Unilever’s road map in Turkey

Unilever’s road map in Turkey

Unilever, which has an annual turnover of $46.5 billion in the nearly 190 countries it operates in and which reaches 2 billion consumers every day, is among the world’s most assertive companies with regard to sustainability.

Mustafa Seçkin, a member of Unilever Turkey’s executive board and the company’s vice president of brand-building for food & beverages, chatted with me the other day, and quoted the famous motto of Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman: “While we will double in size by 2020, we will halve our carbon footprint.”

“As a giant firm that has 40 percent of its turnover in developing countries, we cannot leave this matter to chance,” said Seçkin, who has worked for Unilever for 20 years. “In other words, we cannot consume the world’s resources unconsciously.”

As well as taking future generations into consideration, Unilever wants to guarantee its own growth, because decreasing world resources and the shrinking of agricultural fields is reflected in food prices. In this regard, Unilever drew good lessons from the world food crisis of 2007-2008.

“[After the] crisis, the price of a packet of ready-made soup increased to 90 kuruş from 70 kuruş in one day,” Seçkin said.

A difference of only 20 kuruş can be a heavy burden for the people of the developing countries where 40 percent of Unilever’s turnover comes from. Consequently, it is to Unilever’s own advantage to lead the “sustainability” movement. It is also to the advantage of future generations.

A few years ago, when Unilever calculated its company-wide carbon emissions, it found that of the total emissions, 68 percent stemmed from consumers, 26 percent from raw materials, 3 percent from production and 2 percent from transportation. In response, the giant multinational first focused primarily on reducing raw- material related emissions. A company that buys 12 percent of the world’s tea, and 6 percent of its tomatoes, has huge potential to change things.

Unilever buys 1.2 billion tons of vegetables worldwide, and 100 percent of them will come from sustainable sources by 2020, Seçkin said.

That is an ambitious target, but Unilever’s ambition in Turkey is even bigger, because the company plans to reach this target by 2015. “We have determined our road map in Turkey. The tea and vegetables we buy here, 100 percent of them will be coming from sustainable resources by 2015,” Seçkin said.

Unilever works with about 4,000 growers in Turkey, but not directly, because there are suppliers in between. The company has determined what it believes are the four most important issues for agriculture in Turkey: soil management, use of chemicals, irrigation and biodiversity, Seçkin said, adding that both farmers and suppliers will receive training from Unilever.

In the Black Sea region, the company’s sustainable agriculture project for tea growers has come a long way, Seçkin said. “There is almost no one left in the Black Sea town of Rize who has not had a soil analysis. They look down upon those who haven’t.”

Such soil analysis is the first step toward the correct use of fertilizer as well as correct irrigation. By the end of 2012, Unilever will have trained 15,000 farmers in the Black Sea region. The company wants to have the sustainability of Turkish tea certified by the independent and international institution Rainforest Alliance.

If Unilever succeeds in providing all the products it uses in the three factories it operates in Turkey from 100 percent sustainable resources by 2015, it will set a good example for our agricultural sector.