with our dollars.

In a press release, the company stated:

We believe that transparency about carbon footprint will be an accelerator in the global race to zero emissions, and it is our ambition to communicate the carbon footprint of every product we sell. To do this, we will set up a system for our suppliers to declare, on each invoice, the carbon footprint of the goods and services provided; and we will create partnerships with other businesses and organisations to standardise data collection, sharing and communication.

This effort is just one part of Unilever’s massive, ambitious effort to tackle the climate crisis. In addition to carbon labels, it has committed to eliminating or offsetting all emissions from its own operations and its suppliers by 2039. It has also committed to investing more than $1 billion in climate initiatives over the next decade.

Unilever footprint GHG
Source: Unilever

This is a momentous commitment from one of the world’s largest and most influential consumer goods companies. They not only have made huge goals around climate, but have made it more possible for consumers to follow these goals and the company to account.

However, challenges remain. As of now, there is no third-party verification of these carbon footprints. This means we all need to simply trust Unilever to report greenhouse gas information accurately and responsibly.

Further, it is unclear how the company can eliminate the emissions associated with its customers’ use of its products after they have been purchased. Laundry detergents require energy and water, as do teas, oatmeals, and many other foods. As of now, this consumer use phase accounts for roughly two-thirds of all of the company’s emissions. But relative to its production processes, it is much more difficult to influence consumer behavior.

What more does Unilever need to do ensure that its commitments are meaningful, credible and ultimately effective?

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Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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