Quantcast

Unilever's Zero Waste Program Fuels Jobs and Profit

Business

Multinational corporation Unilever—which makes food and personal care and cleaning products—announced last week that its aggressive waste reduction program reached its goal of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfills from all its factories worldwide, including 240 factories in 67 countries.

"By reducing our environmental footprint while promoting business growth, we can ensure that increased product volumes don’t come at the expense of the environment," said Sanjiv Mehta, chairman of Unilever's Middle East operations.

 

In 2010, it launched its Sustainable Living Plan. It focused on three broad areas that interacted with each other: improving health and well-being through better quality products; enhancing livelihoods through measures like responsible sourcing, fair compensation and inclusiveness; and reducing environmental impact by cutting greenhouse gas emissions at its manufacturing plants, slashing its water use and reducing wasteful packaging. The plan offered opportunity for good press on its eco-stewardship but it also offered some quantifiable business benefits.

"We purchase over 2.4 million tonnes of packaging a year and we are determined to reduce the absolute amount of materials we use and to ensure they are reused or recycled," says the company. "Our manufacturing teams have already exceeded their 2020 target, reducing waste by 66 percent per tonne of production since 2008."

Its zero-waste program has saved the company a lot of money—an estimated $225 million—and in the process it has generated jobs and fueled social enterprise projects, often in tandem.

Recycling materials that would otherwise have been discarded has proved to be an income opportunity for those in need in Egypt. The company distributes waste materials to local residents as well as employees to turn into products they can then sell. Discarded paper is used to create stationery, photo albums, calendars and notebooks; plastic strapping becomes prayer mats and tote bags; wasted tomato paste is repurposed as fertilizer.

Unilever environmental specialist Rania Bahaa is in charge of implementing that program.

"People are fetching the garbage looking for recyclable materials so that they can reuse it or sell it and earn money by doing so," she explained in a TED talk in New York. "That triggered the idea of sending our waste from the factories to people in need so that they can reuse it and produce products and sell it with dignity and earn money by doing so."

Under Egyptian law, disabled people must make up at least 5 percent of a business's workforce, but that doesn't prevent them from shunting such employees into low-paying jobs. Unilever created the Waraqa [paper] workshop to teach these employees how to reuse paper.

"Of course our disabled colleagues earn a salary from Unilever, but the Waraqa workshops give them a chance to earn extra money through the sale of products they have created," said Bahaa. "They can choose to either keep the profits or earn credit towards services we arrange such as education or travel to and from work. Bringing small initiatives to scale is what corporations can and must do."

Unilever's Lipton plant in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is its second largest, pumping out 6 billion tea bags a year—and a lot of potential waste. But it attained zero waste over a year and a half ago, composting organic waste, recycling tea dust for fertilizer, and reducing and recycling paper.

"By reducing our environmental footprint while promoting business growth, we can ensure that increased product volumes don’t come at the expense of the environment," said Sanjiv Mehta, chairman of Unilever's Middle East operations. "This enables us to sustainably deliver products to improve the consumer’s quality of life while actually reducing the waste and emissions in absolute terms."

Unilever's 26 facilities in the U.S. and Canada also achieved zero waste about a year and a half ago. Its Owensboro, Kentucky facility, which makes Ragu and Bertolli sauces, sends paper and plastic to be converted into tissues and composite lumber.

"By eliminating waste, our employees are demonstrating our sustainable business model in action,” said Kees Kruythoff, president of Unilever North America. “This achievement is an important milestone for Unilever as we continue to fulfill our vision of significantly reducing our environmental impact while doubling our business."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Every Time You Recycle a Can, You Strengthen the U.S. Economy

Are Mushrooms the Future of Zero Waste Packaging?

Beyond ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ to a World Without Waste

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By George Citroner

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the World Health Organization currently recommend either 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (walking, gardening, doing household chores) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (running, cycling, swimming) every week.

But there's little research looking at the benefits, if any, of exercising less than the 75 minute minimum.

Read More Show Less
Mary Daly, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, poses for a photograph. Nick Otto / Washington Post / Getty Images

It seems the reality of the climate crisis is too much for the Federal Reserve to ignore anymore.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Passengers trying to reach Berlin's Tegel Airport on Sunday were hit with delays after police blocked roads and enacted tighter security controls in response to a climate protest.

Read More Show Less
A military police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, pets Rosco, a post-traumatic stress disorder companion animal certified to accompany him, on Jan. 11, 2014. North Carolina National Guard

For 21 years, Doug Distaso served his country in the United States Air Force.

He commanded joint aviation, maintenance, and support personnel globally and served as a primary legislative affairs lead for two U.S. Special Operations Command leaders.

But after an Air Force plane accident left him with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain, Distaso was placed on more than a dozen prescription medications by doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Read More Show Less
(L) Selma Three Stone Engagement Ring. (R) The Greener Diamond Farm Project. MiaDonna

By Bailey Hopp

If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Preliminary tests of the bubble barrier have shown it to be capable of ushering 80 percent of the canal's plastic waste to its banks. The Great Bubble Barrier / YouTube screenshot

The scourge of plastic waste that washes up on once-pristine beaches and finds its way into the middle of the ocean often starts on land, is dumped in rivers and canals, and gets carried out to sea. At the current rate, marine plastic is predicted to outweigh all the fish in the seas by 2050, according to Silicon Canals.

Read More Show Less
Man stands on stage at Fort Leonard Wood in the U.S. Brett Sayles / Pexels

Wilson "Woody" Powell served in the Air Force during the Korean war. But in the decades since, he's become staunchly anti-war.

Read More Show Less
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Nov. 8. Matt Johnson / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

Joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Friday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders held the largest rally of any 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to date in Iowa, drawing more than 2,400 people to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.

Read More Show Less