Greenhouse gases

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Climate Action
  • Life on Land
  • Partnership For The Goals

Our greenhouse gas footprint

The most meaningful way to measure the greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of our business is to look across the whole lifecycle of our products. Accurate measurement and transparent reporting of our GHG footprint help us adapt our strategy, set ambitious targets and assess our progress.

Woman putting laundry in washing machine

Why do we measure our GHG footprint?

What is the real GHG impact of a business like ours? For many years, businesses thought about this question in terms of their own factories, where energy use is easiest to measure and where they had most control.

The direct emissions from our factories are a vital focus for us, and we measure them carefully – but they amount to less than 5% of the total GHG footprint of our products. A much more meaningful picture of our product impact comes from measuring it across the value chain: from raw materials (primary packaging, secondary packaging and ingredients) to manufacturing, transport, storage at retail and at home, and crucially, consumer use and disposal, which account for over 60% of our total GHG footprint.

Climate change is a principal risk factor for both our business and society at large. For example, temperature increases and extreme weather events (storms, floods, droughts) can drastically raise the cost of raw materials and packaging, which in turn can affect the affordability of our products. Mitigating climate change starts by reducing our own environmental impact, which is why we measure our GHG footprint and track our progress.

How do we calculate our GHG footprint?

We have been calculating our GHG footprint across the value chain since 2010, measuring the emissions across the lifecycle of a large group of products that are representative of our 12 product categories (Beverage, Deodorant, Dressings, Hair Care, Ice Cream, Home & Hygiene, Fabric Solutions, Fabric Sensations, Oral Care, Savoury, Skin Care and Skin Cleansing).

Our footprint focuses on 14 key countries (Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, UK, and the US), which represent around 60–70% of our total global sales volumes. Within the 14 key countries, the footprint accounts for at least 80% of sales volumes.

We calculate our GHG impact annually, both at an absolute level and ‘per consumer use’, which is the GHG impact of our consumers making a single cup of tea or doing a load of laundry. These measurements enable us to see where we are making improvements and where we still have work to do – for example, by innovating new, more energy-efficient products, or by improving our packaging.

Our 2019 GHG footprint

Our measured GHG footprint in the 14 key countries across our value chain is around 60 million tonnes CO2e, an increase of 15% compared to 2010.* However, our turnover has increased by 18% compared to 2010 – higher than our GHG emissions have grown, which is an indication of decoupling. As we make progress towards our 2030 GHG reduction commitment, we expect the extent of decoupling to accelerate.

Unilever footprint GHG

Measured 1 July 2018 - 30 June 2019

Our analysis shows that manufacturing and distribution represent about 4% of our total GHG footprint, while consumer use accounts for over 60%. The GHG emissions of our products are on average around 45.3 g CO2e per consumer use. Since 2010, our GHG impact per consumer use has increased by around 2%†*. This is due to mix effects as well as acquisitions and disposals.

For example, our 2019 footprint shows reductions in GHG emissions from our increased use of renewable energy in our factories and sustainable product innovations such as our concentrated Persil and Omo liquid laundry detergents, which enable people to wash their clothes at lower temperatures, reducing GHG emissions by up to 50% per load. Portfolio changes have also reduced our GHG emissions, such as the disposal of some foods that require cooking.

However, these GHG reductions have been negated by our Beauty & Personal Care Division, which has expanded in hair and skin cleansing products via acquisitions. Over 60% of our GHG footprint comes from consumer use, primarily from heated water for showering and washing, which is more difficult to influence.

Since we launched the USLP 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, such as the shift in the energy grids towards more renewable sources. Technology and innovation play a critical part in addressing climate change and in opening up the business opportunities that a low-carbon economy will bring. We’re using our knowledge and resources in innovation, research and development to bring people the products they enjoy but which respond to the challenge of climate change, while creating business growth opportunities.

* 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.

 Independently assured by PwC