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. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is anchored on the need to decouple our business growth from our environmental impact – including how our products are made and used.
Our activities largely impact the environment through the use of water, energy and land, as well as the production of waste and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The latter, which are our biggest impacts, come through the use of our products.
So, we’re using 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 people use and dispose of our products. This is one of the ways in which we’re contributing to the achievement of SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production.
We annually calculate our GHG footprint on around 3,000 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 have 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. Through the introduction of this material, the team has reduced the associated GHG emissions by over 90% compared to MDF, while reducing costs by over 30%.
In 2018, the Argentina team began using bioplastic made from potato husk starch instead of PSAI (high-impact polystyrene), for the graphic boards on standing displays and shelves. Like Euca Plack, this bioplastic is 100% renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. Compared to PSAI, this has reduced associated GHG emissions by 98% and created savings of around 20%.
Cutting emissions through EasyDose™
We’re also widening our portfolio as another way of investing in innovations to reduce GHG impact.
For more than 30 years, our homecare brand Seventh Generation has been formulating products which are designed with environmental and human health in mind, demonstrating that business can serve society and the planet, as well as make a profit.
Launched in 2018, Seventh Generation’s ultra-concentrated liquid laundry detergent, EasyDose, is helping people reduce their GHG emissions through enabling energy savings. Consumers can lower their carbon footprint by choosing the EasyDose bottle over a standard 100oz bottle. The EasyDose bottle is made with 100% recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and the detergent is made with 50% less water compared to the same volume in the standard 100oz detergent bottle, while delivering the same number of laundry loads. The new smaller and lighter packaging – 75% lighter than the standard bottle – also means that more bottles can be packed onto each pallet, further reducing GHG emissions as well as transport costs.
Cleaner clothes, smaller footprint
Compacted, phosphate-free 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 and Seventh Generation’s EasyDose, enable people to wash their clothes at lower temperatures, reducing GHG by up to 50% per load. Concentrated detergents mean that we can fit doses for more washes into smaller bottles, so that 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– a key component with high GHG impact. By the end of 2018, we had reached a greater than 95% reduction in the global use of phosphates across our laundry powders. And we eliminated phosphates in 100% of our machine dishwash products.
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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 by the end of 2018, over 60% of our fabric conditioners were in concentrate form. Our ultra-concentrated Comfort Intense fabric conditioner range has been available in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and France since 2015. 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.