We make more ice creams than any other business. We’re leading the way in deploying natural refrigerant and low-energy freezers to reduce the greenhouse gas impact of our freezers – and working with others to create an industry shift.
Why do we need climate-friendly freezers?
Freezers come with a significant climate footprint. Not only do they use energy to run, many also contain hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants – strong man-made greenhouse gases (GHG). Freezers are designed to keep these refrigerants sealed inside. But, if they do get released (for example during maintenance or at end of life), they have a global warming impact thousands of times greater than the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.
We’ve been taking action on this issue since 2004, working with our customers, suppliers, NGOs, governments and other manufacturers. To reduce our GHG impact, we focus on two areas: cutting the direct emissions from HFCs and reducing indirect emissions from energy consumption. We purchase freezers that use natural hydrocarbon refrigerants (HCs) instead of freezers using HFC refrigerants.
First HC freezers purchased
Over 450,000 HC freezers purchased
Over 1.25 million HC freezers purchased
Over 2.1 million HC freezers purchased
Around 2.6 million HC freezers purchased
2.6 million natural refrigerant freezers and counting
We pioneered the use of HCs for our freezers in 2004. By the end of 2017, we had purchased around 2.6 million freezers containing natural refrigerants. Our ice cream brands, including Wall’s, Algida, Ben & Jerry’s and Kibon, are sold from three million freezer cabinets in over 45 countries. Through using HCs in our freezers, we’re contributing to the global shift in the freezer industry towards natural refrigerants.
We’re members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), which uses its influence to encourage suppliers to develop natural refrigerant technologies. The combined influence and reach of the member organisations involved mean that there is huge potential to change behaviour across industries and governments towards reducing the GHG impact of freezers. This is essential as the demand for refrigeration is growing rapidly worldwide.
Energy reductions for our customers
Our freezers use energy to keep our ice cream at the right temperature and in perfect condition. As well as using freezers with natural refrigerants, we’ve been working for many years to reduce the energy consumption of our freezers, so they use less electricity and generate fewer indirect carbon emissions. We partner with freezers manufacturers to develop and deploy low energy freezers. In 2017, the freezers we purchased consumed on average 50% less energy per freezer than those purchased in 2008.
And we’re not stopping there. We’re continuing to work on new technical solutions in design, insulation and refrigeration systems so we can take our energy reductions even further. We work closely with our strategic suppliers on developing new solutions and sustainable practices, and providing them to our customers (retailers). Our freezers are generally owned and operated by us, but our retail customers pay the electricity bill. As we improve our freezer energy efficiency, this also reduces running costs, benefiting our customers.
Freezers on the frontline
Stephen Breen, Research & Development Manager
It’s easy to get motivated about energy reduction and natural refrigerants. I’m an engineer by training and an environmentalist at heart. Environmental challenges like climate change cannot be solved by doing things on a small scale. A quantum shift is needed, and industry has a huge part to play. You can do a lot more through the power of industry. There are limits to what I can do as an individual, so I’m lucky that I can make an impact through my job within Unilever.
When I joined Unilever two and a half years ago, a huge amount had already been achieved – our freezers purchased today use half the energy they did ten years ago. In some respects that means the job of energy reduction for us in Research & Development is getting harder and harder – we have to be even more innovative. The key focus is on ensuring energy efficient freezers are as cost effective for the business as possible. Renewable energy is also a focus and it’s been fantastic to see our first solar powered ice cream cabinets being trialled.
A big part of our job is working with suppliers and communicating our requirements – most innovation comes from collaborating through the supply chain. By showing suppliers the demand is there, we can help bring these innovations to the commercial market more quickly. Everything we do is a team effort, both within Unilever and with suppliers. We couldn’t have achieved the progress we’ve made without everyone working together.
Innovation and the future
We’re continually innovating and collaborating with freezer manufacturers to further reduce the energy consumption of the freezers we buy. We’re also exploring the use of renewable energy to power our freezers and further reduce carbon emissions.
In 2017, we developed and trialled 50 mobile ice cream cabinets fitted with solar panels in the US and India. These cabinets use just 10% of the electricity of a standard cabinet. They can work for up to 10 hours using solar power alone and recharge overnight from the electricity grid. We plan to further trial and develop solar power freezers in 2018, including for static freezer cabinets.