Our Greenhouse Gas Strategy

Helping to tackle climate change.

Our approach

Deforestation contributes up to 15% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, and deforestation linked to palm oil, soy, beef, paper and pulp are major drivers.

We have calculated the total greenhouse gas footprint of our product portfolio. Based on this analysis, as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we set ourselves an ambitious goal to halve the greenhouse gas impact of the making and use of our products across the lifecycle by 2020.

This starts with our own operations. We aim to achieve absolute reductions in GHG emissions by 2020. However Unilever’s analysis shows that our manufacturing impacts are relatively small, less than 5% in our total value chain. The sourcing of our raw materials accounts for about a quarter of our value chain impacts, while people using our brands at home accounts for over two thirds. Heated water for showering and washing hair are the most material impacts in our value chain GHG footprint.

We are now three years into the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and this has given us the opportunity to learn from our experiences so far. We are making good progress in the areas of the value chain which we control, such as manufacturing. But we are finding the consumer use phase harder to address. It is dependent on a wide range of external factors, such as the energy used in consumer appliances (eg washing machines, hot water heaters, showers) and the carbon intensity of the energy supplied to people’s homes, as well as consumer behaviour.

We are finding it takes time to develop and roll out the kind of radical innovation which could have an effect on household energy use. Changes to energy infrastructure, household appliances and consumer behaviour change also take time to have an effect.

Our strategy

As a result of our 2013 strategic review, we are revising our approach to tackling climate change. The challenge is big and urgent. So we have decided to deepen our efforts in one area where we have the scale, influence and resources to create fundamental change to the system, not simply incremental improvements. We will deepen our efforts on working to eliminate deforestation from supply chains.

Deforestation accounts for up to 15% of total global CO2.

We will do this by leveraging our purchasing scale as the world’s biggest multinational consumer goods buyer of palm oil and our convening expertise as one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies. This way we can make a much bigger difference to climate change than if we concentrate solely on reducing the greenhouse gas footprint involved in the making and use of our products.

We will invest disproportionate amounts of resource in accelerating progress on this issue while continuing to make progress in reducing GHG impacts with our brands, innovation and sourcing programmes. This results in the following five areas where we will focus:

  1. Driving significant market transformation by placing substantial effort into ending deforestation in commodity supply chains. 

  2. Shaping our manufacturing and distribution operations through energy efficiency, renewable energy use and reducing emissions in our global logistics network. 

  3. Leveraging our sustainable agriculture and responsible non-renewables programmes to reduce GHG impacts in farming and production, eg reducing the use of fertilisers. 

  4. Activating our brands and innovation by designing products which use less GHG-intensive materials and which help consumers save energy in use. 

  5. Advocating for ambitious public policy to help tackle climate change and to incentivise the transition to a low carbon economy.

Our progress

In 2013 we continued to take significant action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the value chain by: 

  • Leading efforts to reduce the deforestation associated with commodity crops in the Consumer Goods Forum and Tropical Forest Alliance. 

  • Purchasing electricity from certified renewable sources for all our factory sites in North America and Europe. 

  • Cutting CO2 in our manufacturing sites by 32% since 2008 and avoiding costs of €153m.

  • Reaching our climate-friendly freezer target two years early, with 1.5 million ice cream cabinets. 

  • Removing phosphates, a GHG-intensive material, from the vast majority of our laundry products. 

  • Switching more people to small & mighty concentrated liquid laundry detergents, Dove, Sure and Vaseline compressed deodorants and dry shampoos from TRESemmé, Dove and Suave.

While our eco-efficiency factory programme continues to progress well, the total GHG impacts of our products, including consumer use, has increased by 5% since 2010, due to the expansion of our hair and shower product portfolio with the acquisition of Alberto Culver. 

Future challenges

Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change. We are determined to help drive deforestation out of supply chains. This is a big goal and we have no illusions about how difficult it will be to reach it.

For our own supply chain, tracing every litre of palm oil back to its source and being able to certify it as sustainably grown is very challenging.

But no one company can make a difference alone. When it comes to palm oil, for example, Unilever buys just 3% of the world’s palm oil and multinational companies just 20%. Getting the other 80% on board will not be easy. Nor will any plan succeed without China and India, both major purchasers of all four commodities (palm oil, soy, beef and paper and pulp) where a solution needs to be found to make buying sustainably sourced crops more attractive.

We and others are working together to develop one independent, scientific, peer-reviewed global standard to drive change which is good for forests, wildlife and local communities.

We are committed to working together with suppliers, governments, other companies and NGOs to make a transformational change. If we apply a relentless focus on cross-sector co-operation, we believe a tipping point can be reached and an end to deforestation will be within our grasp.

Influencing public policy

We continue to work with others to advocate for ambitious public policy to help tackle climate change and to incentivise the transition to a low carbon economy.

Moving closer to clear and binding global reduction targets will help to provide a level playing field for business, as well as the certainty required to encourage investment in long-term solutions to the climate challenge.

Through the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change we have participated in advocacy efforts at UK and EU level. We have been active in Australia through the Business for Clean Energy coalition. In the US, we are working with Ceres, a non-profit sustainability advocacy organisation, and its Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy coalition. We have contributed to business initiatives, such as those from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Economic Forum and the Consumer Goods Forum. See Consumer Goods Forum(Link opens in a new window) ( 27KB )  download for more.

Driving change to eliminate deforestation from supply chains

Deforestation contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and we are determined to drive deforestation out of supply chains. We are heavily involved in leading initiatives to make this happen - at a company level, at a consumer goods industry level and at a multi-sectoral level.

In our own company, we have achieved our target to source all our own palm oil from certified sustainable sources, mainly through GreenPalm certificates. All Unilever’s palm oil will be traceable to known sources by the end of 2014. Strategic partnerships are key to this progress. These include Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil trader, which makes up 35% of the world’s palm oil market. Its public commitment to sustainable palm oil is a significant step on the road to ending deforestation. In 2013 we signed a Memorandum of Understanding on palm oil with Wilmar to protect forests and communities.

At an industry level Unilever helped to obtain a commitment in 2010 to zero deforestation by 2020 by all 400 members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). The CGF includes all of the world’s major consumer goods manufacturers, retailers and service providers, with combined sales of €2.5 trillion. This has accelerated the efforts of CGF members.

At a multi-sectoral level, Unilever co-founded the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in 2004. In conjunction with the RSPO, Unilever has contributed to the development of PalmGHG, a greenhouse accounting tool and GHG calculator specific to the palm oil sector. This tool is expected to be released in 2014 and will be used by the RSPO and its members to report on GHG emissions from palm oil plantations and refinery operations.

Unilever also led the foundation of the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA), a public-private partnership between the CGF and the governments of the US, UK, the Netherlands, Norway, Indonesia and Liberia. The TFA is committed to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the deforestation associated with the sourcing of palm oil, soy, beef and paper and pulp.

Reducing GHG emissions in consumer use

We have committed to halving the GHG impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2020.

Our footprint is measured by calculating the GHG emissions across the lifecycle of over 2,000 representative products in 14 countries. Sourcing raw materials accounts for about a quarter of our footprint, whereas the GHG emissions associated with consumer use accounts for over two thirds.

In fact our analysis shows that over half our GHG footprint comes from showering, bathing and washing hair with our products. This is because people need heated water for these activities.

We have designed products which use less GHG-intensive raw materials such as compressed deodorants from our Dove, Sure, Vaseline and Lynx brands and small & mighty concentrated laundry detergents. We have also developed innovations which help change consumer habits, such as TRESemmé dry shampoo, which refreshes hair between washes without the needed for heated water, and laundry detergents from Omo and Surf, which give great cleaning performance at lower temperatures and on quicker wash cycles.

But it is clear that product innovations and brand campaigns will not be enough to make big shifts in consumers’ GHG footprint. It can take years to change behaviour. We are therefore advocating for ambitious public policy on climate change. We are supporting decarbonisation of the grid, higher efficiency household appliances and carbon pricing as ways to help make a lower GHG lifestyle possible.

Supply chain collaboration

We are founding members of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Supply Chain Collaboration. CDP aims to increase companies’ disclosure of their greenhouse gas (GHG) management plans and impacts and to encourage them to put reduction plans in place. CDP’s supplier programme has global reach and involves the collaboration of businesses within the supply chain.

We are promoting the involvement of suppliers of both agricultural and non-agricultural derived raw materials in the CDP as it represents a global, standard approach for the disclosure of GHG management plans and performance. We believe that involvement in the CDP is of intrinsic value to our suppliers and we encourage their participation.

Developing standards

Unilever participates in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative, a partnership between the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. This initiative aims to develop standards and guidance on the measurement and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions. For example, we provided input into the development of the Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard, which was published in 2011. We are currently participating in an EU pilot project on product environmental footprinting.

External recognition

In 2013 the Carbon Disclosure Project recognised our climate change disclosure and carbon performance for the ninth consecutive year. We scored 85 out of 100 for Disclosure - an increase of one point on our 2012 score and six points on 2011. We maintained Performance Band A. This result placed us in the Climate Performance Leadership Index (CPLI) for the second year running.

In the 2012-2013 Climate Counts(Link opens in a new window) company scorecard, Unilever scored 91 out of 100. This was an increase from 88 in 2011 and meant that we came top of the food sector. The Climate Counts Company Scorecard rates the 136 largest companies by revenue across 16 industry sectors on their actions to address climate change. Scores are assigned based on 22 criteria that determine if companies have: measured their climate footprint, reduced their impact on global warming, supported (or suggested intent to block) progressive climate legislation and publicly disclosed their climate actions clearly and comprehensively.

Unilever was ranked number two in a new science-based carbon emissions study published by Climate Counts in December 2013. The study analysed the GHG emissions of 100 companies, assessing how well these companies performed in the context of environmental thresholds.

Unilever was placed in fifth position with a score of 77% in Carbon Clear’s(Link opens in a new window) third annual report, ranking carbon measurement and reporting practices of FTSE 100 companies. All companies in the 2013 report were scored in four subject areas: measurement, reporting and verification; carbon strategy; carbon reduction; and engagement.