If there was one recurring theme to the news agenda in 2015, sustainability was it. Barely a week went by without a sourcing pledge or triumphant eco-success story.
And Unilever was the star of the show – in fact, at times, it felt like the Unilever show full stop. From zero-waste-to-landfill, saving water to tackling global deforestation, if there was an environmental headline, the world’s most sustainable brand grabbed it.
However, all wasn’t necessarily rosy – or should that be green – at the Anglo-Dutch FMCG giant. The company’s CEO had to take to Twitter to defend the company’s reputation over a controversial Indian factory clean-up amid claims of greenwashing. Let’s just say the hashtag #UnileverPollutes can’t have been a marketing high for a company that has gone to such lengths to appear as one of the good guys.
And perhaps that’s the issue. Can an FMCG company, whose raison d’être is to sell more to more people, ever claim to have the best interests of the environment at heart? The two agendas appear to be contradictory – but for the hard core environmentalists out there, we’d say this, surely capitalism with a heart is better than capitalism without?
And certainly both L’Oréal and Unilever believe that capitalism and environmentally-friendly principles can co-exist. Both claim that their sustainable agendas are helping them grow their business. “There is no contradiction. You can do both. You can gain market share, launch products, grow your business increase your profit and do what it takes to be sustainable,” argued L’Oréal CEO Jean-Paul Agon in a recent interview.
And really, with Agon stating plainly that consumers simply won’t pay more for green products, can we criticise the multinationals for doing their bit? Those living in glass houses really shouldn’t moan about other people’s greenhouse gas emissions…
For doing their bit, they are – be it direct sales giant Avon and Clorox promising to use sustainable palm oil, Procter & Gamble reducing emissions by 30 percent, Shiseido’s sustainable business model, Colgate Palmolive’s water security or L’Oreal setting a carbon balanced goal for 2020, the big multinationals are trying hard to minimise their impact on the environment.
The brand owners weren’t the only one to become signed up members of the sustainable club. Givaudan’s climate change efforts were rewarded with a top CDP score of 100A and the flavors and fragrances giant created a new position on its executive committee to further enhance its sustainable sourcing program. Not to be outdone, rival Firmenich launched a Next Generation program to advance research in sustainability. BASF teamed up with Cargill and GIZ to produce a world-first – certified sustainable coconut oil production, while AkzoNobel was ranked number one by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for its eco-efforts.
And over in packaging, the trend was towards sustainable solutions too. Lauder-owned Aveda launched a new range of tubes made from post-consumer recycled materials and bioplastic, while Ball Corporation produced a lightweight aerosol can for Henkel’s Fa deodorant, reducing the German manufacturer’s carbon footprint by 12 percent and L’Oréal partnered with Avery Dennison to reduce the environmental impact of its labels. Meanwhile, Quadpack launched a compact made from PEFC-certified wood sourced from sustainable forests, skin care company Aethic adopted Braskem’s ecoplastic packaging for its sunscreen range and Metsä Board created a new range of lightweight sustainable cardboard packaging.