Our manufacturing sustainability strategy

We are reducing the greenhouse gas emissions, waste and water impacts of our manufacturing operations as our business grows.

How are we achieving our targets?

To achieve our ambitious manufacturing eco-efficiency targets we are focusing on four areas of change:

  1. Reducing the impact of new factories and new production lines
  2. Reducing the impact of our existing factories
  3. Increasing the efficiency of our global and regional procurement processes
  4. Embracing new technologies

We aim to repeat technology implementation once proven to locations where it makes obvious sense. Not only does this reduce equipment purchasing and design costs, but leverages our global scale to speed up implementation, rolling out what we learn in one site to others across our business and raising awareness among our colleagues.

We’re integrating eco-efficiency into factory design

As our business grows we need new factories and production lines. We integrate eco-efficiency into the design of new facilities so we can produce more using fewer resources. We are:

  • Scaling up our use of renewable energy, such as installing solar plants on sites and producing biofuels through recycling food waste, such as discarded corn cobs
  • Designing our buildings to minimise heating and cooling needs, for example by improving insulation and minimising solar gain to reduce the energy required for cooling
  • Installing energy efficient equipment, for example on our production lines
  • Using lower-carbon fuels and on-site renewable energy generation like biomass boilers and furnaces
  • Optimising the distribution of energy, waste and water

All our new facilities must achieve certification to recognised green building standards such the Green Building Council’s LEED and BREEAM. As a minimum new factories must achieve LEED Silver Certification. In 2016 we achieved minimum LEED certification on five projects, four of which attained the higher Gold standard.

Our World Class Manufacturing programme

More than half our production cost is covered by our World Class Manufacturing (WCM) Programme. WCM, which builds on our existing Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) tools and techniques, focuses on integrating sustainability through continual improvement and investment in efficient equipment and new technologies. This ranges from small projects to more significant investments such as replacing boilers and air compressors. We have ring-fenced capital investment for projects that reduce energy, CO2, water use and waste that deliver the strongest environmental and financial benefits.

Our Aguai factory in Brazil is an example of world class sustainable manufacturing. To ensure that energy is used efficiently, the factory is fitted with skylights to reduce the amount of artificial light needed and ultra-low energy LED lights which are sensor operated. Solar panels produce 100% of the entire needed for the administration block which is modular and flexible in design, allowing for panels to be interchanged so the building can be easily adapted to meet future requirements. 

We set improvement targets for every factory and measure their performance against our sustainability performance indicators, to ensure that sustainability is part of what we do each day and that the link between eco-efficiency and better factory performance is clear.

As part of our drive to encourage changes at site level and share ideas between colleagues, we have identified a series of small actions that our sites can implement to help change behaviour such as awareness campaigns and standardised metering, monitoring and targeting. When added together, these actions make a significant difference. Our Small Actions Big Difference (SABD) fund enables our factory teams to turn their good ideas into reality. Projects are evaluated on the basis of environmental benefit and financial return, and using our ‘design once, deploy everywhere’ approach where possible, we roll out the best ideas to other factories around the world.

In 2016 we invested €26 million in 307 energy, CO2 and water saving projects through the SABD fund. Together the projects will reduce our global CO2 emissions by 3%, global energy use by 2% and water use by 3%. The projects will achieve an average payback period of less than two years.

Training, awareness and ‘proud practices’

Everyone in our company has a part to play in reaching the targets in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and we can learn a lot from each other.

We share our successful eco-efficiency projects, known as ‘Proud Practice’ projects, with other factories to inspire colleagues on the environmental benefits and encourage them to implement similar ideas. Information about more than 170 Proud Practice projects has been shared globally so far.

We also raise awareness and share best practices through our Simple Solutions programme part of our environmental roadmap for good manufacturing practices.

Efficient purchasing

By consolidating our procurement through global, regional or national contracts we can achieve environmental improvements in a cost-effective way. We are scaling up our use of 100% renewable grid electricity.

By end-2016, 97 of our manufacturing sites across 28 countries were using 100% renewable grid electricity. Where it is not possible to produce our own renewable electricity on our sites, we make direct purchase agreements with large-scale solar or wind installations, and with small-scale hydropower schemes. For example, in 2016 around 90% of the electricity used across our factories, distribution centres and offices in Mexico has been produced from wind power.

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