Last week, Unilever announced that it has achieved its goal of sending zero waste to landfill from its global factory network. Reaching the target, which was set in 2013, has saved the company $226 million in costs and has created hundreds of jobs. Unilever spokespersons have stated that they believe that this is the first time zero waste to landfill has been achieved on such a massive scale – over 240 factories in 67 countries.
The one exception is hazardous waste, which the company does still send to landfill. However, this only made up a small proportion of Unilever’s overall waste output.
Unilever’s example demonstrates that those who say that the low hanging fruit for corporate sustainability in their business is gone often speak too soon. Not to say that achieving this target was easy, far from it. However, Unilever continues to show that with commitment, there are a whole myriad of win-win improvements within corporate operations that can enhance sustainability and simultaneously make good business sense.
However, despite the impressive nature of Unilever’s achievement, it does not justify a slowing down of efforts. The majority of most companies’ negative environmental impact can be found in their supply chains. In order to truly reduce impacts in a meaningful way, Unilever should extend waste reduction targets to its suppliers and customers. The company has indicated that it intends to do just that. It will be a complex task, and other corporations will certainly be observing the results.