Partnering with suppliers to deliver net zero
Average read time: 16 minutes
We’re doing everything we can to reduce the carbon footprint of our products before they reach people’s homes. This requires radical product innovation and deep partnerships with our suppliers.
When someone puts one of our products into their shopping basket in the year 2039, they’ll know we’ve done everything possible to reduce its climate impact.
Most of our carbon footprint lies in our supply chain: from raw materials and the emissions from transporting ingredients to factories and then getting finished products to our customers. Every decision we take about what goes into our products, and how they’re made, is an opportunity to reduce our climate impact. Working with our suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint is at the heart of our approach.
Our goal is to reach net zero emissions covering Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 2039.* That means we’ll radically reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of our products at every opportunity – from raw materials, manufacturing, logistics and distribution of our products – including the freezers that keep our ice creams cold in store. We’re also targeting emissions from aerosols in the US and the disposal of waste products and packaging. This is our long-term absolute emissions reduction target, outlined in the Unilever Compass and Climate Transition Action Plan.
For at least the next decade, our focus is on achieving absolute GHG emissions reduction across our value chain, consistent with the 1.5°C ambition of the Paris Agreement.
We will not meet our net zero target through carbon offsetting before 2039. From then onwards, we’ll ensure that any residual emissions are balanced with high-quality, third-party verified carbon removals. More information about our climate targets and the role of carbon credits, removals and offsetting can be found in our Climate Transition Action Plan (PDF 22.21MB).
Decarbonising our value chain
Net zero emissions across Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 2039.*
To reach our goal, we’re partnering with suppliers to reduce the impact of our supply chain and distribution, and we’re using new lower carbon raw materials and creating more sustainable product formulations. Together with others, we’re also helping to protect the world’s natural carbon stores and end deforestation, which supports our net zero emissions goal. We’re also working to reduce the climate impact of our products when they’re used or disposed of.
Collaborating with climate progressive suppliers
We can’t achieve our climate goals alone. It will require new levels of collaboration with suppliers who are as ambitious as we are. We’re asking existing suppliers to adopt carbon reduction targets to cut their emissions. And we’re prioritising partnerships with new suppliers who already have science-based emissions targets in place.
Supporting suppliers in taking climate action
We want our suppliers to come on our climate action journey with us – and we’re supporting them to grow, develop new solutions, scale proven technologies and achieve carbon reductions.
That’s why we launched the Unilever Climate Promise and the Unilever Climate Programme, asking suppliers to commit to cutting their GHG emissions.
In 2021, we launched the Unilever Climate Promise, inviting our suppliers to commit to halving their GHG emissions by 2030. We’re encouraging suppliers to set a public emissions reduction target, report their progress publicly, and share their emissions and GHG footprint data with us.
A helping hand for climate-conscious suppliers
We’re offering deeper support and hands-on guidance to a subset of 300 of our suppliers that we believe have the most significant climate impact through the Unilever Climate Programme.
Through our membership of the 1.5°C Supply Chain Leaders initiative, led by the Exponential Roadmap Initiative, we’re collaborating to drive climate action across supply chains with other climate leaders including BT, IKEA and Ericsson. We’ve also joined up with other multinational companies including Maersk, Microsoft and Nike and in the Transform to Net Zero initiative to explore innovative ideas for climate action.
We’re supporting small and medium-sized suppliers through the SME Climate Hub, which offers tools, knowledge and best practice guidance for reducing emissions. The platform aims to reach millions of suppliers as they race towards net zero emissions by 2050.
Our suppliers are also crucial to our ambition to communicate the carbon footprint of our products to consumers. Together we're striving to collect better data and increase our understanding of the GHG impact of our products.
Working with our innovation partners to scale up solutions
Innovating with suppliers and partners is key to cutting the carbon emissions of our products. We’ve spent years reformulating products to reduce GHG-intensive raw materials such as phosphates in our laundry products – a change that reduced CO2 emissions by up to 50% per single use by consumers.
Our focus now is on using fewer and different ingredients by concentrating our formulas for products such as laundry liquids and fabric conditioners. We’re also rethinking packaging to create more compact products that reach customers in smaller, lighter or dilutable formats – such as Cif ecorefill. We’re aiming to reduce emissions from our Home Care products by 60% through concentration and compaction.
Our Home Care division’s groundbreaking ‘Clean Future’ programme aims to eliminate fossil fuels from cleaning and laundry products by 2030, shifting away from fossil-fuel-derived carbon (such as petrochemicals) to renewable or recycled carbon (such as carbon from recycled plastics).
Our Foods & Refreshment brands are developing lower carbon food products through an ambitious Future Foods strategy, aiming to achieve €1 billion in sales from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives – through brands such as The Vegetarian Butcher, Wall’s, Magnum and Hellmann’s.
Reducing the impact of raw materials
It takes a lot of energy to grow, extract and process the ingredients and materials that go into our products and packaging. Raw materials make up 49% of our value chain GHG emissions today.
Our most carbon-intensive ingredients are inorganic chemicals such as soda ash (used in laundry products), organic chemicals such as surfactants (used in cleaning products), farmed ingredients like palm oil and dairy, and packaging materials like paper and plastic.
We’re focusing on finding lower carbon alternatives with our suppliers. As a first step, we’re developing roadmaps for the most GHG-intensive ingredients and materials to help us spot opportunities to reduce our footprint. We know it will take time to work with our suppliers to find carbon savings. We’ve piloted this approach for laundry ingredients and believe we could halve the GHG footprint of the product portfolio over a ten-year timeframe. Our long-standing work on forest commodities means that since 2010 we’ve already achieved an estimated 35% reduction in the GHG footprint of the palm oil that we buy.
To achieve our goals, we’ll need to change materials and product formulas, work with new suppliers and support all our suppliers to reduce their emissions, for instance, by switching to renewable energy. We’ll also have to work with other partners to tackle bigger challenges in the industrial and agricultural systems that our business depends on.
Working towards a deforestation-free supply chain
Another way the raw materials in our products can have a negative climate impact is by being associated with deforestation. Forests are a hugely important global store of carbon and deforestation contributes 15% of global GHG emissions.
As one of the world’s largest buyers of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy and tea, we want to ensure that the raw materials we buy are not linked to the damaging climate impacts of deforestation. By sourcing traceable and certified sustainable commodities and by working with governments, NGOs and other partners, we aim to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023.
Clean Future. Clean home.
In September 2020, our Home Care division announced an ambitious new plan for our planet: the ‘Clean Future’ programme. We’re reimagining the future of cleaning to become lower carbon and lower waste, with the same or even better performance, for our global cleaning and laundry brands including Omo (Persil), Sunlight, Cif and Domestos.
Eliminating fossil fuels from cleaning products
By 2030 we will replace 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in all our cleaning and laundry product formulations with renewable or recycled carbon.
We will remove all fossil-fuel-derived carbon from our cleaning and laundry brands, and move to 100% renewable or recycled ingredients by 2030. We expect this shift to reduce the carbon footprint of product formulations by up to 20%, an important step in our journey to achieving net zero by 2039.
The carbon rainbow
We’re exploring renewable and recycled ingredients for cleaning products using the ‘carbon rainbow’ concept. This means diversifying the carbon sources we use – taking carbon from plants (green carbon), the atmosphere (purple carbon), marine sources such as algae (blue carbon), and waste materials like plastic (grey carbon) instead of from fossil fuels.
Ingredients are the biggest share of GHG emissions across the lifecycle of our cleaning and laundry products so we’re focusing on modelling the impact of different product ingredients to reduce our footprint quickly. We have ring-fenced €1 billion for Clean Future to finance biotechnology research, CO2 and waste utilisation, and low-carbon chemistry – which will drive the transition away from fossil-fuel-derived chemicals. We’ll also invest in biodegradable and water-efficient product formulations, halve the use of virgin plastic by 2025, and develop brand communications that make these technologies appealing to consumers. This investment is in addition to the €1 billion Climate & Nature Fund.
The Clean Future programme builds on our strong track record of improving the environmental impact of cleaning and laundry products. We’ve spent years developing concentrated liquid detergents, developing refill containers that reduce plastic waste, and reducing/eliminating phosphates.
Recycled carbon for climate-friendly laundry loads
In China, we’ve teamed up with biotech partners to make Omo laundry liquid capsules from recycled ‘purple’ carbon. Waste CO2 is captured from a factory before it reaches the atmosphere and converted into a climate-friendly cleaning ingredient for Omo detergent.
Less plastic, same cleaning power
Cif’s ecorefill system delivers the same cleaning power but in a small, concentrated pod format that clicks on to the original Cif spray bottle. Customers can reuse their spray bottle and endlessly refill it, recycling the refill pods once the wrapper is removed.
Harnessing nature for kinder cleaning products
Quix dishwashing liquid in Chile and Vietnam is made from an innovative, bio-based and biodegradable ingredient: rhamnolipids, made by a leading biotechnology company. It gives superior cleaning performance and is ultra-mild on skin.
Plant-based foods for the future
In November 2020, our Foods & Refreshment division launched the Future Foods campaign to help people transition towards healthier plant-based diets and reduce the environmental impact of the global food chain.
We’ve set an ambitious global sales target of €1 billion from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives by 2025–2027. This means we’ll need to grow sales of plant-based products five times faster than we did in 2020.
We’ve been expanding our plant-based meat and dairy alternatives business for several years. The Future Foods programme focuses on three types of products that look, taste or cook like typical animal-derived products:
- Meat replacement: vegan or vegetarian alternative proteins like The Vegetarian Butcher, which is now available in over 30 countries.
- Vegan mayonnaise: tasty plant-based alternatives to our classic Hellmann’s mayonnaise.
- Vegan ice cream: plant-based ice creams from some of our best-loved ice cream brands including Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum and Wall’s that use non-dairy fats and proteins.
We're also encouraging people to eat more – and more diverse – vegetables. Together with WWF-UK, Knorr’s global Future 50 Foods report highlights lots of alternative foods like lentils, wild rice and kale that don’t typically make it into the list of the most-commonly eaten crops worldwide. Knorr’s recipe inspiration and innovation pipeline aims to promote more diverse plant-based eating and biodiversity.
We’re collaborating with farmers, NGOs, universities and communities in our journey to support sustainable change that the world’s food system so desperately needs. We’ve invested €85 million in ‘The Hive’, a foods innovation centre at Wageningen University in the Netherlands to support research into plant-based ingredients and meat alternatives, efficient crops, sustainable food packaging and nutritious food. We have over 500 experts based at the food innovation centre.
Microalgae: the next plant-based food
Microalgae is an exciting plant-based protein source. It’s vegan, plant-based and rich in nutrients, with a low environmental footprint. We’re partnering with biotech start-up, Algenuity, to find ways to bring microalgae-based foods to people’s plates more widely in future.
Tackling emissions from logistics and transport
Our logistics and distribution network transports our products billions of kilometres each year from our suppliers, to our factories, to where they’re sold, and ultimately to our customers’ stores. Transport and logistics makes up around 15% of our value chain GHG footprint.
Most of our transport emissions (over 90%) come from transport companies we work with as we don’t usually own the trucks, trains and ships that move our products. We’re working with our logistics suppliers to cut emissions through reducing the total distance trucks travel, filling them more efficiently and using lower carbon alternative fuels.
We achieved our 2020 target to improve CO2 efficiency of our global logistics network by 40% against a 2010 baseline. Now we’ve set our sights on a further 40–50% reduction in logistics and distribution emissions over the next decade.
To achieve this, we’ll work with our suppliers to:
- Redesign transport routes to reduce the distance travelled and make more deliveries direct to customers to reduce unnecessary journeys.
- Use a mix of road, rail and sea (intermodal solutions) for smarter transport – for example using railways to reduce demand for long-distance trucking.
- Explore hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) technologies for long-haul, heavy-duty transport, and BEVs for short-haul transport.
- Develop lower carbon alternate fuels, such as bio-liquified natural gas and renewable natural gas (biogas).
- Use cleaner and newer technologies for our refrigerated and frozen deliveries.
- Measure and reduce ‘last mile delivery’ emissions from our customers’ distribution centres to store shelves and to consumers’ homes.
We’re also involved in several cross-sector sustainable transport initiatives aimed at creating wider change.
Using alternative fuels
Lower carbon alternative fuels help us cut CO2 emissions from our trucks and reduce costs.
One option we’re exploring is liquefied natural gas (LNG). It has many advantages compared with diesel: up to 11% less CO2, 95% less particulate matter, 50% less noise pollution from trucks – and it’s often cheaper too. But a lack of fuelling stations is a major obstacle to wider use, especially for long-distance journeys.
Several of our logistics partners have begun using LNG in parts of Europe and northern Asia. We’re also using compressed natural gas (CNG) as an alternative to diesel in India, Turkey and the US. In Sweden, we’ve successfully trialled the use of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO100), a renewable diesel made from waste fats and vegetable oils.
We see CNG and LNG as transition fuels on our journey to low-carbon logistics. In the long term, we need fuels that will enable us to achieve even bigger cuts in our transport footprint, such as hydrogen and biogas.
AI helps avoid transport emissions
Machine learning and AI solutions are helping our distributors in South East Asia identify better routes and avoid holdups.
The dynamic route planning programme is being put to good use by our distributors’ delivery operations. It’s helped distributors cut emissions by streamlining delivery routes – and it’s also cut costs by a fifth.
Cleaner ice cream deliveries in the Netherlands
We’re trialling a breakthrough innovation in temperature-controlled transport, replacing the diesel refrigeration in four trailers with zero-emission, battery-electric prototypes. The system – which keeps freight chilled at temperatures down to -25°C – is being tested to run entirely on renewable electricity.
Waste cooking oils fuel trucks of the future
Our logistics supplier, Samskip, is helping us to cut transport emissions from trucks by using a 100% biofuel made from waste cooking oils. The biofuel (HVO100) has a carbon footprint 90% lower than traditional fuels and can be used in a regular diesel engine.
Switching to electric vehicles
Switching to electric vehicles can also dramatically reduce CO2 emissions and fuel costs. We’re a member of EV100 to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles worldwide.
So far, we have electric vehicles in 12 countries, and we’re expanding the use of EVs in our fleet worldwide. In the US, Europe and China, we’re working with suppliers to explore the use of electric trucks to transport our products. We’ve been using hybrid vehicles – diesel and electric – in Mexico since 2017 and have more than 200 EVs in our Mexican fleet.
We’re also working to reduce emissions from business travel, commuting and homeworking. Since the pandemic, we’re supporting staff to work from home, and reducing the need for air travel wherever possible. We’ll switch the Unilever car fleet to 100% EVs or hybrids by 2030. Our New Zealand business has already transitioned its entire fleet to EV.
Keeping cool with climate-friendly freezers
Our ice cream brands – like Wall’s, Algida, Ben & Jerry’s and Kibon – are sold from more than 3 million freezer cabinets in over 45 countries. Freezers are typically set to a temperature below -18 degrees, which uses a lot of refrigerants and energy to keep them cold. This makes up 10% of our value chain GHG footprint so it’s an important area to take action.
Freezers are designed to keep refrigerants sealed inside. But if they leak, refrigerant gases such as hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) have a global warming impact thousands of times greater than CO2.
3 million Climate-friendly freezers for ice cream purchased since 2004
We’ve pioneered the use of natural hydrocarbon refrigerants (HCs). Since 2004, we’ve purchased around 3 million freezers containing natural refrigerants and it’s mandatory that any new freezers we purchase use HCs rather than HFCs.
We collaborate with freezer manufacturers to improve the efficiency of the freezers we buy, which also helps reduce emissions and running costs for the retailers who sell our ice creams. We’re prioritising getting the most energy-efficient units to retailers in countries with the most carbon-intensive energy infrastructure.
We’re also exploring using renewable energy to power our freezers. We’ve completed trials of mobile solar-powered ice cream cabinets in India and the US, and we’re developing solar-powered static freezers. Product innovation could help us find new ways to keep ice creams at warmer temperatures, while making sure customers still get the same great taste and experience.
Our net zero goal covers Scope 1, 2 and mandatory downstream Scope 3 emissions such as aerosol propellants and the biodegradation of chemicals in the disposal phase. It does not include emissions from consumer use of our products e.g. emissions associated with hot water used with our products. Our goal to halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030 covers consumer use.