Our greenhouse gas strategy

Climate change is a serious global issue. Extreme weather patterns, water scarcity and their impact on agriculture are affecting people everywhere, with developing countries likely to be among the most vulnerable.

Why do we need to act?

Climate change is accelerating and the effects are being felt across the world. It has a significant impact on our business. The sourcing of our agricultural raw materials will be affected by changes in weather patterns; our business and our consumers will be affected by increases in energy and food prices and extreme weather events will displace communities.

Being proactive on climate change is essential to society and should ensure we remain a viable business in the future. Looking through the lens of sustainability also opens up great opportunities for innovation, new product development and cost efficiencies.

Our strategy

Our Compass strategy sets out our vision to double the size of our business while reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact. This includes greenhouse gas emissions. Over 2008-2010 we conducted extensive work to understand the total greenhouse gas footprint of our product portfolio.

Based on this analysis we set ourselves an ambitious target to halve the ‘per consumer use’ greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2020. This target will be achieved through:

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with our raw materials
  • reducing the greenhouse gas impacts from energy from our factories and increasing our use of renewable energy
  • reducing the emissions related to transport and refrigeration, and
  • reducing the greenhouse gas impacts associated with the use of our products, in particular our skin, hair and laundry products

Future challenges

Our greatest greenhouse gas impact comes from the heated water people need when they take a shower with our soaps, shower gels and shampoos – especially in the US. Finding ways to reduce this is crucial if we are to meet our goal to halve the greenhouse gas emissions of our products across the lifecycle.

We are finding this very difficult and have only made limited headway. We have made a start by understanding people’s showering habits. In 2011 we reported on showering research in the UK. We have followed up with a similar study in Australia.

Given the barriers to change, we are experimenting with products like dry shampoo, with offers such as free shower aerators from Radox shower gel in South Africa– which can save consumers up to €450 a year – and with a competition to open source innovative ideas.

A big part of our footprint today is in the US. But as people in the fast-growing markets of Asia and Africa start to acquire washing machines and showers the task becomes even more difficult. Our challenge will be to ensure that people continue to wash their clothes at low temperatures when they get a washing machine.

We do not yet have viable solutions and we will continue to seek innovations which will help people reduce their impacts. But large-scale change will only come about if carbon has an economic price and if governments put the right frameworks in place. So we continue to advocate ambitious public policy to address climate change and to incentivise the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Influencing public policy

To support this wider goal we will continue to work with others to achieve changes in public policy.

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

We have continued to advocate for ambitious public policy to address climate change and to incentivise the transition to a low carbon economy. Through the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change we have participated in advocacy efforts at the UK and EU level, and have also been active in Australia through the Business for Clean Energy coalition.

In the run up to the Durban Climate Summit (COP 17) in November 2011, we played an active role in the drafting of the 2°C Challenge Communiqué which was issued ahead of the summit to remind world leaders of the importance of taking action if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We have also contributed to a number of 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 press release in Related links for more.

Tropical Forest Alliance 2020

Unilever has led the process of building the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a public-private partnership between the US government and the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). The CGF is a large industry body made up of almost all the major retail and consumer goods companies in the world, with revenues amounting to more than $3 trillion.

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 was announced at the Rio+20 summit in June 2012. It aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the deforestation associated with the sourcing of commodity crops such as soy, palm oil, beef, pulp and paper. The Dutch and Norwegian governments have signed up and companies, NGOs and other governments will be invited to join. The Indonesian government co-hosted a workshop on the palm and paper value chains in 2013. See external links for more.

External recognition

Unilever was ranked in number two position 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. In the previous (2012) Climate Counts Company Scorecard, Unilever scored 91 out of 100, up from 88 in 2011 and topped the Food Products sector.

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 points on our 2012 score - and six points on 2011 - and maintained Performance Band A. This result placed us in the Climate Performance Leadership Index (CPLI) for the second year running.

Unilever was placed in fifth position with a score of 77% in Carbon Clear’s third annual report which ranks 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.

Unilever came top of the new FTSE CDP Carbon Strategy 350 Index, launched in June 2010, with an overall score of 76.7%. A three-way collaboration between the ENDS Carbon Consultancy, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and FTSE, the new index was based on a carbon management scorecard measuring companies across eight main areas: policy and targets, measurement, assessment, decision-making, emissions performance, disclosure, supply chain and product. While we were also included in the 2011 and 2012 Index, FTSE no longer calculate this particular Index.