Innovating to reduce greenhouse gases
We are redesigning and innovating products to bring more benefits to people while cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
We're developing lower carbon designs and innovations
Technology and innovation are playing a critical part in addressing climate change – and in opening up the opportunities for business that a low carbon economy will bring.
We want to use our expertise in innovation and R&D to bring people products they enjoy but which come with lower GHG impacts, both in our factories and when they’re being used. We apply a lifecycle based approach, encompassing the sourcing of raw materials through to product manufacture, distribution and how consumers use and dispose of our products.
We annually calculate our GHG footprint on around 3000 products and across 14 countries that are representative of our global product portfolio. The footprint results, which are available to all our employees, are used as the basis for assessing projects in our innovation process through our in-house EcoDesign tool. All our innovation projects are assessed across a number of sustainability areas – including their GHG impacts and contribution towards our GHG targets within our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Project scores are tracked and reviewed by senior management.
Sustainable innovation and design are also vital to our growth. 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. These findings are further supported by the performance of our Sustainable Living brands – including Dove, Hellmann’s and Ben & Jerry’s – which have integrated sustainability into their brand purpose and products.
Permanent innovation – how good ideas can be improved
Innovation should never stop – and when an idea works, we aim to share it across our business. That’s why our Customer Development team in Argentina have taken their idea for reducing both GHG emissions and costs and made it better, and why we're helping other teams around the world share its benefits.
The team's insight came in 2015 when they looked at the cost and environmental impact of what we call POP – that is, the point-of-purchase materials used for standing displays and shelves in stores selling our products. By replacing high-impact polystyrene with recyclable corrugated plastic or cardboard, the team found they could reduce both our GHG footprint and our costs.
By the end of 2016, the project had been rolled out to 100% of our customers in Argentina – a total of 4,000 stores – and had saved nearly 50 tonnes of CO2, as well as nearly €1 million in costs. We've called the project Sustainable Visibility, and so far we’ve expanded its principles to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Portugal, Denmark, Saudi Arabia and Chile.
But our team in Argentina didn’t stop there. In 2017, they worked with a local supplier to develop an innovative new material made from eucalyptus wood: Euca Plack, which is 100% renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. No logging is involved; Euca Plack is made from branches that are pruned or fall naturally from the trees. In September 2017, the team began using Euca Plack to replace the MDF previously used in our POP materials in Argentina. The team aims to reduce the associated GHG emissions by around 90% while reducing costs by around 50% once the replacement process is complete.
We’re also widening our portfolio as another way of investing in innovations to reduce GHG impact, including saving energy and water.
For more than 25 years, Seventh Generation has been formulating products that make a difference for consumers, which are also designed with environmental and human health in mind, demonstrating that business can serve society and the planet, as well as make a profit.
Realising that consumers were concerned about the flammability of aerosols, the Seventh Generation team developed a new line of disinfectant sprays which are propelled by compressed air and are non-flammable. The sprays contain a botanical disinfectant made from essential oils. After using the sprays, which kills 99.99% of household germs, consumers don’t need to rinse surfaces. This innovation has achieved over 10% market share since being launched.
Innovations in laundry through Persil Powergems
In 2017, we launched our latest laundry innovation – Powergems. A brand new kind of premium detergent that’s neither a liquid nor a powder. Twice as concentrated as laundry powder and using 100% active ingredients, Powergems offer a new format with the triple power to clean, freshen and care for clothes with one product.
The innovation has the potential for significant environmental benefits. The highly concentrated product formulation means that packaging is up to 30% lighter than traditionally used for laundry detergent plastic bottles or cartons, and the formula contains less chemicals. The unique bottle design – co-created with consumers - allows us to fit 40% more products on a pallet, which means we can reduce the number of trucks on the road by up to 800 per year, in turn cutting GHG emissions by 75 tonnes.
Cleaner clothes, smaller footprint
Compacted powders, liquid detergents, better concentrated liquids, refill containers that reduce plastic waste – our laundry brands have produced a strong track record of innovation to reduce GHG emissions while maintaining performance.
Our concentrated liquid laundry detergents, such as Persil, Omo and Surf Small & Mighty, enable consumers to wash clothes at lower temperatures, reducing GHG by up to 50% per load. Concentrated detergents mean that we can fit doses for more washes in smaller bottles, and so fewer raw materials are needed and more products can fit onto pallets, reducing transport costs. Innovations such as semi-concentrated liquid products help consumers who find it hard to change their dosage behaviour.
Alongside our work on liquid detergents, we continue to lead the industry in developing lower-impact powders by removing or reducing phosphate and zeolite – key components with high GHG impact. By the end of 2017, we had reached a 95% reduction in the global use of phosphates across our laundry powders. And we eliminated phosphates in 100% of our machine dishwash products. Our phosphate reduction has resulted in lower CO2 emissions by up to 50% per single consumer use. We’re continuing to investigate technologies that could lead to zero-phosphate products in the future.
Reducing emissions alongside costs through concentrates
Fabric conditioners are also a large part of our laundry business, and over 51% of our fabric conditioners are now in concentrate form. In 2015, we launched our ultra-concentrated Comfort Intense fabric conditioner range in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and France. This requires less than half a regular dose of other products, meaning we can fit more washes into smaller bottles, further reducing GHG emissions, as less raw materials are needed, and reducing packaging and transport costs.