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Eco-efficiency in our operations

We want to make our operations as efficient as possible – using fewer resources and generating less waste. Our ambitious eco-efficiency targets focus on water, waste, energy and CO2.

Factory buildings

We aim to reduce the environmental footprint of our operations – including our offices and manufacturing sites - as our business grows. This reduces costs and contributes to better overall site performance. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) sets out our greenhouse gas, water and waste reduction targets and our ambition to play a leadership role in the transition to a zero-carbon economy by becoming carbon positive in our operations by 2030.

Becoming carbon positive in manufacturing

By 2020, our CO2 emissions from energy used in our factories will be at or below 2008 levels even though production volumes have significantly increased. This represents a reduction of around 40% per tonne of production. Versus a 1995 baseline, this represents a 63% reduction per tonne of production and a 43% absolute reduction.

By 2030 we will become carbon positive in our manufacturing:

  • We will source 100% of our energy across our operations from renewable sources by 2030.
  • We will source all our electricity purchased from the grid from renewable sources by 2020.
  • We will eliminate coal from our energy mix by 2020.
  • We will directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we consume, making the surplus available to the markets and communities in which we operate.

These activities support our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 7 - Clean & Affordable Energy, and SDG 13 – Climate Action.

Find out more about our greenhouse gas targets and performance, our carbon positive ambition and how we are reducing emissions in our own operations.

Reducing energy consumption in our offices

We’re rethinking the design and management of our offices around the world to save energy and cut carbon. We have offices in 99 countries, using energy for heating, cooling, lighting and running our IT infrastructure. Globally, we have around 89,000 workstation computers and 5,400 servers. Energy consumption in our offices makes up less than 1% of our total greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint but there are opportunities for us to reduce our impact.

We’re focusing on five areas: 1) our design and construction standards to meet our sustainability requirements, 2) localised efficiency improvements, 3) collaborating with others to share ideas and solutions that work, 4) sharing our online office sustainability toolkit and 5) purchasing or retrofitting energy efficient equipment.

These improvements can help to make our offices better places to work too. For example, if we design our offices to maximise the use of natural light, it creates a more pleasant environment for colleagues while cutting the energy needed for lighting. See Reducing our office impacts for more information.

Reduce water abstracted by manufacturing sites

By 2020, water abstraction by our global factory network will be at or below 2008 levels, even though production volumes have increased significantly. This represents a reduction of around 40% per tonne of production. Versus a 1995 baseline, this represents a 78% reduction per tonne of production and a 65% absolute reduction. We are focusing in particular on factories in water-scarce locations.

These activities support our engagement on UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 - Clean Water & Sanitation.

Find out more about our water targets and performance how we are driving sustainable water use in our manufacturing operations.

Reduce waste from manufacturing

By 2020, total waste sent for disposal will be at or below 2008 levels despite significantly higher production volumes. This represents a reduction of around 40% per tonne of production. Versus a 1995 baseline, this represents an 80% reduction per tonne of production and a 70% absolute reduction.

Since 2014, we have sent zero non-hazardous waste to landfill (ZWL) from our global factory network.1 We have also reduced the total amount of waste generated by our manufacturing sites by 97% per tonne of production compared to our 2008 baseline. Total waste includes the hazardous and non-hazardous waste that is recycled, recovered or disposed. In 2018, we disposed of 146,946 fewer tonnes of total waste than in 2008.

These activities support our engagement on the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 - Responsible Consumption & Production.

Find out more about our waste targets and performance and how we are going beyond zero waste to landfill.

Reducing waste from our offices

Eliminating waste is a priority in every part of our business. We adopt circular economy principles where possible and aim to treat all waste as a potential resource.

In 2018, we achieved our target of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill from 38 non-manufacturing sites (offices, distribution centres and warehouses) in our top 21 countries. 100% of our office waste was reused, recycled or recovered. We estimate this is preventing around 1,760 tonnes of waste going to landfill each year.

See Reducing our office impacts for more information.

Cost avoidance

Eco-efficiency is not just about reducing our environmental footprint – it also makes good business sense. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) delivers significant savings to our business through cost avoidance. We collect financial information through our Environmental Performance Reporting system for all manufacturing sites and by each energy and water type, which enables us to measure the economic benefits of our eco-efficiency programme.

Since 2008, we have avoided costs of:

  • around €105 million through improving water efficiency across our factories
  • around €601 million through improving energy efficiency across our factories
  • around €234 million by using less material and producing less waste (materials - around €217 million, waste disposal – around €17 million)

External recognition

Our progress on eco-efficiency has been recognised by numerous external benchmarks. For more information, see Awards and recognition.

1 We aim to maintain our achievement of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill (ZWL) across our manufacturing sites worldwide. However, incidents can occur where small amounts of non-hazardous waste are sent to landfill in error or because of operational changes e.g. acquisitions or supplier issues. We consider ZWL is maintained when less than 0.5% of non-hazardous waste is disposed to landfill in the 12-month period.

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