NEW YORK: Multinational consumer goods company Unilever is on track to achieve its bold climate goals because “the business case for investing is very clear,” says Jeff Seabright, Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever, in a Climate TV interview.
In November 2015, the company announced its aim to become ‘carbon positive’ in its operations by 2030. “What this really means is that by 2030 all of our energy will be sourced renewably,” explains Jeff Seabright, “and that includes all of our operations across the world, in 180 countries. Within that, we’ve set a sub-goal by 2020 of having 100% renewable electricity and zero coal-fired electricity coming into our operations.”
These climate targets are part of the broader “Unilever Sustainable Living Plan”, which aims to grow the company’s business in a responsible way. In 2015, the multinational emitted more than one million fewer tons of CO2 from energy produced than in 2008 - a 65% reduction in absolute terms compared to 1995.
Renewable energy plays a crucial role in this plan. Unilever is one of more than 80 companies that have joined RE100, the initiative set up by The Climate Group and CDP to highlight and help leading businesses going 100% renewable. At the end of 2015, renewable energy contributed 28% of Unilever’s total energy use – compared to 15.8% in 2008.
“Our overall vision is that we’re going to work hard in the communities where we operate through our investment in clean energy, to create more clean energy, more renewable energy, zero-carbon energy, that we need for our business,” continues Jeff Seabright. The ultimate goal is to “be able to share in the marketplace and in the communities where we operate the surplus of clean, renewable energy that we’re going to help create.”
It is crucial that companies join forces to achieve the critical mass required to accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy. RE100 “really sends a very powerful signal to governments,” underlines Jeff Seabright, “that mainstream, serious companies have gotten the message that we’ve got to get to a zero-carbon future, and they’re investing their money and their futures in creating that future that we need.”
The program also helps in ‘de-risking’ the political process, he says, sending “a mainstreaming signal in what can be, in some countries, a polarizing debate. I think that’s the most important thing. It also helps build momentum in the marketplace, and shares best practices among businesses. I think it has been a hugely successful effort, but we have much more to do.”
So far, Unilever has invested heavily in reducing its CO2 footprint – from reformulating its products to reduce emissions, to improving its global logistics network to reduce mileage and use lower emission vehicles. “For us, the business case for investing is very clear,” says Jeff Seabright.
“First of all, the costs of clean and renewable energy are coming down dramatically – so it’s a very good time to be doubling down our investment. But we also look at the long-term, and long-term we see the externality costs associated with high-carbon energy as being really problematic.
“We’re future-proofing ourselves in that way – in Europe, in North America – and now increasingly, with our carbon-positive commitment, we will bring that energy and that focus from our energy teams to the markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa.”
The Paris Agreement on climate action “has sent a hugely clear signal,” concludes Jeff Seabright. “This is happening, this is absolutely a reality in the marketplace. It’s a reality for our consumers, for our businesses.
“For those who want to be leading the pack and really be part of the future and part of the solution, now is the time to invest, now is the time to get on board and really embed climate smart strategies into your business strategy.”