Coming clean for our future to cost R19bn

Climate change and pressing environmental issues across the globe are becoming of such concern that they could become the drivers that change human behaviour for the better.

That was the view of Dr Andrew Venter, the Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s operations in South Africa, speaking during a webinar hosted by Unilever, Clean Future.

“There’s simply no disputing that the world is getting warmer, driven by our addiction to fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas,” he said.

He cautioned that if this did not change, we would bear the consequences, which were already evident, including extreme weather events, floods, droughts, and mass extinctions.

Hosts of the event, Unilever, announced its commitment to investing €1 billion (more than R19 billion) globally on technology to move away from fossil fuel derived chemicals used in its products by 2030.

Lethepu Matshaba, Unilever Homecare VP for Africa said the company’s move to renewable or recycled sources of carbon for these chemicals was a deliberate shift away from the fossil fuel economy, and a critical step towards its pledge of net zero emissions from its products by 2030.

Venter and other panelists made the point that most cleaning products and the packaging were also harmful to the environment, with respect to the quality of water as well as pollution.

Kirsten Barnes, project leader for the SA Plastic Pact welcomed the announcement, and said it was encouraging that the commitment was not just about developing packaging that was sustainable, but also about the products.

Unilever’s Research and Development Director Africa, Jennifer Cromie said its Clean Future campaign would involvel ring-fencing 1 billion Euros to finance biotechnology research, CO2 utilisation, low carbon chemistry, biodegradable and water-efficient product formulations, and will halve the use of virgin plastic by 2025.

She said the investment would also support the development of brand communications aimed at making these new technologies appealing to its 1 billion consumers across the globe.

Matlou Setati, Executive for Food Safety at the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, welcomed the move since industry had a responsibility to develop products that were eco-friendly and led to less packaging pollution.

Nick Tandi, Senior Water Resources Management Specialist from the Water Resources Group at The World Bank, said water security was becoming an issue in South Africa, and he welcomed the company’s plan to introduce products that used less water, and were biodegradable, since the cost of treating wastewater was usually paid by consumers in their municipal bills or added to municipal debt.

Asked about how the company would be held to account on its commitment, homecare director for Southern Africa, Nathan Palmer said: “We’ve made an extremely public commitment here. We’re confident we’ve got the internal commitment and external partners to make this happen. But we ask you to hold us accountable if we fall short.”

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