Unilever aims for better sourcing transparency via new data play

Global consumer goods company Unilever has extended its Google Cloud partnership to support more eco-friendly decision making in its supply chain.

The two companies are now collaborating in what is the first commercial application of Google Cloud and Google Earth Engine for sustainable commodity sourcing. 

Unilever had already been using a range of Google Cloud technology, including translation, visual analytics and natural language processing, to better understand its customers.

Now Unilever is combining the tech titan’s cloud computing, satellite imagery, and artificial intelligence tools to build a more holistic view of the forests, water cycles, and biodiversity that intersect with Unilever’s supply chain.

Google Cloud and Unilever said they will also work with a broad range of technology partners to build “a centralised command centre”. It hopes this process will help build a better mechanism for detecting deforestation and lead to greater accountability while simultaneously prioritising critical areas of forest and habitats in need of protection. 

Unilever’s sustainable sourcing initiative, which is initially focused on sustainable palm oil, will be extended to other commodities in the future. The business aims to operate with a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023.

The Google Cloud technology supporting Unilever on this mission includes Google Earth Engine, Google Cloud Storage and BigQuery, which combines satellite imagery, with the ability to store and analyse large amounts of complex data.

Unilever will use the platform to obtain insights around sourcing, and take action with suppliers whenever it is needed.

Dave Ingram, Unilever’s chief procurement officer, said: “This collaboration with Google Cloud will take us to the next level in sustainable sourcing.

“We will now be able to process and combine complex sets of data like never before. The combination of these sustainability insights with our commercial sourcing information is a significant step-change in transparency, which is crucial to better protect and regenerate nature.”

Rob Enslin, president of sales at Google Cloud, added: “Together, we’re demonstrating how technology can be a powerful tool in aiding businesses who strive to protect the Earth’s resources. It will require collective action to drive meaningful change, and we are committed to doing our part.”