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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, such as those relating to our carbon positive commitment, we are focusing on five areas of change:

  1. Increasing use of data to identify new opportunities
  2. Embracing new technologies and promoting best practices
  3. Empowerment of our teams to implement projects
  4. Increasing access to our capital investment fund
  5. Increasing the efficiency of our global and regional procurement processes

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.

Investing for a sustainable future

In March 2014, Unilever issued a £250 million Green Sustainability Bond, inviting investors to support our vision for sustainable growth while investing in Unilever credit. The four-and-a-half year bond, due 19 December 2018, was a first for Unilever, the first green bond in the sterling market and also the first to be issued by an FMCG company. Proceeds are being used on projects linked to greenhouse gases, water and waste targets in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

We worked with independent sustainability service provider DNV GL to develop a Green Sustainability Bond framework which provides clarity and transparency around the Environmental and Use of Proceeds criteria. Together these criteria meet the guidance given in the Green Bond Principles (comprising Voluntary Process Guidelines for Issuing Green Bonds dated 13 January 2014) that there should be a robust process and disclosure by an issuer to facilitate understanding of the characteristics of a bond by investors and others in this area.

This is the fourth Unilever Green Sustainability Bond Report for the year to 31st December 2017.

Projects benefiting from proceeds of the Bond:

  • a new Home Care powders plant in China
  • a new laundry liquid plant in South Africa
  • a new Beauty & Personal Care and Home Care factory in Turkey
  • a factory extension at our spreads factory in USA, and
  • a HFC-free freezer cabinets programme which uses natural hydrocarbon refrigerants

For more information on our Green Sustainability Bond, see Independent Assurance.

Our World Class Manufacturing programme

Our World Class Manufacturing (WCM) Programme builds on our existing Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) tools and techniques and focuses on integrating sustainability through continual improvement and investment in efficient equipment and new technologies. This covers more than half our production cost and environmental footprint.

Within the target setting process, every factory is given improvement targets. This helps to 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.

Every year we ring-fence capital investment for projects that reduce energy, CO2, water use and waste that deliver the strongest environmental and financial benefits. This is generated through our internal carbon penalty on CO2 emissions from our manufacturing sites.

In 2017 we invested €43 million in energy, CO2 and water saving projects through this capital fund. Together the projects will reduce our global CO2 emissions by 4.4%, global energy use by 3.8% and water use by 3.4%. The projects will achieve an average payback period of less than two years.

Training, awareness and best practices

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

For instance, we’ve found that a practice from one factory can often be easily replicated elsewhere. This helps speed up the delivery of environmental benefits and inspire new ideas. We have a central Best Practice Portal, with over 360 environmental replicable examples which range from methods for using data to drive energy reduction, through cost effective sludge dewatering initiatives to large scale wastewater recycling technologies.

Efficient purchasing

By consolidating our procurement through global, regional or national contracts we can achieve environmental improvements in a cost-effective way.

While we are reducing our energy intensity, we are scaling up our use of renewable energy. By the end of 2017, 107 of our manufacturing sites across 35 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 2017 around 82% of the electricity used across our factories, distribution centres and offices in Mexico has been produced from wind power.

This table summarises our energy and renewable energy use since the implementation of the USLP in 2010.

Total energy use (GJ)33,176,58530,181,86530,480,29330,054,69728,422,21127,080,56327,267,62126,507,528
Renewable energy use (GJ)5,278,5226,549,4657,442,8758,114,7687,986,6417,663,7998,616,5688,899,486
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