As supply chain professionals, we
know that we have a crucial role in meeting sustainability objectives. We
choose the suppliers that develop products, the materials to make them, and we
drive innovation. As sustainability targets become more complex, so too does
managing a supply chain implementing them.
Unilever collaborates with
160,000 suppliers globally, and these suppliers are a valuable part of our
business. Our challenge is to ensure we work with them to demonstrate the
opportunities associated with achieving these goals.
Building successful relationships
with our suppliers is the cornerstone of our business. They are vital in our
aim to double the size of the company while reducing our overall environmental
impact. We grow, you grow.
First, it is important that
suppliers are aware of sustainability targets and expectations. At Unilever, we
have developed a Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC). This defines our
expectations so we can commit to sustainability together. The SAC lays out
minimum standards we expect our suppliers to adopt, and future performance targets.
We aim to buy all of our raw materials from sustainable sources, and this is a
good way to communicate our targets to suppliers.
Innovative technology also has an
integral role to play in developing the tools to make achieving sustainability
targets as simple and beneficial as possible to suppliers. For example,
Unilever recently collaborated with the University of Aberdeen to develop “The
Cool Farm Tool”. This enables both supply chain
managers and farmers to input data they have access
to in their daily jobs, and use this to calculate their total greenhouse gas
Farmers are then able
to see the effect of making small changes to their agricultural methods, such
as using a different fertiliser, on their overall carbon emissions. The Cool
Farm Tool’s simple but management-sensitive calculation method enables our
farmers and suppliers across the globe to find simple ways to reduce their
greenhouse gas emissions.
Building strong relationships
with suppliers and working with them in partnership to increase innovation,
sustainability and productivity is a key part of our supply chain function, no
matter where our suppliers are based. Working with suppliers across the globe
is part of 21st century business, and it is important that supply
management executives constantly consider how to integrate their goals with
their supplier’s agendas in different regions, particularly when perceptions of
sustainability may differ. For example, in China, Unilever work with hundreds
of tomato farmers to ensure we reach our sustainability targets. This includes helping
them to realise that working towards sustainability targets can help them develop
Ultimately, business success
rests on both top-line and bottom-line growth, but all too often sustainability
is seen as a cost to be absorbed rather than an opportunity for growth. This
does not have to be so. For example, we help farmers to manage pesticides
better, which results in less crop damage, a higher yield and increased profits
At Unilever, we believe businesses
will prosper and survive by making changes in favour of sustainability. That is
why we are confident in our commitment to double the size of our business while
reducing its overall environmental impact. Engaging suppliers with this
inseparable relationship between business growth and sustainability is the key
to achieving this goal.
Marc Engel is CPO at Unilever