Sales & Marketing

Unilever is on the anti-plastics warpath. Are you?

7 min read

08 October 2019

Unilever is set to halve plastic use by 2025. But is this coming from 'the corporate heart' or from a mere attempt to stay relevant in an increasingly sustainable savvy market?

As we watch the world evaporate before our eyes, (cue the devastating impact of climate change), the need for corporate giants to ‘cut back’ on their polluting methods has never been more necessary.

Why is Unilever doing this?

Unilever anti plastics policy

Is Unilever turning to this policy for ‘the right’ reasons?

One business that’s trying to make a dent in the plastics pollution war is the multinational consumer goods company, Unilever. It’s promising to cut its plastic use in half by 2025 –  quite an ambitious goal for a huge transnational entity, right?

Currently, the brand generates more than 700,000 thousand units of plastic each year, with much of the waste being shipped out to landfills to already environmentally suffering ‘third world’ countries.

The news breaks as environmental protests continue across London and the rest of the UK this month. In light of impassioned and global (– think Greta Thunberg vs Trump) responses to climate change, (including companies that are complicit in making it worse), are businesses like Unilever making changes to fight climate change, or merely to please and retain their customer base?

Whatever the real reasons behind the company pursuing this policy, Unilever could influence other businesses to follow their example, which could be for the greater good.

How will this help?

Unilever cuts plastic

Unilever houses many major brands, such as Dove beauty products.

“Plastics pollution is the most visible example of the environmental crisis we’re facing. Eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped into our seas every year killing our precious wildlife, from local beaches to the frozen Arctic,” says Paula Chin, a sustainable materials specialist at the UK arm of World Wide Fund for Nature.

How ‘polluting’ are they right now?

What Unilever hopes to do is alter its products to fit a more “environmentally friendly” mould. But they’re not ‘there’ yet.

Currently, the brand generates more than 700,000 thousand units of plastic each year, with much of the waste being shipped out to landfills to already environmentally suffering ‘third world’ countries.

Introducing deodorant sticks stored in cardboard and refillable shampoo stations is among one of their potential policies that they hope will reverse their level of plastics pollution.

Are they ‘doing it’ for Gen Z?

Children protest

The Gen Z generation has no appetite for ill-sourced produce, including plastic-based products.

Unilever CEO Alan Jope has admitted that this move to a more greener stance is to appeal to the tastes of a younger generation, who refuse to tolerate irresponsible consumption of ill-packaged goods.

“This is part of responding to society but also remaining relevant for years to come in the market,” says Jope.

Gen Z is becoming the prime consumer market

The prohibition of plastic is largely driven by the hopes to gain a good PR rapport with an age bracket who no longer rely on brand names such as Unilever’s Dove for hygiene purposes. They’re happy to move away and to less mainstream brands if they see as ‘more ethical.’

Becky Willan, managing director of Given London a brand purpose agency said; “The news that Unilever is looking to significantly reduce plastics is positive and unsurprising.”

“Companies across the world are waking up to the requirement to deliver more sustainable versions of, or alternatives to, products and services. What is interesting about the Unilever story is how it’s framed. Sustainability is no longer a nice to have, in many categories it is increasingly becoming an essential value driver for consumers,” she says.

The ‘impact’ of an informed ‘choice’

“People want more options and better choices. Brands want more hooks to engage and attract consumers in highly competitive categories. And soon, the legislation will dictate that businesses and consumers must make changes to reduce their impact on the planet – this move is consistent with the Unilever strategy over the last ten years and will help their brands stay ahead of competitors.”

Set to be the world’s most influential consumer demographic by 2020, it would be a mistake if Unilever didn’t keep the consumer tastes of Gen Z at the forefront of its corporate mind.

Changes in consumer trends

Today, ethically sourced and sustainable products are not only a trend with younger consumers, but they are also desired by most groups in society as people get more clued up about climate change.

Anti-plastics entrepreneur, Ocean Bottle’s Will Pearson agrees by highlighting how busy and competitive his own (reusable water bottle) market is –  “we entered the most competitive market in the world after shoes. There are so many different bottles out there.”

So, if big household names want to compete against their more ‘ethical’ counterparts, they have to take a moral stance on what they produce and how they produce it. This can be seen in makeup giant Estee Lauder’s, move to acquire brands that are cruelty-free.

Is it enough?

Children environment

The need to save the planet must span beyond a corporation’s desire to keep up with consumer trends.

With reports claiming we only have until just 2050 to salvage the planet from an impending climatic demise, big brands need to look beyond the capitalistic desire to salvage their brand reputation and take an effective ethical stance, for shallow implementations just won’t cut the mustard when our actual environment is at stake.