Unilever sets out plans to advance circular plastic economy
British-Dutch multinational consumer goods giant Unilever has announced ambitious plans to significantly cuts its plastics usage and ramp up its recycling endeavours.
By 2025, Unilever has pledged to cuts its use of virgin plastics by 50% through a combination of reducing its use of plastic packaging by 100,000 tonnes each year and increasing the amount of recycled plastics it uses in its processes.
As it stands, Unilever’s annual global plastic packaging footprint is comprised of 700,000 tonnes.
This strategy comes in addition to its commitment to using fully recyclable or compostable packaging, along with its packaging containing 25% recycled plastic, by 2025.
Unilever will also ramp up its plastic collection and processing efforts to exceed the volume of plastic packaging that it sells.
To achieve this, the company will boost investment in waste collection and processing endeavours, accelerate its use of recycled materials in its packaging, and participate in extended producer responsibility schemes that will necessitate the business paying for collection of its packaging.
“Plastic has its place, but that place is not in the environment. We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the plastic cycle,” said Alan Jope, CEO at Unilever, in the firm’s press release.
“Our starting point has to be design, reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources. We are also committed to ensuring all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable.
“This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products. It requires us to introduce new and innovative packaging materials and scale up new business models, like re-use and re-fill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity.”
Unilever noted that these moves come as a continuation of its existing efforts in the fight against plastic waste. In collaboration with global partners, along with the UN Development Programme, Unilever has driven more effective recycling infrastructure in India. Alongside these efforts, it has established 3,000 waste banks in Indonesia and thereby enabled 400,000 people to recycle their plastics in the absence of dedicated collections.
“Our vision is a world in which everyone works together to ensure that plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment,” added Jope. “Our plastic is our responsibility and so we are committed to collecting back more than we sell, as part of our drive towards a circular economy. This is a daunting but exciting task which will help drive global demand for recycled plastic.”
Ellen MacArthur, former record-holder for the fastest solo circumnavigation of Earth and Founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, added: "Today’s announcement by Unilever is a significant step in creating a circular economy for plastic. By eliminating unnecessary packaging through innovations such as refill, reuse, and concentrates, while increasing their use of recycled plastic, Unilever is demonstrating how businesses can move away from virgin plastics.
“We urge others to follow their lead, so collectively we can eliminate the plastic we don’t need, innovate, so what we do need is circulated, and ultimately build an economic system where plastic packaging never becomes waste."
Gartner: Women in supply chain at five-year high
Women now represent a greater percentage of the supply chain workforce than at any other point in at least the past five years, according to a recent Gartner survey.
The Women in Supply Chain Survey 2021, conducted by Gartner and Awesome, surveyed 223 supply chain organisations with more than $100m in annual revenue from February through to the end of March 2021.
- Women represent 2% more of supply chain workforce than in 2020
- Women now account for 42% of the workforce
- Number of women in exec-level positions declined by 2%
- Just 15% of top leadership are women (17% in 2020)
- 84% of organisations say COVID-19 did not impact efforts to advance women
It found that women now represent two per cent more of the supply chain workforce than in 2020, accounting for 42%, compared with 39% last year. Dana Stiffler, Vice President Analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice, says the impact of COVID-19 on supply chain was significant, though different to other sectors.
"Contrary to other industries, supply chain’s mission-criticality during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many sectors did not reduce their workforce, but rather continued to hire and even faced talent shortages, especially in the product supply chains," she said. "This resulted in many women not only standing their ground in supply chain organisations but increasing their representation in organisations. We also recorded a record number of specific commitments and supply chain-led actions and saw existing programs starting to pay off."
Supply chain still lacks women in executive leadership
But the elephant in the boardroom remains. Though the figures present a positive step towards greater diversity and gender equality at all levels, the number of women in executive level positions declined by two per cent in the past year. Women represent just 15% of the upper echelons of supply chain leadership. Gartner did however record a rise in women at all other levels of leadership.
The vast majority (84%) of organisations surveyed said the outbreak had no discernible impact on their ability to retain and advance women. But more than half (54%) admitted that retaining mid-career women was becoming increasingly difficult. A lack of career opportunities was cited as the biggest challenge to this, while other blamed a lack of development opportunities.
Despite these challenges, companies of all sizes are becoming broadly better at gender diversity. Around a third more said they had a targeted initiative focused on attracting women and advancing their careers.
Stiffler said a push towards measurable and formal initiatives is at least pointing in the right direction: “It's encouraging to see that the larger share of this jump was for more formal targets and specific goals on management scorecards. For these respondents, there is greater accountability for results — and we see the correlation with stronger representation and inclusion showing up in pipelines.”