In addition, all of the palm oil the company uses will be "sustainable" by the end of this year, three years earlier than its targeted date, but more than 90% of the volume consumed will be considered sustainable based on the company's purchase of so-called GreenPalm certificates, development director Jan Kees Vis told Dow Jones Newswires on the sidelines of an industry event.
Unilever is one of the world's biggest consumers of palm oil. Environmental activists closely track its sourcing of the oil as part of their campaign to establish sustainable production in Malaysia and Indonesia, the world's two biggest producers. Massive tracts of forests and peat land have been cleared to establish palm oil plantations, resulting in the release of the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
Given its size, Unilever's consumption can also affect global demand for and pricing of palm oil, which is a key ingredient in a wide range of consumer products.
Unilever now produces more low-fat spreads, resulting in reduced consumption of palm oil for food products, Kees Vis said. The low-fat spreads still contain palm oil, but in lower volumes, and contain other vegetable oils such as rapeseed, he said.
As a result, the company's annual consumption of palm oil and its derivatives has remained almost unchanged in recent years, at 1.3 million-1.4 million metric tons a year, as the company has used more palm oil in non-food products, Kees Vis said.
He did not offer an outlook for future palm oil consumption.
However, he said all of the palm oil the company consumes will be "sustainable" by the end of the year. The company previously said it would meet that goal by 2015.
Kees Vis also serves as president of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a coalition of producers, buyers, conservationists and other stakeholders.
The RSPO approved the use of the GreenPalm certificates to encourage production of sustainable palm oil, which is difficult to segregate from non-sustainable oil in the supply chain. Producers are eligible for one certificate for every ton of certified sustainable palm oil they produce.
Companies such as Unilever can purchase the certificates. Most of the proceeds go to the producers, helping to offset the increased cost of producing sustainable palm oil.
However, critics have noted that the purchase of certificates doesn't mean a company is consuming sustainable palm oil.
Separately, Llorenc Mila i Canals, a Unilever sustainability scientist, told Dow Jones Newswires that the company has targeted 100% consumption of segregated, traceable and certified sustainable palm oil by 2020.