Unilever Vietnam and nearly Three Decades of Accompanying Vietnam’s Sustainable Development

DNHN - “There is no path in life, people walk and it becomes a path” - just like that saying, Unilever, from the name of a pioneer in sustainable development right from its inception, to a Group leading the way in sustainable development practices.

“Sustainable development must be in the DNA of the business”

In the late 19th century, Lever Brothers, the predecessor of Unilever, was already a very special name with sustainable practices such as building a village with full amenities for workers, lecturing workers on issues such as community health or promoting women’s rights, etc.

William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Unilever, was known as the most progressive social reformer at that time, with campaigns aimed at workers such as shorter working days, savings policies, libraries, health benefits for employees, etc. It can be seen that sustainable development has been established in the “DNA” of the Unilever Group right from its inception, even when the concept did not yet exist.

Looking at the very progressive work of Unilever’s founder, it is not difficult to see that for Unilever, sustainable development is not just about concepts revolving around environmental issues, but also focuses heavily on the human aspect and many other factors. In the Unilever compass - the “guiding principle” for sustainable development practices, this global Group has emphasised three main themes in its actions to promote its commitment to sustainable development, including: (1) Improving the health of the planet; (2) Improving the health, confidence and well-being of people; (3) Contributing to a more equitable and inclusive society.

Representatives of units committed to working with the health sector to promote communication to raise awareness about handwashing with soap
Representatives of units committed to working with the health sector to promote communication to raise awareness about handwashing with soap.

From the guiding principle to the actions of a global leader in sustainable development

Not many people know that Unilever is the only global Group to consistently top the list of sustainable businesses by GlobesScan and SustainAbility Leaders for over a decade, especially in a context where the keyword “sustainable development” is becoming increasingly popular. That is the result of the determination and clear direction from the very first days of not only the global Unilever Group but also businesses in each country and region. For example, to successfully deploy in the S-shaped strip of land, Unilever Vietnam has made appropriate adjustments in its approach, developed deployment methods and optimised efficiency to adapt to the actual situation.

Circular plastic economy

Plastic waste is one of Unilever Vietnam’s top concerns when implementing sustainable development solutions. Many products of Unilever Vietnam’s brands such as OMO, Comfort, Sunlight, Cif, etc. have gradually switched to packaging made from environmentally friendly PCR recycled plastic and better for consumer health. To date, 63% of Unilever Vietnam’s packaging is recyclable, and 52% of virgin plastic has been reduced by saving packaging or replacing it with recycled plastic.

However, Unilever Vietnam understands that the problem of plastic waste treatment is not simply a business issue, but requires the cooperation, contribution and change in awareness of the entire community. Therefore, since 2020, the company has coordinated with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to implement the Circular Economy project, deploy plastic waste collection models in the community and communicate to raise awareness, changing people’s habits of waste sorting at source. In addition, Unilever Vietnam has also coordinated with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and other businesses to sign the initiative “Public-private Cooperation (PPC) to build a circular economy in plastic waste management”. To date, the number of PPC members has reached 28, including private companies, recyclers/collectors, organisations, associations, local authorities such as Duy Tan, Viet Cycle, Women’s Union, Youth Union, retail distribution partners such as Central Retail, etc.

Environmental protection activities

Recognising that small and medium-sized enterprises in Vietnam still face many limitations in terms of resources when implementing a sustainable vision, Unilever Vietnam focuses on cooperating with partners and suppliers to jointly develop and implement solutions to help reduce carbon emissions throughout the value chain to 0. This also contributes to addressing more than 75% of the carbon footprint from raw materials and external activities in Unilever Vietnam’s supply chain.

Unilever Vietnam also applies emission reduction solutions in both the company’s factories and some third-party supplier factories. The business also organises annual events on sustainable development for partners in the supply chain. As a result, dozens of more than 200 suppliers have committed to accompanying the company in its global strategy to achieve net zero emissions by 2039.

Not stopping at reducing emissions, Unilever Vietnam and the OMO brand in Vietnam also focus on tree planting activities, “Action for a Green Vietnam”, aiming to plant 1 million trees in the 2021-2025 period. In September 2023, Unilever Vietnam, together with the Centre for Communication on Resources and Environment, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, donated 250,000 trees to Nghia Lo commune, Yen Bai province, contributing to the 690,000 trees and 60,000 seeds that have been planted in 19 provinces and cities and 9 national parks across the country over the past 3 years.

Waste sorting encouragement activity in District 7
Waste sorting encouragement activity in District 7.

Improving health and sanitation

In addition to improving the health of the planet, improving human health is also one of the three main pillars of Unilever’s global Sustainable Development Strategy framework. In nearly three decades of operation in Vietnam, Unilever has continuously promoted activities to improve the health and sanitation of the people.

Typically, through programmes such as “Handwashing with soap for a healthier Vietnam”, and “P/S Protecting Vietnamese smiles”, Unilever Vietnam has successfully raised awareness of hygiene habits, improving the health and sanitation of the country. In June 2023, Unilever Vietnam and the Ministry of Health signed a strategic cooperation programme “For a healthy and sustainable Vietnam” 2023-2028, to improve sanitation and health for 15 million people nationwide.

Along with that, the “Green, clean and healthy school” programme implemented by Unilever Vietnam and the five brands VIM, Lifebuoy, OMO, P/S, and Pureit in strategic cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Training in the period 2021-2025 is also showing positive figures on the journey to building a safe and hygienic learning environment for primary school students. By the end of 2023, the programme has contributed to improving the sanitation environment for 330 schools, building and creating good hygiene habits for nearly 231,000 students in more than 30 provinces and cities across the country.

Improving social security

The final but no less important aspect of the three main pillars that make up Unilever’s global Sustainable Development Strategy framework is contributing to a more equitable and inclusive society. One of the goals set by Unilever is to improve social security, living standards and livelihoods for people.

Typically, in 2023, Unilever Vietnam and the Sunlight brand, in cooperation with the Vietnam Women’s Union, continued to support and empower women, and promote women’s advancement and gender equality through the programme “Vietnamese women confidently doing business”. The programme provides practical knowledge and skills, and funding to support the start-up journey of women across the country. Continuously for 4 years from 2020 to the present, the programme “Vietnamese Women Confidently Doing Business” has been implemented in 32 provinces and cities across the country, training and improving knowledge capacity for more than 100,000 women, providing capital support and awarding hundreds of outstanding business initiatives.

Not only supporting and improving the lives of women, Unilever Vietnam also aims to educate children about self-confidence in their appearance, helping them to develop better psychologically, thereby being able to fully develop their potential. The project “Raising self-esteem - Dove Self-Esteem Project” was implemented by Unilever Vietnam, the Dove brand in cooperation with the Vietnam Institute of Educational Sciences and the Centre for Education and Development (CED) on a pilot basis from September 2023 to January 2024. The focus of the project is to develop and localise a set of materials called “I am confident”, train 150 core teachers from 15 secondary schools in Hanoi, Khanh Hoa and Soc Trang provinces, then conduct pilot education based on the materials for 10,000 secondary school students in the three provinces and cities.

After nearly three decades of operation, facing many difficult problems in the context of a fluctuating market, Unilever Vietnam is still showing a long-term vision, and above all, a commitment to the journey of sustainable development. “Our ideal is to bring sustainable development to every home, every corner. Sustainable development does not only appear at Unilever but also a country and society must develop for businesses to develop,” said Ms Nguyen Thi Bich Van, Chairwoman of Unilever Vietnam.

We believe that with that commitment, Unilever Vietnam will continue to reap “sweet fruits” on the journey of sustainable development, creating a better life for more than 90 million Vietnamese people.

Pham Ha

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