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Tina Casey headshot

Unilever Heads New Global Effort to Rev Up Electric Vehicle Market

By Tina Casey

Fleet owners, start your zero emission engines! The Climate Group has just launched its new "ZEV Challenge," aimed at accelerating the global transition out of internal combustion engines and into electric vehicle technology and other zero emission options. The ZEV Challnege targets in order to build economies of scale, so it makes sense that the founding membership consists mainly of government entities along with the energy company EDF and the fleet management firm LeasePlan.

What makes the ZEV Challenge especially interesting from a corporate social responsibility perspective is the presence of Unilever among the founding members. Unilever is the home of scores of the world's best known personal care and food brands, from Dove and Pepsodent to Marmite and Breyer's.

So, what does all that have to do with ramping up the electric vehicle market of the future?

The ZEV Challenge

The Climate Group already has a head start on the electric vehicle fleet sector, through its EV100 initiative for businesses.

The ZEV Challenge expands the initiative into cities, states and regions that are already active in the electric vehicle transition. Aside from EDF, LeasePlan and Unilever the founding members listed as supporters are California and New York City.

Other members cited in the launch are Paris, Los Angeles, London Milan, Rome, Copenhagen, Pittsburgh, Mexico City, Medellin and the regions of Australian Capital Territory and Navarra.

Unilever raises its electric vehicle voice

Unilever is already a member of the EV100 electric vehicle initiative as well as The Climate Group's RE100 initiative for renewable energy.

According to The Climate Group, business fleets are the fastest-growing contributor to climate change and currently account for 23% of greenhouse gas emissions related to energy use.

Unilever's participation in the new ZEV Challenge helps underscore the importance of cooperation and coordination between private and public sector efforts to reduce vehicle emissions.

As an EV100 member, Unilever has already committed to making EV transportation the "new normal" by 2030. For that to happen, companies like Unilever need government to support electric vehicle charging networks and other infrastructure related to zero emission vehicles.

Unilever is a major employer in many markets with a global workforce of 161,000 people, and its supply chain accounts for additional jobs as well.

That means Unilever, and companies like it, have a powerful voice when it comes to advocating for electric vehicle infrastructure and influencing government policy.

An ambitious plan for EVs

Unilever already has a solid start on its EV100 commitment. As outlined on the company's website, the aim is to "send a strong market signal that there is mass demand for electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030 or before."

To be clear, the EV100 goal includes hybrids as well as 100% zero emission vehicles. That's still a significant improvement over diesel and gas.

So far, Unilever is focusing on its fleet of 13,300 company cars. The goal is for 25% electric vehicle or hybrid by 2020, 50% by 2025 and 100% by 2030.

Those milestones are well within reach, as Unilever can simply stipulate its demand for EV automotive technology as its supply contracts come up for renewal.

Emissions related to Unilever's work vehicles and "benefit" vehicles (cars provided as employee perks) are being handled by capping total carbon emissions.

The company has less control over its use of non-owned vehicles, and that explains why LeasePlan is among the short list of companies to launch the ZEV Challenge. LeasePlan is aiming for net zero emissions by 2030.

Unilever explains:

In addition, we will choose to partner with car hire and taxi companies who offer or use electric vehicles. We are also looking to negotiate discounts with car leasing companies for employees who want to lease electric cars for personal use.

On beyond zero emission vehicles

As regular readers of Triple Pundit know, Unilever is a sustainability leader, and its plans for future growth lean heavily on acquiring brands with a clear sustainability reputation.

By participating in the ZEV Challenge, Unilever is expanding the sustainable business model to include aggressively advocating for public policies that advance sustainable development goals.

That's not the only area in which Unilever is flexing its corporate social responsibility muscles. The company recently laid down an ultimatum for Facebook and Google/YouTube to wash hate speech and other disturbing content from their sites.

Image: via Unilever.


Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey