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Product footprinting

Our products have an impact on the environment at each stage of their life cycle from the sourcing of raw materials through to product manufacture, distribution, consumer use and disposal. This is commonly referred to as their Product Environmental Footprint. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is widely accepted as the methodology of choice for product footprinting and Unilever has been at the forefront of its development and application for over 30 years. The knowledge and insights we developed over this time have helped inform the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and our commitment to decouple growth from our impact. To assess progress, each year we measure the environmental footprint of approximately 3000 products across 14 countries. The individual product footprints highlight how the environmental impacts of our products vary by type and format, by country (e.g. due to differing energy grids) and with differing consumer habits. Information on our current products is used to help inform our future product development as well as strategic sourcing decisions.​

Whilst LCA is widely used in product and policy assessment, it is recognised that the method still requires improvement and data availability challenges remain. Our science development in this area is focussed on: 1) quantifying uncertainty and variability of product LCAs both in the underlying inventory data as well as in impact assessment methods; 2) improving the spatial aspect of LCA in areas such as bio-based ingredients and for regional and local impact assessment methods; and 3) developing new and improved data for Unilever’s key raw materials (e.g. supplier specific data). The new insights and data we develop are incorporated into the advice we provide within the business and ultimately embedded into our routine product environmental footprinting activities.​

To support our science and technology development programme, we actively collaborate with a number of academic and other institutions as well as business partners. Improving the robustness and accuracy of LCA is an on-going and long-term activity.​