Climate change is undoubtedly one of the greatest threats ever to face humanity and the single biggest global challenge facing business, governments and civil society. Our current collective response to climate change is inadequate and now threatens businesses, jobs and the economy around the world. Tackling this issue in a systemic way is not only compatible with economic growth; it is the only way that we can grow the global economy in the 21st century. We must all work together to change the course and ensure a brighter future. That’s why we signed the Climate Declaration  and why we are joining with more than a dozen major corporations and consumer brands tomorrow on Capitol Hill to urge policy action on climate change. 

Businesses are living in a new reality. In financial terms, for the first time the cost of inaction is now greater than the cost of action. However this issue is so much more than financial – it’s social and human too. Jobs, security and people’s everyday lives are at stake. We believe that a combination of international, multinational and national approaches is needed to tackle this pressing issue. 

Unilever produces world-leading brands including Ben & Jerry’s, Dove, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Suave and TRESemmé. Our vision is to double the size of our business while reducing our environmental impact and increasing our positive social impact.  Like consumers and the environment, our business operations are deeply affected by climate change and we believe the status quo is unsustainable. For example, the sourcing of our agricultural raw materials will be affected by changes in weather patterns; our business and our consumers will be affected by increases in energy and food prices; and extreme weather events will displace communities. Therefore, securing widespread and effective action on climate change is essential to ensuring that Unilever, like all others, remains a viable business in the future.

Unilever is particularly supportive of policies that call for a reduction of deforestation, a reduction of carbon in energy sources that we and our consumers use, and economic support for developing countries to adapt to unavoidable climate change.

Within our own business, we have set a target to halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across their lifecycle by 2020. This target encompasses our entire value chain - from sustainably sourcing our raw materials to consumer use of the product and its disposal.  A large part of our products’ greenhouse gas impact is driven by the carbon intensity of the energy used to make and use them.Therefore, new carbon standards and incentives for green technologies are important and practical first steps in reducing carbon in the power supply and reducing impacts right across the value chain.

One major challenge to reduce our carbon footprint lies with the fact that our biggest greenhouse gas impact is associated with the consumer use phase of our products -- particularly when energy is used to heat water for showering. Finding ways to reduce this is crucial if we are to meet our goal of halving the greenhouse gas emissions of our products across their lifecycle. We are experimenting with new product innovations, such as dry shampoo and others that require less hot water, and therefore energy, for rinsing, and exploring the different ways in which we can positively influence consumer behavior.

Large-scale change will require the transformation to a low carbon economy, and to achieve this we’ll need courageous government policies. We recognize the challenges faced by political leaders in developing ambitious frameworks for action on climate change, which is why we hope that policymakers will rely on the support of corporate leaders from the more than 750 companies that have signed the “Climate Declaration.”

Atwood is vice president of Sustainable Living and Corporate Communications for Unilever, North America.