Helping businesses achieve long-term sustainability goals
Our sustainability report highlights some of the most compelling emerging solutions contributing to Unite’s sustainability legacy. We already had an EcoVadis rating in place by 2018, renewed annually, to help us monitor our sustainable development and focus on opportunities for improvement. One of the outcomes of this rating was the need to increase transparency.
The decision to build a sustainability strategy to guide our actions and those of our ever-expanding ecosystem came about through a working group comprising employees of various departments, spearheaded by our Executive Board. We established a Corporate Social Responsibility team within Unite. Every employee had a say in developing the sustainability roadmap by answering a questionnaire from a sustainability consultancy. External stakeholders also participated in the process through dialogue and written recommendations.
Then a collective decision was made to get a DNK (German Sustainability Code) rating. The DNK provides a cross-industry and widespread standard for reporting corporate non-financial performance. Its standardisation is recognised throughout Europe and ensures better comparability of the sustainability performance of the reporting organisations.
In building our sustainable strategy with the DNK, three questions emerged:
How can we contribute to sustainable development that’s good for the environment?
What does collective action entail?
And what steps are necessary to ensure right conduct?
Good for the environment
Goods worth millions are purchased through Unite annually, so our most significant impact lies in guiding platform participants to choose more sustainable products and suppliers. That’s why we’re building more product and supplier transparency into our platform.
In late 2020, we conducted a stakeholder dialogue to define market requirements for supporting buyers in sustainable procurement. Transparency on the data quality of sustainability features of products and suppliers on our platform is essential to enable conscious buying decisions. Unite is supporting suppliers to develop catalogues with verifiable and comparable criteria to increase the number of eco-labeled assortments. For example, in 2021, local market initiatives in Germany offered NGO-verified eco-friendly and socially responsible products from suppliers. These products ticked relevant boxes such as carbon-neutral transport, reduced packaging and extended supply chain responsibility. By 2023, Unite will establish a risk assessment for platform suppliers to help meet our due diligence standards.
Post-pandemic, we’ve discovered the immense potential for collective action and change. To explore the diversity of ideas, we continue to evaluate pertinent questions regarding our business operations. These questions seek to explore which suspended activities we would like to see gone for good and which ones we would like to resume.
So, in keeping with our environmental goals, we’ve revised our travel expenses policy in favour of rail travel. Our company car regulations seek to control CO2 emissions. Several vehicles in the company's fleet have been replaced with electric cars.
A CO2 reduction strategy is currently being devised based on internal findings from carbon footprint assessments of 2019 and 2020.
Meanwhile, we’ve already established clear indicators for reporting internal sustainability, compliance and sustainability on the platform at the Executive Board level. These structures will be in place by the end of 2022, including nominating individuals in charge of achieving specific targets.
Delivering on our ESG goals and creating positive impact on greenhouse gas reduction is at the heart of our mission at Unite. As a platform we transfer all related learnings directly into our product. Throughout 2023 we will build foundational new services around robust sustainability data for the B2B space. Buyers and sellers can build on our efforts to support business decisions that create measurable impact towards their own ESG goals.
Unite operates in 15 European countries. We respect national and international standards (such as the ILO’s Core Labour Standards) and laws protecting workers’ rights. As Unite grows, staff in different countries are subject to different legal requirements. The risk that the rights guaranteed to employees outside of Germany will fall short of our minimum levels is real. So, by the end of 2023, we aim to conduct an audit to identify countries most at risk and put necessary changes in place. Currently, German social standards are our minimum level of employee protection for all staff members, regardless of where they live.
Just as employee retention is vital to drive sustainable business growth, our scalable and flexible infrastructure facilitates connections and enhances supply chain resilience. Because we don’t manufacture anything, we can positively impact our suppliers, buyers and the Unite Network to act sustainably.
Alongside our values and motivation, government laws, investors, customers and other market players amplify the pressure towards sustainable business practices.
In keeping with this we also revised our Code of Conduct and sent it to existing business partners for signature. With this, they are expected to report any actual or potential violations, including those that affect their supply chain.
Ethical corporate tax conduct is another example of Unite's responsible and sustainable business approach in its mission to create a shared-value ecosystem, network and communities. We also have a mechanism to check professional misconduct with our whistleblower policy.
It’s essential that our learnings over the past years can be put into future actions. We’ve already increased the share of green electricity utilisation – from 0% to 63.6% – in our three German offices at Leipzig, Köthen and Munich since switching contracts in 2020. With an increase in work-from-home contracts, we’re currently devising a holistic method to calculate the energy consumption of home-based employees.
While our sustainability expertise gets better through education and training and as we continue to support buyers with sustainable procurement, we would also like to shine the light on our new headquarters in Leipzig. It’s being built with far-reaching sustainability and green energy criteria in mind and will be inaugurated in the summer of 2023.
Our headquarters will be certified by the German Sustainable Building Council’s gold standard sustainability criteria. The independent certification process ensures transparent quality control. It entails adhering to several parameters such as energy efficiency, resource conservation and a healthy working environment – with a total index of 65 percent or higher.
The new HQ will have a reduced number of parking spaces. This was done deliberately to ensure that employees utilise public transportation. Of this, 60 percent of the parking is reserved for e-cars. There’s also a provision to park 280 bicycles onsite.
Operating sustainably is not only good for the planet but also good for business. And our roadmap for 2023 is centred around ways to reinforce this understanding in our products, practices and partnerships. Our commitment extends not only to fostering fair procurement practices and increased sustainability criteria across the supply chain but also to creating a healthy work environment.