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Thomas Lingard

Scaling climate action: three key stakeholders every major business should be talking to

15th September 2021 Thomas Lingard, Global Climate and Environment Director, Unilever 3 min read

There are good reasons for optimism on climate action. We have a historic global treaty committing every country in the world to ambitious climate action. The economics stack up, and many solutions are already being deployed at scale. 

However, despite all these efforts to shift to a more sustainable future, it’s clear that none of us have yet done enough. Our planet is overheating, natural resources are at risk, and climate change threatens social impacts that will dwarf even those of Covid-19. 

After all, climate change isn’t just an environmental challenge. It’s equal parts a socio-economic crisis affecting the lives of millions. We need to protect people and planet. 

So, what are we going to do? 

The science is clear: to keep global temperature rises under 1.5°C, our best shot is to halve emissions by the end of this decade. That’s eight years away.

This requires courageous leadership and rapid action from the parts of society that excel in operating at speed – business.

The decisions we make now will help harness the power of the market to drive systems change in energy, transport, food, and agriculture. The public targets we set, as individual businesses or through coalitions such as RE100, act as a signal to our stakeholders of the significance of the journey on which we’re embarking.

Unilever has set two science-based targets: to eliminate emissions from our operations by 2030 and halve the greenhouse gas emissions of our products by the same deadline. And last year, we took a further step of setting a longer-term goal to reach net zero emissions from our value chain by 2039.

We’ve made great progress. We have also launched a €1 billion Climate and Nature Fund to help our brands play their part in a sustainable future, with projects including landscape restoration, reforestation, and carbon sequestration.

We need to work together with others 

However, companies can't achieve meaningful changes in a silo. Companies can – and should – set net zero goals, but to reach them they will need to engage with three principal groups: 

  1. Suppliers: The conversation is increasingly about how stuff gets made. Raw materials account for around half of Unilever’s value chain emissions, so it’s vital that we work together with suppliers on our transition. As we’ll explain in an event for Climate Week NYC, this is where our primary focus lies this decade.    
  2. Investors: With bold, transformational plans, its critical to have investors on board. That’s why we published our Climate Transition Action Plan (CTAP), which was approved with 99.59% of the votes cast at our annual shareholder meeting. Roadmaps and milestones for the short, medium and long term are something investors will increasingly insist on seeing; it’s only by changing our business models that we’ll deliver on the pledges we make.   
  3. Governments: By committing to bold climate action, companies can help empower governments to set stretching targets to 2050, which in turn help companies to invest in a net zero future. Unilever is a Principal Partner of COP26, and as such is calling on governments to find the right combination of carbon pricing, ambitious renewable energy goals, regulation to phase out coal and other fossil fuels, and a genuine commitment to protecting people and nature. 

Getting future fit 

As we embark on the ‘decade of delivery’, we encourage companies to do more with these three groups to genuinely help accelerate climate action at scale.   

Through policy advocacy to rewire our economic systems for low carbon growth, deep partnerships with the most trusted suppliers, and investors that are truly bought in to the economic opportunity of the net zero transition, we can be optimistic that a 1.5 degree world remains an achievable goal. 

Unilever was one of the first companies in the world to join Climate Group’s RE100 and EV100 business leadership groups on renewable energy and electric vehicles.