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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands Growing Faster Than Other Brands


Unilever launched its Sustainable Living Plan six years ago. The consumer packaged goods giant framed the plan as a blueprint for building business while reducing its environmental footprint and fostering positive social impact.

Since then, Unilever's Sustainable Living brands grew more than 50 percent faster than the rest of its business while delivering over 60 percent of Unilever's growth last year. A total of 18 Sustainable Living brands are in the company's top 40 earners, an increase from 12 in 2015.

More and more consumers think about sustainability when buying products. It’s a big market that could be worth $2.5 trillion, according to Unilever’s own estimates. Through consumer research Unilever commissioned, the company found that over half of all consumers already buy or want to buy sustainably. One in three (33 percent) already buy products with sustainability in mind, while 21 percent do not currently do so but would like to.

“We have made great progress,” Paul Polman, Unilever CEO, said in a statement. “Our results show that sustainability is good for business, with increasing evidence that our ‘sustainable living brands’ do better.”

How Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands make a difference in the lives of women and girls

Sunlight is part of Unilever’s Surf brand, a Sustainable Living brand that makes a positive impact in South Africa with its handwashing laundry powder. Women still do most of the laundry by hand in drought-affected South Africa, so a laundry powder that halves the amount of rinses needed to wash clothes saves water and helps women.

Sunlight dates back to 1884 when the Lever Brothers first produced it as the first packaged, branded laundry soap in the world. Unilever launched the Sunlight bar in Kenya as a multipurpose soap in the late 1950s and its washing powder debuted there in 2002. Sunlight also comes in a tablet that can be used as a multipurpose soap.

Unpaid care work, caring for others and doing household chores can take up much of a woman or girl’s time. Women globally spend two to 10 times more time on unpaid care work than men, according to a 2014 report.

Unilever’s Surf brand linked up with Oxfam to lighten the load for women around the world. The brand and NGO will work on several initiatives to recognize, reduce and redistribute the amount of time women and girls spend on unpaid care work. The partnership includes funding to improve water access in communities in the Philippines and Zimbabwe.

In some parts of the world, women have to carry water from a communal source, which is a time consuming task.

“Unpaid care work limits women’s ability to choose how they spend their time, and by tackling social norms we can make real progress,” said Alex Lankester, Head of Corporate Partnerships at Oxfam, in a statement. “We have already seen strong results from our pilot projects and working with Unilever will help us achieve far greater scale and impact.”
Unilever also addresses body image issues through its Dove brand. According to research conducted on behalf of Dove last year, 8 in 10 girls with low body confidence opt out of important life activities such as engaging with friends and loved ones. It also found that 7 in 10 will stop themselves from eating or put their health at risk. The research included more than 10,500 respondents in 13 markets.

Dove created the Dove Self-Esteem Project (DSEP) in 2004, and in honor of its 60th anniversary, pledged to never use models or retouch women’s bodies, faces or hair in its ads. As part of the DSEP, Dove educates girls about self esteem with programs for youth and mentors. 

Image courtesy of Unilever

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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