Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases

To help tackle climate change, we have set a bold new ambition to be carbon positive in our operations by 2030.

In November 2015, we announced that we will become carbon positive in our operations by 2030. This means we will source 100% of the energy used within our operations from renewable sources by 2030, and generate more renewable energy than we consume. We are also working to lower our greenhouse gas (GHG) impact from sourcing, manufacturing and innovation, as well as deepening our efforts to eliminate deforestation from our supply chains.

Our strategy

We are deepening our climate action by eliminating fossil fuels from our manufacturing operations.

Eliminating fossil fuels in manufacturing

The climate challenge

It is widely accepted that human activities are responsible for recent climate change due to the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. To combat this, governments across the world reached a universal agreement in Paris in December 2015. The agreement aims to limit global temperature increases this century to well within 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Read more about our how we have been supporting the Paris Agreement here.

Climate change and the devastation it causes matter to our business and our consumers. The business case for action is clear. Key benefits to our company include lower operational costs and greater resilience in our energy supply, as well as improving the security of supply of our raw materials due to changes in rainfall patterns and avoiding disruption from extreme weather events. By proactively cutting our greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint we also reduce our exposure to environmental regulation and taxes.

We see opportunities too. More and more consumers want to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle. In January 2017, an international study by Unilever revealed that a third of consumers (33% of the 20,000 participants across five countries), are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good, and a further 21% would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing. So reducing the GHG footprint of our brands is one way we can connect better with consumers.

Our approach

Our goal is to halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030. The GHG emissions associated with consumers using our products is a large part of our footprint. Our strategy commits us to drive transformational change to eliminate deforestation from global supply chains, roll out our Climate Smart Agriculture approach to help the farmers and suppliers we source from reduce their GHG emissions, switch to energy efficient ice cream freezers and advocate public policy to tackle climate change. We are also designing products which are less GHG intensive and helping consumers to live more sustainably.

Our manufacturing operations play a major role in our efforts. We have cut CO2 from energy by over 40% in our operations since 2008.

In November 2015 we announced a new target to be carbon positive within our operations by 2030. This means 100% of our energy across our operations will come from renewable sources, and with partners we intend to directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we need for our own operations, making the surplus available to the markets and communities in which we operate.

When it comes to reducing the environmental impact of how consumers use our products, we continue to find this difficult. The greenhouse gas impact of our products across their lifecycle, including consumer use, continues to edge up and has now increased by around 8% since 2010.

Over the last six years we have learned which levers we can pull on our own to effect change, and where we rely on the much slower process of system change. When it comes to effecting change on our own, we have designed products which contain less GHG-intensive ingredients, eg by removing phosphates from laundry detergents. But over 60% of our products’ GHG impact is linked to consumer use, mainly heating water for showering. This is more difficult for us to influence as it depends on a range of external factors, such as the energy supplied to homes, and here we are reliant on wider system change.

Our commitment

We will halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 20301.

In our own operations, we will become carbon positive by 2030, by eliminating fossil fuels from our energy mix and switching to 100% renewable energy. We also intend to directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we consume, making the surplus available to the markets and communities where we operate.

Progress to date

Since 2008 we have made good progress in reducing CO2 emissions from manufacturing, achieving a 43% reduction per tonne of production by 2016, achieving our target four years ahead of schedule. Renewable energy contributed 31.6% of our total energy use. However, the GHG impacts of our products across the lifecycle per consumer use increased by 8% since 2010.

Future challenges

We have made limited headway in reducing emissions associated with consumers using our products since we launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan six years ago.

Our acquisition of skin cleansing and hair care brands has increased the share of our products associated with a higher greenhouse gas impact per consumer use. These products are being used by consumers while taking heated showers and baths.

We are therefore dependent on a wide range of external factors, such as the energy used in consumer appliances, the carbon intensity of the energy supplied to people’s homes and consumer behaviour. Innovative products, such as our compressed deodorant sprays and concentrated laundry detergents which wash clothes at lower temperatures, are making a contribution but much more needs to be done. Large-scale change will only come when governments across the world set commitments for long-term reductions in GHG emissions and for financing the process of change.

The Greenhouse gases pillar of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan contributes to a number of the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development and will play a role in shifting these external factors. The Global Goals that relate to climate include Goal 7 – Affordable and clean energy; Goal 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure; Goal 12 – Responsible consumption and production; and Goal 13 – Climate action.

We are contributing to the Global Goals in a number of ways, for example:

  • Our manufacturing commitments include a pledge to source 100% of our energy from renewable sources which is aligned with Goal 7, 8 and 9.
  • Innovative products, such as our climate-friendly ice cream freezers, compressed deodorant sprays and concentrated laundry detergents which wash clothes at lower temperatures, are making a contribution to Goal 12, but much more needs to be done.
  • Our ambition to eliminate deforestation from the world’s commodity supply chains (aligned to Goal 13) also presents major challenges. Positive progress is being made. Over 90% of globally traded palm oil is now covered by ‘no deforestation’ pledges. The challenge is to turn those promises into action. Our advocacy work on climate change and deforestation is therefore crucial.

Read more about how the USLP aligns to the Global Goals here.

Independently assured by PwC

1 As per refreshed greenhouse gas strategy announced in 2016.

Transformational change - Discover how we're driving transformational change by eliminating deforestation, championing the role of women, supporting sustainable agriculture and smallholder farmers, and improving water, sanitation and hygiene.


Expand for more on Greenhouse gases

Taking action

As well as taking action in our factories, distribution channels and with our suppliers, we are developing innovations that produce less GHG and help consumers to reduce their own impact. We are also committed to eliminating the deforestation associated with commodity supply chains.


Targets & performance

We have an ambitious commitment to halve the greenhouse gases (GHG) associated with the consumer use of our products in our value chain.


Greenhouse gases
Our commitment

Halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030.1

Our performance

In 2016, our greenhouse gas impact per consumer use increased by around 8% since 2010.

Our perspective

In 2016, our factory sites reduced CO2 emissions from energy by 43% per tonne of production compared to 2008, achieving our target four years ahead of schedule.

However, the GHG impact of our products has risen by 8% since 2010.2 Underlying sales growth over the same period was 30%, so it is encouraging to see that we are indeed decoupling our value chain GHG impacts from our business growth.

The increase in GHG emissions per consumer use is mainly driven by our Personal Care business which has expanded in hair and shower products via acquisitions, in particular Alberto Culver. Over 60% of our value chain GHG footprint comes from consumer use, primarily from heated water for showering, which is more difficult to influence.

Since we launched our Plan in 2010, we have learned a lot about the areas we can influence and those we cannot, and which areas need wider action from other players, in particular the need for consumers to shift to renewable energy.

We have set targets to become ‘carbon positive’ in our operations by 2030. This includes sourcing 100% of our total energy from renewable sources by 2030 and extends to making surplus renewable energy available to the markets and communities where we operate.

We are also seeking to create transformational change.

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.

2 The 2010 baseline has been restated by a reduction of 0.2g CO2 per consumer use for Greenhouse Gases (GHG). Applied to our 2015 results, the restated 2015 GHG performance would have been a 7% increase instead of a 6% increase per consumer use compared to the 2010 baseline.


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Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Become carbon positive in manufacturing

  • By 2020 CO2 emissions from energy from our factories will be at or below 2008 levels despite significantly higher volumes.

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.

1,080,314 fewer tonnes of CO2 from energy in 2016 than in 2008 (a reduction of 43% per tonne of production).

Compared to 1995, this represents a 66% reduction in absolute terms.


We will become carbon positive in our manufacturing by 2030:


  • We will source 100% of our energy across our operations** from renewable sources by 2030.

In 2016, 31.6% of our total energy use in our manufacturing operations was generated from renewable resources, compared to 15.8% in 2008.


  • We will source all our electricity purchased from the grid from renewable sources by 2020.

In 2016, 63% of all grid electricity used in our manufacturing operations was generated from renewable resources.


  • We will eliminate coal from our energy mix by 2020.

In 2016, 1.1 million GJ of the energy used in our manufacturing was generated from coal, which is 4% of our total energy use. 13 of our manufacturing sites used energy generated from coal.


  • In order to achieve our target of carbon positive by 2030, we intend to directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we consume and make the surplus available to the markets and communities in which we operate.

In 2016 we began developing our methodology and will report on our target progress in our 2017 Sustainable Living Report.


  • All newly built factories will aim to have less than half the impact of those in our 2008 baseline.

New factories in Turkey, Philippines and the Ukraine started production in 2016. When fully operational each aims to achieve only half the emissions of CO2 from energy compared to a representative 2008 baseline.


Our Perspective

In 2016, our factory sites reduced CO2 emissions from energy by 5.6% per tonne of production compared to 2015 and 43% per tonne of production compared to 2008, achieving our target four years ahead of schedule. 1,080,314 fewer tonnes of CO2 from energy were produced in 2016 compared to our 2008 baseline. We continued to reduce energy use by 1.3% per tonne of production in 2016 and by 24% since 2008.

In 2015 we announced a new ‘carbon positive’ target. This supersedes our previous target of sourcing 40% of our energy across our operations from renewable sources by 2020. By the end of 2016, 97 manufacturing sites in 28 countries across five continents purchased 100% of their grid electricity from certified renewable sources; in 2016 we met 31.6% of our global energy needs from renewable sources.

Our carbon positive ambition

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from washing clothes

Reformulating our products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2012.

Over 95% (by volume) of our laundry powders in our top 14 countries have been reformulated, achieving a reduction of 15% in greenhouse gas emissions by end 20121.

We continue to reformulate by optimising raw material usage in powders and capsules and optimising our manufacturing.


Our Perspective

Liquid laundry detergents have a lower greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint than powders. We are driving market development through liquids: we grow faster in liquids wherever powders, bars and liquids are present.

Many of our liquids are now sold in concentrated form which reduces GHG emissions. They also provide great cleaning performance at lower temperatures. We are also increasing the number of unit dose washes which mean consumers cannot over or under dose.

We continue to lead the industry in developing lower impact powders by removing or reducing phosphate and zeolite – key components with high GHG impact. We have now reached a 90% reduction in the global use of phosphates across our laundry powders, resulting in lower GHG emissions of up to 50% per single consumer use.

Innovating to reduce greenhouse gases

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport

By 2020, CO2 emissions from our global logistics network will be at or below 2010 levels despite significantly higher volumes. This will represent a 40% improvement in CO2 efficiency.

We will achieve this by reducing truck mileage; using lower emission vehicles; employing alternative transport such as rail or ship; and improving the energy efficiency of our warehouses.

27% improvement in CO2 efficiency since 2010. 6.7% improvement in CO2 efficiency and a 7.4% decrease in absolute terms in 2016 compared to 20151.


Our Perspective

We have achieved a 27% improvement in CO2 efficiency since 2010, and made steady progress during 2016, but meeting our 2020 commitment remains ambitious.

We are continuing to build on the strong foundations we have in place. Through innovation and developing bottom-up carbon reduction projects, we will share best practices to ensure we build efficiency into our transportation logistics.

We are increasingly using non-road forms of transport such as rail and sea to move goods. For journeys still undertaken by road, we are exploring technologies such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative fuel, thermal blanket technology for temperature controlled trucks and eFreight software for logistics demand matching to ensure fewer trucks are making journeys while empty.

1 Cumulative improvement since 2010 is measured across our top 14 countries; annual improvement is measured in more than 50 countries.

Reducing transport emissions

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration

As the world’s largest producer of ice cream, we will accelerate our roll-out of freezer cabinets that use climate-friendly natural (hydrocarbon) refrigerants. When we launched our Plan in November 2010 we had already purchased 450,000 units with the new refrigerant.



  • We will purchase a further 850,000 units by 2015.

In 2013 we exceeded our target of purchasing 850,000 climate-friendly freezers, reaching a total of around 1.5 million.

In 2016 our total increased to around 2.3 million hydrocarbon freezers.


Our Perspective

The climate-friendly hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants we use in our freezers have a negligible global warming potential compared to previously used hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The freezers are also around 10% more energy efficient. By the end of 2016, we had purchased around 2.3 million freezers using natural refrigerants.

We continue to roll out climate-friendly HC freezers and make our freezers more energy efficient. In 2016, our latest and most energy efficient freezers reduced energy use by over 60% compared to our 2008 baseline. We are working on further innovations to make more improvements in freezer energy efficiency, including investigating the use of renewable energy – such as solar – to power our cabinets.

We continue to work with industry to promote more environmentally-friendly freezers. Via Refrigerants, Naturally! we advocated a ban on the damaging HFCs from many commonly-used types of freezers in Europe, which comes into effect from 2022.

Climate-friendly freezers

Reduce energy consumption in our offices

By 2020 we will halve the energy (kWh) purchased per occupant for the offices in our top 21 countries versus 2010.

32% reduction in energy (kWh) purchased per occupant since 2010.


Our Perspective

We have set a challenging 2020 target to reduce energy consumption at our in-scope sites. Achieving it will require a combination of local site efficiency improvements, increased office density and a focus on the largest energy consuming sites. Since 2010 we have reduced energy purchased per occupant by 32%, a further improvement from 27% in 2015.

Contributing factors included the move by several offices to more efficient facilities, consolidating different offices into one location, the continued effectiveness of our PC power management tool, increased focus on the optimisation of our building management systems and the roll out of LED lighting across a number of our offices.

Cutting office impacts

Reduce employee travel

We are investing in advanced video conferencing facilities to make communication easier while reducing travel for our employees. By 2011 this network will cover more than 30 countries.

54 countries were covered by end 2011.


Our Perspective

We have continued to invest in implementing advanced video facilities to reduce our travel footprint. By the end of 2016, we had implemented video conferencing facilities in 90 countries.

Our advanced video conferencing system, Video Presence, is used for over 950 meetings a month across Unilever offices worldwide. This is substantially reducing our need to travel to meetings, and our CO2 emissions. It delivers clear benefits such as cost and time savings for the business and cuts down on tiring travel for our employees.

To further reduce our GHG employee travel impacts, we have introduced messages on the benefits of using Video Presence when employees use our travel booking system to book flights. This encourages employees to travel only when necessary.

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