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Unilever Global Change location

Man climbing up a ladder on a wind turbine

This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate action

Decarbonising our business

Average read time: 7 minutes

We’ve been taking climate action across our operations for decades and now we’re working to eliminate fossil fuels entirely and switch to renewable energy.

When it comes to climate action, every tonne of carbon counts. That’s why we’ve carefully measured our greenhouse gas footprint to understand where our emissions come from and target our efforts on our journey to decarbonise our business.

Solar panels on the roof of Unilever’s Silvassa Detergent Factory, Silvassa, India.

The greenhouse gases we emit from our own factories, offices, research labs, data centres, warehouses and distribution centres, make up only 2% of our total greenhouse gas footprint. Yet the size of our operations means it’s still a significant amount where we have direct control so we’re working to eliminate them entirely.

Our climate action goal

We will reduce in absolute terms our operational Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2030 against a 2015 baseline.

Find out more about our other climate action goals.

Our Scope 1 and 2 emissions come from energy and refrigerants used in our own operations, largely in our factories which produce most of our emissions. We’re transforming the way our factories run by investing in new technologies like hydrogen, increasing energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources.

We’ve already reduced our global manufacturing carbon footprint by two-thirds since 2008 – but we want to get to zero. We've reduced operational Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 64% since 2015. This puts us on track to achieve our interim milestone of a 70% reduction by 2025. We're taking action in a number of areas to decarbonise our operations.

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-64% Reduction in operational Scope 1 and 2 emissions since 2015.

Renewable electricity

Transitioning to renewable electricity is a significant driver of emissions reduction in our operations. As far as possible, this has been delivered through supporting local renewable energy markets – in the form of renewable electricity contracts called Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and green electricity tariffs. Where it is not possible to do this, we buy Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) – openly traded certificates linked to renewable electricity generation – to match our grid power demand.

In January 2020, we reached our target of purchasing 100% renewable grid electricity for our operations through a combination of Purchase Power Agreements (PPAs) and Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Since we set this target, we've worked with the RE100 campaign to evolve industry best practice in renewable energy reporting. From 2021, we're aligning our renewable electricity reporting with the updated RE100 and CDP guidance in two ways.

First, for renewable electricity certified with RECs, we will only report as '100% renewable' the electricity where the accompanying RECs originate in the same market. The second change is to include non-grid sourced electricity, such as Combined Heat & Power which we use at a limited number of sites (see thermal renewable energy below). Our 2021 Annual Report provides for more detail on these changes.

Taking into account the updated definition and widened scope of our renewable electricity reporting, in 2021, 86% of our total electricity was from renewable sources.

Generating our own renewable electricity

Many of our sites require other forms of energy to power their equipment, so we need to go beyond buying renewable electricity and generate our own renewable power on-site. Our sites are switching from fossil-fuel-based energy systems like coal and gas to clean energy alternatives like wind, solar and biomass. Currently, Unilever facilities in over 24 countries have on-site solar installations. In 2021 we generated almost 3% of our total electricity from on-site renewable sources.

Wind turbines in Russia

Harnessing the power of wind and solar

In Italy, a wind farm at Avellino powers five of our sites, which could reduce our environmental impact by over 7,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. And our operations in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are powered by a mix of 75% wind and 25% solar energy.

Man standing in front of solar panels and wind turbines at Unilever China factory

Creating renewable energy on our factory sites

This includes solar water heating systems at sites in Australia, Israel, Mexico and India that together reduce CO2 emissions by around 1,500 tonnes per year, and a biomass boiler at our Tema factory in Ghana.

Hydrogen storage tank in morning light

Pioneering hydrogen as a new low-carbon fuel

We’re part of a world-first pilot, funded by the UK government, that’s aiming to demonstrate how hydrogen fuel can be used as a low-carbon alternative to natural gas at an industrial scale.

We’re piloting this fuel in our manufacturing process at our Port Sunlight factory in the UK. If successful, we’re hoping to scale-up this pioneering technique to other sites globally.

Investing in large-scale renewable electricity

Where we don’t produce our own renewable electricity, we make direct purchase agreements with large-scale solar, wind, hydro and geothermal installations, and small-scale hydropower schemes. For example, around 90% of the electricity we use in Mexico is produced from wind power. In the Philippines, we are now sourcing all our electricity from a geothermal power plant. And in Pakistan, we are pioneering the use of a new in-market certifiable renewable electricity provider to help establish a local supply.

Renewable thermal energy

Our factories need thermal energy for hot air, hot water and steam used in the manufacturing process. We aim to transition heating sources (typically fossil-fuel-burning Combined Heat & Power boilers for hot air, water and steam) to renewable energy alternatives by 2030.

We’re phasing out fossil-fuel-burning boilers and exploring new renewable heating technologies. These include heat pumps, concentrated solar power and lower carbon biogenic-derived sources. Biomass and biogas are important alternatives to fossil-fuel-based gas or coal for heating. We produce our own biogas at some sites, using by-products from our manufacturing processes. For example, Marmite helps power our Burton site in the UK – a by-product from the manufacturing process is converted into biogas for our boilers.

Many of the low-carbon heating options we’re exploring are not yet commercially viable or widely available, so we're supporting innovation and looking for ways to trial them. We believe hydrogen will have an important role to play in the longer term, which is why we’re piloting it at our Port Sunlight site in the UK. See case study above.

Eliminating coal

By early 2020, we had stopped using direct coal on-site for thermal energy, except for three factories acquired in 2020 as part of our acquisition of the Horlicks portfolio in India and other predominantly Asian markets. In 2021, we eliminated direct coal from these three factories through the use of biomass and biodiesel. We're exploring options to eliminate indirect coal from steam supplied by third parties by 2030. We advocate for the worldwide phase-out of coal through the Powering Past Coal Alliance.

Tackling refrigerant emissions

We’re also retrofitting or replacing our cooling systems with more climate-friendly refrigerants. In many countries where we operate, our policy on refrigerants is significantly more stringent than local regulations, and so we are importing greener refrigerant solutions.

We're phasing out high-impact refrigerants from our operations, starting with the most harmful hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). When replacing these, we aim to use the greenest version available for the purpose needed. By the end of 2021 we had replaced HCFCs at 29 sites – reducing overall electricity consumption and saving money too.

Lower carbon offices

While our office greenhouse gas footprint is relatively small, we’re committed to eliminating these emissions too. We’re doing this by: switching to renewable energy; designing new offices to meet strict environmental standards; reducing energy use and using energy-efficient equipment; switching to low-energy LED lighting; supporting teams at each site to take action; and working with our landlords and other partners to find new solutions to reduce emissions. Since 2010, we’ve more than halved CO2 emissions from energy used in our offices.

Reducing food waste

Our priority is to reduce the amount of food waste we generate in the first place. This also helps reduce our GHG emissions. We're exploring solutions with our engineering teams to halve food waste in our operations by 2025 such as anaerobic digestion, using the biogas generated on-site, composting and using the waste as fertiliser. Read more about how we’re tackling food waste.

Powering factories through inedible food waste and sewage

Powering factories through inedible food waste and sewage

In the UK and Ireland, our factories in Trafford Park and Cork are powered by a combination of renewable electricity from the grid and renewable biomethane (also known as biogas) – as are our offices in Surrey and London. The biomethane is generated from anaerobic digestion, which converts inedible food waste and sewage into energy. And it’s fully traceable and certified.