Eco-efficiency in manufacturing

We aim to reduce the environmental impacts of our manufacturing operations, minimising both resources used and waste created.


Our approach

In this section we describe our overall approach to improving the eco-efficiency of our manufacturing operations. This includes our eco-efficiency strategy, approach to data collection, and target setting. It also includes our summary performance across our key performance indicators, as well as the environmental management system that underpins our approach.

Reducing the impacts of our own manufacturing operations – eco-efficiency – is a core part of our strategy. We have a clear track record of improving eco-efficiency performance in the areas of water, waste and CO2 from energy. As part of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have set significantly more ambitious eco-efficiency targets. These underpin our big goal to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products by 2020 and our three commitments on greenhouse gases (GHG), water and waste.

Reduce GHG from manufacturing

  • By 2020, CO2 emissions from energy from our factories will be at or below 2008 levels despite producing significantly higher volumes.

  This represents a reduction of around 40% per tonne of production. Versus 
  a 1995 baseline, this represents a 63% reduction per tonne of 
  production and a 43% absolute reduction.

  • We will more than double our use of renewable energy to 40% of our total energy requirement by 2020. We recognise that this is only a first step towards a long-term goal of 100% renewable energy.

  • All newly built factories will aim to have less than half the impact of those in our 2008 baseline.

Find out more about our latest performance at Reducing GHG in   manufacturing.

Reduce water use in our manufacturing process

  • By 2020, water abstraction by our global factory network will be at or below 2008 levels, despite significantly higher volumes.

  This represents a reduction of around 40% per tonne of production. Versus 
  a 1995 baseline, this represents a 78% reduction per tonne of 
  production and a 65% absolute reduction. We will focus in particular on 
  factories in water-scarce locations.

  • All newly built factories will aim to abstract less than half the water of those in our 2008 baseline.

Find out more about our latest performance at Reducing water use in     manufacturing.

Reduce waste from our manufacturing

  • By 2020, total waste sent for disposal will be at or below 2008 levels despite significantly higher volumes.

  This represents a reduction of around 40% per tonne of production. Versus 
  a 1995 baseline, this represents an 80% reduction per tonne of 
  production, and a 70% absolute reduction.

  • By 2015 all manufacturing sites will achieve zero non-hazardous waste to landfill. (New Target 2012)

  • All newly built factories will aim to generate less than half the waste of those in our 2008 baseline.

Find out more about our latest performance at Reducing waste from     manufacturing.

Decoupling growth from environmental impact

Our targets commit us to maintaining our 2008 levels of greenhouse gas, water and waste impacts against a backdrop of significant growth in our business. This is a tough challenge.

In 2010 we undertook Project Neutral. This was an assessment of all our manufacturing sites to understand better how we could meet our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan targets. We reviewed the likely areas of growth from a geographic and product perspective. We also looked at the current environmental performance of all our sites.

As a result we identified a number of ‘levers’, or areas of potential change, to deliver reductions in our environmental impact. Examples of levers include renewable energy sourcing, rainwater harvesting, and energy saving in our processes. We asked all our manufacturing sites to assess themselves against these levers in order to identify opportunities for reductions.

Our manufacturing sustainability strategy

Following this assessment, we were able to determine four key areas of focus:

  1. Reducing the environmental impact of new production facilities – either new factories or new production lines.

  2. Reducing the impact of all existing factories.

  3. Making our global and regional purchasing more efficient.

  4. Embracing new technologies.

New production facilities

To support the growth of our business we will need many new factories and production lines. Key to this will be ensuring that eco-efficiency is built into the designs of our new facilities.

We will use the following methods to do this:

  • Exploring renewable energy opportunities including the use of biomass fuel in our boilers and furnaces.

  • Optimising the fuel we use  ̶  choosing the fuel that emits the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, and that is also economically viable and available.

  • Factoring in the orientation of our buildings (such as minimising solar gain to reduce energy required for cooling and the impact of prevailing winds).

  • Considering building fabrication (such as insulation, sun-shading screens).

  • Setting minimum standards for the certification of new factory buildings.

  • Installing high-efficiency equipment (such as utilities and production lines).

  • Optimising the distribution of energy, waste and water (such as centralised versus decentralised utility distribution).

These considerations will ensure that all new facilities have sustainability built into their core designs and are significantly more eco-efficient than current ones. Unilever Engineering Services is working collaboratively with external third-party suppliers on many of these initiatives. In addition we are using certification systems such as LEED and BREEAM environmental assessment methods and rating systems for buildings. We have set a minimum standard for LEED ‘Silver’ Certification or equivalent. In 2013 our Home Care factory in Tianjin, China was the first Unilever factory to achieve LEED ‘Gold’. This exceeded our minimum standard.

By building in sustainability at an early design stage, we aim to minimise the cost impact of these initiatives and ensure good financial returns. In this way the facilities we build will continue to deliver eco-efficiency benefits over the long term. Adopting this holistic approach ensures that each of our newly built facilities is capable of producing increased volumes whilst using less natural resources to do so.

We are also using an approach of ‘design once, deploy everywhere’ to leverage our global scale, reduce the costs related to equipment purchase and design, as well as speed up implementation.

Improving all our existing factories

Our 247 worldwide manufacturing sites incorporate sustainability into our existing Manufacturing Excellence programme. This focuses on continuous improvement and includes investments in more efficient equipment and new technologies. We identified various ways of reducing our environmental impact. These range from relatively simple processes, such as replacing inefficient or redundant equipment, through to larger-scale projects, such as replacing boilers and air compressors. To build on the momentum of our eco-efficiency programme in existing factories, we have ‘ring-fenced’ capital investment to drive energy, CO2 from energy and water reduction projects that deliver the most beneficial environmental and financial benefits.

By using existing, well-developed TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) tools and techniques, we are ensuring that sustainability becomes part of what we do every day, as the link between eco-efficiency and better factory performance is clear. All factories are consistently measured against sustainability performance indicators.

We have also identified a series of small actions that sites can implement, such as awareness campaigns, standardised metering, monitoring and targeting and switching off water hoses and lights. When added together, these will make a big difference. Many employees have sustainable business ideas and our Group manufacturing sustainability team has set up a unique Small Actions Big Difference (SABD) global fund to make them happen. Factory teams can apply for investment for their ideas which are evaluated on the basis of environmental benefit and financial return to ensure only the best projects are selected.

In 2013, we invested €15 million in 175 of the best energy, CO2 emissions and water reduction projects globally. These will reduce global CO2 emissions by 2.5%, global energy use by 2% and water by 1.5%. This will achieve an average payback of less than two years.

We are finding that successful projects from one factory can, in many cases, be easily replicated elsewhere. This also ensures a quicker delivery of environmental benefits. Supporting the best ideas identified by our factory teams through investment in individual projects, and then rolling them out globally, provides strong motivation to generate new ideas. We will therefore continue our SABD investment programme in 2014 and beyond to leverage our global scale.

Efficient global and regional purchasing

By utilising Unilever’s scale we have been able to introduce a range of contracts at global, regional and country level. These enable us to address large-scale requirements in a cost-effective manner.

A prime example is moving to renewable energy in Europe during 2011. This enabled us to meet the purchased electrical requirements of all 58 European sites. It has also enabled us to reduce our CO2 from energy by approximately 250,000 tonnes. During 2012 we applied the same methodology to North America, achieving an emissions reduction of similar magnitude. These reductions have been maintained through to the present day.

We are also introducing global purchasing agreements for standard factory equipment such as boilers. We are doing this to ensure that we achieve the highest environmental and safety performance as well as lower costs.

On waste we have put in place a number of national waste contracts, which are already yielding benefits. By the end of 2013, 186 (75%) of our sites reached the milestone of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill. This means that 97,000 tonnes of site waste a year are no longer sent to landfill compared to 2008, equivalent to more than 1 million household bins of waste every year. We are now zero non-hazardous waste to landfill in 38 countries.

Building on our good progress, in 2012 we set a stretching new target for 100% of our manufacturing sites to achieve zero non-hazardous waste to landfill by the end of 2015. Read more about our efforts at Reducing waste from manufacturing.

Embracing new technologies

We have looked at employing new and emerging cost effective technologies which are ready to be deployed. Our aim here also is to ‘design once, deploy everywhere’. This means piloting technologies in selected factories and, if successful, deploying them globally.

New technologies are expected to deliver not only eco-efficiency benefits but also a good return on investment.

The importance of behaviour change

Everyone in our company has a part to play in reaching the targets that form our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

In April 2013 we launched a global campaign to drive eco-efficiency across our global factory network to reach as many Unilever employees and their families as we could. We asked them to think about simple ideas that everyone can engage with to help us reduce our environmental footprint.

Involving our people in learning how to live and work more sustainably helped us reach teams in 96% of our factories during 2013 through the Smarter Greener Living (SGL) campaign. The events involved 86,230 employees and families who collectively contributed over 4,500 eco-efficiency ideas to help us reduce our environmental impact.

Training & awareness

Our approach is to deliver tools, techniques and awareness, and share best practice directly with those people responsible for reducing the environmental impact of our manufacturing operations. Much of our progress has been achieved through good manufacturing practices at our factories. We continue to promote this through an environmental roadmap that includes an awareness-raising programme called ‘Simple Solutions’. In addition, the implementation of Project Neutral during 2010, a site-by-site assessment process, has further driven improvement and provided a platform for our manufacturing operations to achieve their 2020 Unilever Sustainable Living Plan targets.