UK – Unilever has revealed its decision to revise several environmental sustainability commitments, citing current geopolitical challenges and financial strains on consumers as driving factors.

Hein Schumacher, Unilever’s CEO, characterized this move as the dawn of a “new era,” emphasizing the need to prioritize shorter-term sustainability goals and to advocate more vigorously for addressing issues beyond the corporation’s direct control.

Among the adjustments announced by Schumacher is a modification to Unilever’s pledge to reduce its use of virgin plastics.

Initially set to halve by 2025, this target will aim for a one-third reduction by 2026, amounting to a difference of 100,000 tonnes of fresh plastic annually.

Similarly, the commitment to ensure that 100% of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025 has been extended to 2030 for rigids and 2035 for flexibles.

Schumacher defended these revised targets as ambitious yet realistic, asserting Unilever’s determination to fulfill them alongside its financial objectives.

He stressed the company’s desire to concentrate its efforts for maximum impact, aligning with its refreshed sustainability agenda marked by increased focus, urgency, and systemic change.

The announcement coincides with ongoing negotiations for a global plastic treaty in Ottawa, Canada (INC-4), where Sian Sutherland, co-founder of advocacy group A Plastic Planet, underscores the necessity of legislative action.

Sutherland argues that individual organizational efforts alone cannot achieve the scale of systemic change required, advocating for strong national and global legislation to drive industry-wide transformation.

In response to Unilever’s announcement, which saw a 0.4% rise in share prices following an 8% decline since Schumacher’s tenure began last July, Larissa Copello, Zero Waste Europe’s Packaging & Reuse policy officer, highlights the inevitability of companies prioritizing profits to remain competitive.

She emphasizes the insufficiency of voluntary commitments, urging mandatory targets to prevent a cascading effect of corporations retracting from their promises.

While Copello expresses some surprise at Unilever’s public announcement, she notes the historical trend of environmental pledges failing or being abandoned.

She warns of potential negative global repercussions, particularly amid ongoing legislative efforts to address plastic and packaging production in Europe and globally.

Copello emphasizes the pressing need for ambitious and binding laws to tackle the array of crises facing our planet, including climate change, pollution, energy consumption, and resource depletion.

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