Reducing our office impacts

We’re rethinking the design and management of our offices around the world to save energy, cut carbon and eliminate waste.

Man using office recycling bins

Reducing energy consumption

We have offices in 99 countries, using energy for heating, cooling, lighting and running our IT infrastructure. Globally, we have around 89,000 workstations and about 5,400 servers. Our offices also include our research and development centres which contain laboratories and pilot plants similar to a small factory. 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.

Spotlight

Unilever office

Designed for efficiency

Our two major global data centres – located in the UK – host approximately 5,400 servers. They’ve been designed with energy efficiency in mind using a modular structure so we can control the cooling needed by area, rather than having to cool the whole facility. This also makes it easier to upgrade our technology. In 2018, we reduced the total energy consumption of both data centres by 15%. And we now purchase 100% of the electricity used to power the sites from renewable sources too.

We’re focusing on five areas to cut office energy use:

  1. Design and construction standards: our office design standards ensure that new locations and fit-outs are energy efficient and meet our sustainability requirements. All new offices must be certified to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard – silver level or higher. LEED is the most widely used green building rating system. At our head office locations, we’re aiming for gold.
  2. Local improvements: by optimising our heating and air-conditioning systems, retrofitting our offices with low-energy LED lighting and introducing automated lighting controls, we can make significant savings at a local level.
  3. Collaboration: we work closely with our landlords, other businesses and non-profit organisations to share ideas and solutions for reducing office energy use and carbon emissions. We benchmark the performance against other Unilever offices and industry standards.
  4. Office sustainability toolkit: we’ve created an online toolkit to help us share the knowledge and best practices that exist around the business. The toolkit helps our teams understand the sustainability footprint of their sites, identify priorities and take action. It includes posters and communication templates to help us engage colleagues on energy saving.
  5. Energy efficient equipment: we’re designing our data centres to use less energy, selecting more efficient devices and helping employees avoid unnecessary printing. We’ve installed our PC power management tool on more than 98% of our laptops and desktops (approximately 89,000 devices). This tool automatically shuts down inactive computers.

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.

2,600,000 kWh

Saved in 2018 – equivalent to the energy use of 900 average-sized UK homes – through shutting down inactive computers

Creating agile working environments

Technology has transformed working life – enabling many of us to enjoy more flexibility in how and where we work. We call this agile working and it has many benefits for our colleagues and our business. Our research shows that it helps us to attract and retain talented people and can improve productivity and collaboration.

Our design and construction standards help us create agile workplaces that integrate sustainability and wellbeing criteria. These are designed with a range of non-assigned workstations and settings to support different types of activities. They promote collaboration through a range of shared spaces where teams can get together to exchange ideas and agree project goals and milestones.

As workplaces are designed around activities, rather than individuals with fixed desks, it means we don’t need as much office space overall – cutting both our energy use and our costs.

We’re cutting down on waste

To reduce our waste, we focus on buying less, using less, and reusing and recycling materials wherever we can. 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 offices, in our top 21 countries, with 100% of our office waste being reused, recycled or recovered. We estimate this is preventing around 2,045 tonnes of waste going to landfill each year.

Our waste target covers non-hazardous waste from sites in our top 21 countries where we either own or hold the majority lease (in-scope sites). A further 33 sites – which are outside the scope of reporting – are now sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill.

Sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill is a requirement in our real estate, design and construction standards. But it can be complicated to reduce waste in some non-manufacturing sites. For example, if we don’t own the site or occupy a small part of a building, we have less control over how waste is collected and whether it is recycled. So, we’re working in partnership with our landlords and third-party suppliers to consider how we tackle waste right from the start, whenever we build or lease new premises.

Spotlight

Solar panels on roof

Partnership generates green power

Our Englewood Cliffs campus in New Jersey is now harnessing the power of the sun thanks to an array of 1,200 solar panels on its roof.

The panels were installed through a Power Purchase Agreement – a partnership with IGS Solar, a local provider who installed and commissioned the equipment.

During the week when the offices are busy, we use all the solar energy generated. At weekends, when we need less, much of the power is fed back into the grid for other people to use. In the first ten months, the panels generated more than 327 MWh of electricity – enough to meet the energy needs of 21 households for a year.

Our colleagues at Englewood Cliffs, may not be able to see what’s happening on the roof but we want to get them interested in green energy. A live dashboard provides updates on how much solar power is generated each day, converting it into memorable facts such as the amount of fossil fuel saved or the number of trees which would need to be planted to absorb an equivalent amount of carbon.

Buy less, waste less

The most effective way to reduce waste is to prevent it being generated in the first place. One of the big opportunities is to cut down on single-use and disposable plastic.

We have stopped using plastic bags in our shops and made good progress eliminating single-use disposable cups from our sites. In 2018, we removed more than 5 million single-use plastic items such as straws, cutlery and food containers from our offices, with 11 declaring themselves plastic free. Our head office in the Netherlands led our efforts in Europe, working closely with suppliers and partners to establish which items could be eliminated, or replaced with reusable or sustainable alternatives.

Spotlight

Biodegradable coffee cup

Plant power cuts waste

Our R&D centre in Port Sunlight has turned to plants to help tackle waste from its canteen.

It has moved from plastic food packaging and cutlery that was hard to recycle to a plant-based material. Now waste cutlery and packaging are collected and composted along with any food waste generated on site. After a few weeks the compost can be used in the gardens for improving the soil – creating a new green loop from plant, to packaging, and back to the soil helping new plants to grow.

Cutting down on paper 

Shaking hands
2018

Digital signatures were used on over 53,130 documents, equivalent to eliminating 54,000 printed pages a month

Paper used to be one of the major waste streams from our offices. Using less paper not only saves resources and prevents waste but also reduces energy required for printing. Already, we’ve cut paper use per employee by around 70% since 2010 – a significant reduction when multiplied across our 155,000 people.

Switching to paperless billing, using digital signatures and encouraging colleagues to print less are all part of our efforts to cut paper use. Pull-printing, which we began implementing in 2014, means that colleagues must scan their personal pass cards at the printer before accessing a print job. We can monitor how much people print, significantly reduce unnecessary printing and improve confidentiality.

Digital signature technology means that fewer documents need to be printed solely for signing. Instead documents can be sent via email to the relevant people (in digital envelopes) and signed and stored electronically. In 2018, digital signatures were used on over 53,130 documents, containing around 653,470 pages. Thanks to this technology, we no longer need to physically print these documents just for a signature.

As part of our Global Print Programme, we’re also reducing the overall number of printers and all printing is set by default to be double-sided and in black and white, unless colour is needed for business reasons. In 2018, we reviewed our fleet of printers at 58 sites and reduced it by a further 181 machines.

Recycling and reusing materials

We look for opportunities to reuse resources, including when moving or refurbishing our offices. For example, during a recent relocation of our main office in Stockholm, our desks were still in good condition, but too large for the new premises. A local joiner was employed to cut them down to the right size and paint them, ready to be reinstalled. The team also worked with the landlord to reuse glass and door panels to build new meeting rooms, preventing waste.

Our ‘Wise Up on Waste’ tool developed by Unilever Food Solutions is helping us cut down on food waste. It allows catering teams to record when and where food waste is generated, enabling them to review trends and to take action to reduce waste at source. It also includes communications resources to help them engage employees to reduce food waste.

What’s next?

Now that we’ve met our zero waste to landfill target, we want to continue our focus on single-use disposables and plastics within our offices. We’re looking more closely at the types of waste we produce, and how we can further reduce the volume that we’re generating. In particular, our focus is on waste that we can entirely eliminate by changing our processes.

We aim to move our approach to waste management to focus further up the waste hierarchy (PDF - 306kB). This means putting our focus on preventing waste from being generated in the first place, buying less and reusing more. As part of this, we’re exploring new ideas, technologies and partnerships so that we can move closer towards a circular economy.

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