Unilever Wants Shareholders to Vote on Environmental Strategy, Targets

LONDON – In a sign of the times, Unilever is taking its climate-action plan straight to shareholders – and asking them to vote on it.

The consumer giant, parent of brands ranging from Dove to Ben & Jerry’s, said it plans to put its climate plan before shareholders and seek “a non-binding advisory vote” on the company’s emissions-reduction targets, and Unilever’s plans to achieve them.

The climate plan sets out Unilever’s strategy to reduce emissions within its operations and through its value chain. It also describes how the company is managing risks and meeting consumer needs connected with climate change and the societal responses to it.

Unilever said it will share its climate-transition action plan with shareholders in the first quarter of next year, ahead of its annual general meeting on May 5. The plan will be updated on a rolling basis, and Unilever will seek an advisory vote every three years on any material changes made or proposed to the plan.

The first year the company will report on its annual progress against the plan will be 2022. 

“Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time, and we are determined to play a leadership role in accelerating the transition to a zero-carbon economy,” said Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive officer.

“We have a wide ranging and ambitious set of climate commitments – but we know they are only as good as our delivery against them. That’s why we will be sharing more detail with our shareholders who are increasingly wanting to understand more about our strategy and plans.

“We welcome this increased transparency and in the plan we present, we will be clear both about the areas in our direct control where we have a high degree of certainty of our route to net zero, as well as more challenging areas across our value chain where systemic solutions will be required to achieve our targets.”

Unilever’s decision comes after François-Henri Pinault said the financial markets could play an important role in pushing companies to pursue environmentally responsible policies. The chairman and chief executive officer of Kering said the French company has been doing road shows on criteria specifically linked to the environment, social and governance issues.

Meanwhile, private banks and public markets are proving rich sources of capital for companies including Burberry, Chanel, Moncler and Prada, which have been issuing green bonds or doing deals to raise money for their environmental programs, and to make themselves publicly accountable for reaching their targets.

On Monday, Unilever said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange that it believes the economy-wide shift to net zero emissions will require “a greater and deeper level of engagement between companies and their investors about their climate transition plans. In setting out our plan, we hope this increased level of transparency and accountability will strengthen the dialogue with our shareholders and encourage other companies to follow suit.”

As reported, Unilever’s science-based targets include zero emissions from its own operations by 2030 and a 50 percent reduction in the average footprint of its products by 2030. In June this year, Unilever announced a new target of net zero emissions from sourcing to point of sale by 2039.

The consumer giant has said that achieving its targets will require a range of measures including decarbonizing the raw materials it sources; completing the transition of its operations to 100 percent renewable energy; advocating for the accelerated decarbonization of the global energy grid; eliminating deforestation from its supply chain; and innovation and product reformulation.

To achieve its net zero by 2039 target, Unilever also said it will require high quality carbon removal credits to balance any residual emissions from sourcing to point of sale.

Shares in Unilever were down 0.4 percent at 44.03 pounds on the London Stock Exchange on Monday morning at 8:15 a.m. local time.

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