Our greenhouse gas footprint

We have conducted a detailed assessment of our product portfolio to measure the greenhouse gas impact across the lifecycle of our products to find the biggest opportunities for emissions reductions.

Mapping out our footprint

Beyond the direct emissions from our factories and offices, greenhouse gas emissions occur at every stage of the value chain.

Our footprint

We have developed a metric which measures the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the lifecycle of a product on a ‘per consumer use’ basis, such as the greenhouse gas emissions from drinking a single cup of tea.

We used the insights and knowledge of Unilever experts to develop individual metrics (greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste) and to apply these to our portfolio of products. We regularly reviewed progress with internal management and also consulted and received feedback from the Unilever Sustainable Development Group (our external sustainability advisers) and other specialists in the relevant fields.

The metric covers the greenhouse gas emissions related to raw materials, manufacture, transport, consumer use and disposal of our products. Through it we aim to capture the most significant areas of impact across the product lifecycle to identify where we can have an influence and where it is feasible to measure the outcome.

We conducted an extensive baseline measurement of our global product portfolio. Setting a baseline allows us to understand the size and scale of our impacts, enabling us to prioritise and put in place actions to address these, either through innovation or actions in the marketplace such as improving waste management practices.

To set the baseline we assessed the greenhouse gas emissions across the lifecycle of more than 1,600 representative products in 2008. We calculated it at an absolute level as well as on a ‘per consumer use’ basis in 14 countries. The calculation covers 70% of our volumes.

More on our footprint

For each product, we analyse sourcing and ingredient information, manufacturing impacts and data on consumer habits (which often vary by country).

The assessment showed us that across our product portfolio consumer use accounts for more than two-thirds of our total greenhouse gas footprint.

In 2012 we invested in an automated system to improve the speed and accuracy of our footprint calculations, which we measure on a rolling-year basis from 1 July to 30 June.

As of April 2013 this system only allows us to compare our footprint to 2010 rather than to our original 2008 baseline.

our carbon footprintOur greenhouse gas footprint

Our overall target for greenhouse gases is to halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2020 (on a ‘per consumer use’ basis against a 2008 baseline).

The product categories which make the largest contribution to our greenhouse gas footprint are those where the consumer requires heated water. Soap, shower gel and shampoo and conditioner products alone account for more than half our total footprint.

Our greenhouse gas footprint (2011-2012)

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To see the data behind the Plan, we have devised a Product Analyser that shows the environmental impact of a selection of our products across the lifecycle. This provides the greenhouse gases, water or waste impacts of a representative food, home or personal care product on a ‘per consumer use’ basis. So at the touch of a button people can find out the greenhouse gas emissions associated with one cup of tea, the water use for one wash with laundry powder or the waste associated with one use of a roll-on deodorant. See the Product analyser.

External review

Feedback and external scrutiny is important in helping to strengthen our analysis. Over 2010-2011 we invited an external panel of environmental lifecycle analysis experts to review our approach.

The purpose of this exercise was to provide:

  • assurance of the robustness (transparency, quality, completeness and relevance) of our approach, including the way in which we collected and compiled our data
  • scientific review of the individual metrics (greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste), including the scope and boundaries of the current metrics, the validity of calculation methods, assumptions and data sources
  • assurance that the results and conclusions are fit for purpose, including the scope of our data and how we communicate the results.

The panel was led by Professor Roland Clift, Professor of Environmental Technology at University of Surrey’s Centre for Environmental Strategy.

We are in process of publishing our footprinting approach and this will address a number of the points highlighted in the peer review. For the panel’s report see Peer review of metrics.