Written evidence from Unilever to the
House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee
1. Thank you to the Environmental Audit Committee for the opportunity to provide input. We would like to submit information to the following questions: Economics (Q1 and 3), Evaluating (general comment), Co-ordination (Q4), Pairing NBS (Q1 and 3).
2. Realising a global new deal for nature and the planet, and transitioning to a green economy, will require leaving existing development paths and developing viable alternatives for the fundamental infrastructure of society.
3. Unilever has a long-standing history of work to protect the environment and in 2020 enhanced its commitments to the preservation of biodiversity by committing to:
4. In addition to our operational work to achieve our sustainability goals we use our scale and influence to alter the systems we are part of. Business cannot halt biodiversity loss alone; we need transformative policy change at a global and national level. We are using our scale to influence an ambitious New Deal for Nature and People, including the upcoming post-2020 biodiversity framework to be agreed at COP15 and pushing for an increased role for Nature-Based Solutions at COP26 in Glasgow.
5. Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of Food & Refreshment, Home Care and Personal Care products with sales in over 190 countries. Over half of the company’s footprint is in developing and emerging markets, and around 60% of our business globally is in the Home Care and Personal Care categories. Unilever has more than 400 brands found in homes all over the world, including Persil, Dove, Knorr, Domestos, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Wall’s, PG Tips, Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum and Lynx. 99% of households in the UK have bought a Unilever product in the latest year. With circa 6,000 employees in the UK & Ireland alone, we foster some of the best and brightest talent from around the world, who can share knowledge and develop and manufacture products that benefit the economy and consumers in the UK and beyond. Two of our six R&D centres are based in the UK, where we harness science and research talent from around the world to allow us to constantly innovate for the benefit of our customers. These teams work on global products and innovations which we sell worldwide.
Reason for submission
6. Unilever is one of the largest multinational companies in the world, with extensive supply chains and procurement arrangements, we have a very large agricultural footprint and therefore a duty to protect the natural world.
7. Unilever’s impact on biodiversity is mainly through agricultural sourcing. We are one of the world’s largest users of agricultural raw materials such as tea, vegetables and vegetable oils.
8. Protecting biodiversity is central to our Sustainable Agriculture Code, which drives our work with suppliers and farmers. One of the four principles in our Programme is: ‘Ensuring any adverse effects on biodiversity from agricultural activities are minimised and positive contributions are made where possible’. Biodiversity is also one of the 11 core indicators we use to measure sustainable farming practices. We are currently working on Regenerative Agriculture Principles to be rolled out in 2021.
9. Unilever is especially focused on breaking the link between palm oil production and habitat loss. As the world’s largest single buyer of palm oil – 3% of global production each year – we try to use our scale to transform the industry and make sustainable palm oil the norm.
10. This submission includes Unilever’s perspective on the economics of biodiversity and how to ensure the private sector contributes to tackling biodiversity loss.
Economics and biodiversity
What are the possible approaches to balancing economic growth and conservation of nature and its contributions? Is there evidence these approaches work and can be implemented?
(Also see information under ‘Pairing nature-based solutions to climate change with biodiversity’ to answer the funding point).
11. Conserving biodiverse ecosystems is essential to us in two ways: it strengthens the supply of ingredients on which our brands depend; and it supports the flourishing of the societies and economies in which we do business. In particular, the loss of crop biodiversity carries specific risks by compromising nutritional security and reducing crop resilience.
12. Businesses depend on a healthy planet to provide a stable operating environment, healthy customers and workforces and natural resources necessary for production – food, fibre, water, minerals, building materials and more. Nature also provides ecosystem services worth at least US$ 125 trillion per year globally and these services yield significant benefits. For example, through pollination by insects and flood protection from mangroves. Losing nature means losing these services, creating extra costs for businesses like ours. According to the World Economic Forum, US$ 44 trillion of economic value generation is moderately or highly exposed to nature loss and addressing the nature crisis could generate nearly 400 million jobs by 2030.
13. Before COVID-19, the need to create more resilient economies and societies was clear. Now, it is inescapable. Governments and businesses alike must value nature and the services it provides as we take action to ‘build back better’.
14. Realising the value of protecting and restoring biological diversity has the potential to unleash new economic opportunities and promote natural capital approaches to developing and managing healthy economies. For example, regenerative agriculture, a system of farming principles and practices such as crop rotations, can increase biodiversity, enrich soils and enhance ecosystem services:
15. Another area for growth that helps preserve nature is in the diversification of diets. We live in a world where 2 billion people are overweight, while 1 billion go hungry. Where more than 20% of all greenhouse gases are produced by the food industry, and yet a third of that food is thrown away. There is sales growth potential with food products that provide a healthier diet.
16. As one of the largest food manufacturers in the world, we have a responsibility to help shape a global food system that is fair for everyone. That is why we launched our ‘Future Foods’ initiative (Nov 2020) – it’s our plan to help people transition towards healthier diets and reduce the environmental impact of the food chain. In it we are committing to:
17. Governments should look at how they can play a role in supporting the transition to healthier diets.
What is the role of business in protecting biodiversity and ecosystems and can government play a role in helping businesses do more?
18. In addition to our procurement agricultural sourcing work, we use our scale and procurement influence to create transformational change. Over the past two years, Unilever has driven the global advocacy work to leverage the business community behind a new deal for nature and has been at the forefront of coalitions such as Business for Nature, The Nature Action Agenda with the World Economic Forum and the One Planet Business for Biodiversity group.
19. We have joined more than 600 businesses around the world with combined revenues of US$4.1 trillion calling for leadership through the Nature is Everyone’s Business Call to Action, encouraging governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss in this decade. We ask that governments also sign the pledge and endorse the work of coalitions such as Business for Nature.
20. From a business perspective, the level of ambition in the Leader’s Pledge puts us on the right track towards creating a level playing field and stable operating environment, so that all businesses are required to do their part to safeguard nature for future generations. It gives us confidence to invest decisively and at the necessary pace to support the transition to a greener, more sustainable economy.
21. In turn, this would unlock further business opportunities and innovation, accelerate the uptake of nature-based solutions and deliver stronger, more resilient economies.
22. Only through collective efforts will business, governments and civil society be able to halt the loss of nature and begin to restore what we have lost by 2030. The onus needs to be on Governments as well as business. Land management needs to be under spatial planning legal frameworks.
The state of biodiversity
We do not have evidence on this point.
Evaluating measures to conserve and enhance biodiversity
23. The data, methods/indicators and tools needed to properly enable us to identify the causal links between our decisions and activities and the on-the-ground biodiversity implications are currently lacking – this gap needs addressing as a matter of urgency to enable businesses to take better decisions and to track their progress / contributions to halting biodiversity loss.
Co-ordination of UK environmental policy
What outcomes and protections should the UK Government be pushing for at the forthcoming UN negotiations on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP 15?
24. Aligned with the ‘Business for Nature’ group, we are supporting nine suggestions to strengthen the ambition of the updated zero draft of the post-2020 framework to:
Provide direction by adopting a clear ambitious mission with strong milestones
Enable meaningful and constructive business contributions in the framework implementation
Embed and value nature in all decision making at all levels
Rethink incentive mechanisms and resource mobilization: end harmful subsidies and promote innovative solutions
Align, integrate and ensure the implementation of the framework
Pairing nature-based solutions to climate change with biodiversity
Which nature-based solutions are most effective in achieving both climate and biodiversity goals?
25. Nature-based solutions leverage the world’s forests, grasslands, wetlands, and soils to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Healthy ecosystems absorb and store carbon on their own. And if they are protected, restored, and managed sustainably, they can provide one-third of the emissions reductions needed to meet the Paris climate agreement’s goal for 2030.
26. The protection of tropical forests in particular plays a critical role in both tackling biodiversity loss and climate change. Tropical forest loss results in the emission of huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, whilst also reducing those ecosystems’ abilities to sequester and store carbon in future. Some studies show that forests currently remove around a quarter of the carbon dioxide humans add to the atmosphere, yet with every acre of forest destroyed or degraded we are losing this critical help the planet is providing to address climate change. When left intact, primary and old-growth forests are the most carbon-dense in the world, making their protection critical to our survival.
27. Whilst protecting forests should be highest priority, restoring forests where they have been lost and growing existing forests to their ecological potential can also be powerful tools, especially when other benefits are maximised alongside carbon storage, such as habitat protection, safeguarding air and water quality and providing flood and erosion control. Restoration must be done in ways that respect the rights of indigenous people and local communities.
How can funding be mobilised to support effective nature-based solutions to climate change? How can the private sector be encouraged to contribute to funding?
28. Despite their extraordinary potential to deliver carbon mitigation, nature-based solutions to climate change currently only receive 3% of the available climate funding - the vast majority of climate finance goes into technological solutions to industrial decarbonisation.
29. Unlocking large-scale future carbon finance for natural climate solutions whether through voluntary or compliance action, will require close collaboration between governments, businesses, investors and civil society. Unilever is a member of the Natural Climate Solutions Alliance, a multi-stakeholder group from across the private sector and civil society. The NCSA aims to scale up affordable natural solutions for climate change mitigation to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, and its efforts are currently directed at increasing the ambition of voluntary action, encouraging compliance markets and strengthening the narrative around natural solutions to climate change for both businesses and governments.
30. These efforts would be accelerated by a swift resolution to UN negotiations on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. At COP26 next year, governments must agree fair and transparent rules that can unlock financial flows to natural climate solutions such as a reforestation and peatland restoration, without compromising either the integrity of projects generating tradable carbon credits or the speed of industrial decarbonisation.