Unilever and Coca-Cola Co. have joined forces to launch a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the global consumer goods industry.

The two giant firms hope to change the behaviour of customers and suppliers with the guide, which has been launched as businesses urged governments to provide a lead on controlling greenhouse gases at this week’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

The consumer goods initiative – ‘Moving Fast to a Cleaner Climate: A manager’s guide – How consumer goods companies can tackle climate change‘ – has been published to encourage businesses to take a “big-picture approach” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“There are three compelling reasons why consumer goods companies should play their part alongside other industries in tackling climate change,” the report notes. “The sector contributes directly and indirectly to climate change, through the sourcing or production of products and the way the products are used by consumers. Across the value chain, we estimate that emissions in this sector could total as much as five billion tonnes of CO2.”

“Insights into consumer needs offer the sector the opportunity to reach beyond its own production activities to help consumers mitigate climate change,” the guide added.

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Coca-Cola and Unilever said they are both using a “value-chain approach” to mitigate their impact on the environment.

“The most effective way to reduce emissions may involve changing the way you operate, the kind of products you sell or the way you market them to consumers,” the report stated.

In the case of Unilever, the company said direct emissions of greenhouse gases from its own operations total around three million tonnes. However, across the lifecycle of its products (when sourcing, distribution and consumer use are included), the figure is over a hundred times greater.

The issue of greenhouse emissions was at the heart of Unilever’s decision last week to suspend future purchases of palm oil from its supplier PT Smart.

The company decided to ditch it supplier after it was shown a Greenpeace report claiming that company is engaged in illegal deforestation. The environmental campaigner has urged other multinationals to follow suit if they wish to be seen as “environmentally responsible”.