Climate action Strategy and goals

Our strategy for climate action is informed by climate science. We're transforming our own operations and supporting systemic change beyond our business.

This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • 12 - responsible consumption and production
  • 13 - Climate action

Average read time: 10 minutes

We’re eliminating direct greenhouse gas emissions from our operations and aiming to achieve net zero emissions from our products up to point of sale by 2039.

a city skyline

Achieving significant reductions in GHG emissions across the full lifecycle of our products – including from their use, where most of our impact lies – requires deep partnerships with our suppliers and other partners. We’re prioritising suppliers that have set their own targets to decarbonise their businesses.

We’re deepening our engagement with our shareholders on our climate strategy, putting Unilever’s climate transition action plan before shareholders for a non-binding advisory vote on our emissions reduction targets and plans. Our brands are also working hard to make sustainable choices easy for consumers, as well as reformulating products to reduce emissions from their production and use. We’re investing heavily across the business to make our climate action strategy happen.

Our brands will invest €1 billion in our Climate & Nature Fund over the next ten years, using this to finance, partner and innovate to take decisive and impactful action on climate change and to remove carbon emissions from the making and use of our products. In addition, our Home Care division has committed a further €1 billion over the next ten years to remove all fossil-fuel derived carbon from our laundry and cleaning products.

Water scarcity and deteriorating water quality is one day-to-day impact of climate change that’s increasingly likely to be felt – in society, as well as in our business. We make our operations as water efficient as possible and we’re working to ensure our product formations are biodegradable, protecting water availability and quality.

Our goals

Net zero emissions from all our products (from sourcing to point of sale) by 2039.

There's no doubt that the world needs to decarbonise, and quickly. In 2020, we announced a new goal to achieve net zero emissions from sourcing to point of sale, by 2039. That means we'll radically reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) impact at every step of production – from the raw materials we source, to manufacturing, right up to when our products are sold. While our focus is on achieving absolute GHG emissions reductions, we'll reach net zero emissions by generating or purchasing high-quality GHG offsets for any residual emissions. All offsets will be third-party verified.

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.

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. We will remove all fossil-fuel derived carbon from our cleaning and laundry brands and move to 100% biodegradable formulations by 2030.

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're exploring renewable and recycled ingredients using a 'Carbon Rainbow' concept, developed in partnership with supplier BASF. This means we're diversifying the carbon sources we use – such as taking carbon from plants (green carbon), the atmosphere (purple carbon), marine sources such as algae (blue carbon), and waste materials like plastic (grey carbon). It means we'll phase out ingredients made from fossil-fuel and non-renewable sources (black carbon).

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. 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 phosphates. We expect this shift to reduce the carbon footprint of product formulations by up to 20%, an important step towards achieving net zero products by 2039.

Creating net zero carbon products

Halve greenhouse gas impact of
our products across the lifecycle by 2030.

Our brands are working to halve the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of a cup of tea, a laundry load or a hair wash by the end of this decade. Through innovation, R&D expertise, and partnerships with suppliers, we are finding lower-carbon solutions for everyday products, such as our Love Beauty and Planet hairspray bottles that reduce carbon emissions by using compressed air.

Our goal to halve the GHG impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030 is one of our science-based targets. Progress has been slower than expected. Since 2010, our greenhouse impact per consumer use has reduced by 10% against a restated baseline.1

We are making good progress, particularly in Foods & Refreshment and Home Care where we have reduced emissions by 30% and 37% respectively since 2010, mainly due to disposals, portfolio changes and, in the case of Home Care, the removal of phosphates from our laundry products. However, emissions in our Beauty & Personal Care (BPC) division have increased by 10%, driven primarily by the acquisition of brands with the high greenhouse gas emissions associated with consumer hot water use, including hair and bath/shower products.

The slower-than-forecast expansion of renewable energy capacity in many countries (the underlying driver of the emissions associated with heating water) has also slowed our progress in reducing consumer use emissions. Our BPC portfolio has also grown as a proportion of our total business through both acquisition and organic growth which amplifies this effect. In 2021, we will publish our climate transition action plan and seek a non-binding advisory vote from shareholders on our emissions reduction targets and our plans to achieve them.

Technology and innovation play a critical part in addressing climate change and in opening up the business opportunities that a low-carbon economy will bring. We're using our knowledge and resources in innovation, research and development to bring people the products they enjoy but which respond to the challenge of climate change, while creating business growth opportunities.

Brands taking action on climate

1

Our environmental targets are expressed against a baseline of 2010 and on a 'per consumer use' basis. This means a single use, portion or serving of a product. We continuously review our GHG footprint estimations to ensure we are using the best available data and thus improve the accuracy of our GHG emissions reporting. These changes can affect both the 2010 baseline and the annual emissions that we report. In 2020 we concluded that the changes required in certain estimations were sufficiently material to require us to formally restate prior years’ reported changes in GHG emissions per consumer use. The impact of the new data was primarily in relation to the 2010 baseline and was due to the following factors:

  1. A revision of our estimates about the amount of hot water used by consumers when using our products, such as shower gels, shampoos and washing up liquid.
  2. The inclusion of the GHG emissions from the biodegradation of fossil-fuel derived ingredients at the end of a product’s life in our Home Care and Beauty & Personal Care portfolio.
  3. Errors in the GHG emissions from certain Savoury products.

Relative to the revised 2010 baseline (50.5g CO2e per consumer use), our restated GHG performance was:

  • 2018: 48.8g CO2e per consumer use, -3% versus 2010 (compared to +6% in the 2019 Annual Report and Accounts)
  • 2019: 46.7g CO2e per consumer use, -8% versus 2010 (compared to +2% in the 2019 Annual Report and Accounts)
  • 2020: 45.6g CO2e per consumer use, -10% versus 2010.

While the GHG footprint results reported in the 2020 Annual Report and Accounts differ from those stated in the 2019 Annual Report and Accounts, the direction of change over the past three years remains the same.

Zero emissions in our operations
by 2030.

Since we set our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target when we launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010, we have extended our focus beyond our manufacturing sites to apply to our global operations. To achieve our new goal of reaching zero emissions from our operations, we are working to eliminate fossil fuels entirely and move to 100% renewable energy across our operations.

The GHG we emit comes from energy used to make our products, fuel to distribute them to our customers, and energy and refrigerants to keep our ice creams cold. Our focus is on making absolute emission reductions so we'll only use carbon offsets for small amounts of emissions that we can't yet get to zero.

Our new goal builds on our long-standing work across our global factory network to reduce our energy use, transition to renewable grid electricity, phase out coal and increase our use of renewable energy. Since 2008, we have reduced our energy use by 31%. In 2020, we achieved our target of sourcing 100% of the grid electricity used in our manufacturing operations from renewable sources.

In 2020, we also met 51.9% of our global energy needs for our manufacturing operations from renewable sources (e.g. on-site biomass, solar, wind, hydro - as well as renewable grid electricity), achieving our 2020 interim target of sourcing 50% of our energy across our manufacturing operations from renewable sources.

By the end of 2020, three of our factories used direct coal (coal used on Unilever sites) and six used indirect coal (purchased energy generated from the grid generated by coal). The three factories using direct coal were acquired by Unilever in 2020. One of the challenges with several of the sites that use indirect coal is that legislation currently prevents the move to renewable energy. We have plans in place to eliminate the use of direct coal at the three factories we acquired in 2020 and are exploring the options available to eliminate indirect coal.

Decarbonising our business

Replace fossil-fuel derived carbon with renewable or recycled carbon in all our cleaning and laundry products by 2030.

Our Home Care division's Clean Future programme aims to eliminate fossil fuels from cleaning products by 2030. By embedding circular economy principles into both packaging and product formulations, we're shifting from using fossil-fuel derived feedstocks to renewable or recycled sources of carbon for cleaning chemicals.

We're investing €1 billion over ten years in researching and developing new technologies to reduce the carbon footprint, plastic waste and water use, and increase the biodegradable and sustainable ingredients associated with our products. As part of this, we'll be replacing the crude oil and other fossil fuels used to make some of our chemicals with renewable and recycled materials. We'll achieve all of this through partnerships and cutting-edge innovation – applying the latest science and biotechnology at scale to create cleaner, more sustainable products that clean, remove stains and disinfect at least as well as conventional products.

For example, our Sun machine dishwash range in France now contains 70% natural ingredients and is ecolabelled. Sunlight hand-dishwashing liquid in Vietnam and Chile contains a new renewable and biodegradable cleaning ingredient developed with Evonik industries. And in India, some of our laundry powders contain soda ash made from carbon emissions captured from a nearby plant.

Creating net zero carbon products

Share the carbon footprint of
every product we sell.

It's our ambition to communicate the carbon footprint of every product we sell to consumers. We don't yet know what that will look like – but we do know that whatever we communicate about the climate impact of products needs context to make it meaningful to other people.

We believe that transparency about carbon impacts will help accelerate progress in the global race to zero carbon. We're setting up pilot projects to complete rapid prototyping of carbon footprinting with a few of our brands. This will help us test messages about carbon impacts to see what works. We're also setting up a system for our suppliers to declare the carbon footprint of the goods and services provided on each invoice.

We're creating partnerships with other businesses and organisations to standardise greenhouse gas (GHG) data collection, data sharing and communication. For us, and other global companies, to make real progress on communicating climate impacts, we need every business in our – and in peer companies' supply chains – to understand and communicate their GHG footprint.

Creating net zero carbon products