Innovating to reduce greenhouse gases
We are re-designing and innovating products with more benefits for consumers while cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Our approach to developing innovative solutions
Climate change – and the impact that it is causing – matters to our business and consumers. It is widely recognised that human activities are responsible for releasing carbon dioxide and other GHGs into the atmosphere. Raw materials for our brands’ products and packaging contribute to our GHG footprint. These include materials such as aluminium for deodorant sprays, which have GHG impacts associated with their mining, transport and manufacture.
As well as increasing our use of renewable energy – as we work towards our target sourcing 100% of our energy across our operations from renewable sources and becoming carbon positive by 2030 – and cutting the GHG emissions from our global operations, we are developing innovative technologies with lower GHG emissions and improved benefits for consumers. These technologies use raw materials more efficiently, and lower the GHG impact of our packaging and products, including GHG emissions from consumer use. Through this approach, we are tackling GHG emissions in our entire value chain.
By developing innovative technologies with reduced environmental impacts, we are making our products even more attractive to our consumers. 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.
We can find opportunities to reduce our environmental impact through simply looking at situations differently. In 2015, our Customer Development team in Argentina began to question the environmental impact of our point of purchase (POP) elements – that is, the materials used for standing displays and shelves in stores selling our products.
The team discovered that by replacing high impact polystyrene with recyclable corrugated plastic – made from recycled materials – or cardboard, they could reduce our GHG footprint at the point of sale to consumers, and reduce our costs. By working closely with our suppliers in Argentina, the team were able to procure the materials needed locally.
In collaboration with our customers, we began replacing the raw materials used in stores with sustainable materials. 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 savings.
“This project was developed by colleagues who wanted to find ways to reduce our environmental impact. I really value how the whole team committed to it and how this project has become a reality, and is being shared with other teams in the business to replicate the success.”
Laura Barnator, VP Customer Development, Argentina
Helping consumers do their bit through compressed deodorants
In 2013 Unilever paved the way for greater sustainability in Deodorants, launching Compressed Deodorants for our Sure, Dove and Vaseline brands. The new system also offers the same deodorant protection, but with 50% less gas and 25% less packaging, reducing the amount of aluminium and cutting the carbon footprint per can by approximately 25%. So far we have saved enough aluminium to produce over 1 million bicycles – around 1,500 tonnes.
Consumers have told us that they appreciate the convenience of a smaller can, with the same amount of spray as a bigger can and a softer spray.
Since the initial launch in the UK and Ireland, the range has been rolled out to the largest spray deodorant markets in the world – Germany, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay
We have invited all manufacturers to use Compressed technology in their own aerosols, and have detailed a “how to guide” to help others adopt the technology. We have shared details of which suppliers helped us bring this to market and invited other manufacturers to use the same green band and format description of “Compressed” to help create a shorthand for all consumers.
Cutting GHG emissions through laundry innovations
Powders make up more than half the laundry market in many countries, so several years ago we compacted our powders to reduce their GHG impact.
However, liquid detergents have a lower GHG footprint than powders, so where appropriate we focus our market development efforts on concentrated liquid detergents, such as Persil, Omo and Surf Small & Mighty. These further cut GHG emissions by using less raw materials, and also enable consumers to wash clothes at lower temperatures, reducing GHG by up to 50% per load.
For consumers who find it hard to change their dosage behaviour and move from a big bag of powder to a small bottle of liquid, we have introduced product innovations such as semi-concentrated liquid products in an effort to move consumers to lower liquid dosages. These encourage consumers to adopt liquid detergents without having to change their dosage behaviour drastically.
Fabric conditioners are a large and fast growing part of our laundry business. Globally, over 51% of our fabric conditioners are now in concentrate form, providing better performance to consumers, reducing GHG emissions and packaging and transport costs, by reducing our use of raw materials.
In 2015, we launched our ultra-concentrated Comfort Intense fabric conditioner range in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands and France. This requires less than half a regular dose of other products, meaning we can fit more washes into smaller bottles. This helps to further reduce GHG emissions as less raw materials are needed and more products can fit on pallets. In turn, this also reduces packaging and transport costs.
Since our 2015 launch, we have maintained a 6-9% market share in these countries. In Brazil, where we launched concentrated fabric conditioner in 2009, we have a market share of nearly 42%. Our innovation has helped transform the market, and other brands have now introduced their own concentrates.
We have also introduced refill packs for our laundry brands in the UK and for our fabric conditioner brands in Italy. These are sealed, upright plastic bags that use less raw materials. Since launching in the UK in 2015, refill packs have decreased the amount of plastic used by over 70% and since launching in Italy in 2014, it has decreased the amount of plastic used by 70% per unit, reducing the amount of GHG produced per pack.
We have cut our global use of phosphates by 90%
Phosphates improve laundry performance by softening the water, enabling the detergent to work more quickly. They are safe and effective in the majority of cases. However, carbon emissions caused by phosphates can be higher than alternative ingredients because of associated sourcing and transport activities.
By the end of 2015, we had reduced our use of phosphates by around 90% across our laundry powders worldwide, while continuing to meet consumer expectations on product performance. This has resulted in lower GHG emissions of up to 50% per single consumer use.
We only use phosphates where we do not have alternatives that deliver the same benefits to consumers, or where regulations require us to use them. We will continue to search for viable alternatives and investigate technologies that may lead to zero-phosphate products in the future.
Our dry shampoos maintain beauty and reduce GHG
Our dry shampoos allow women to refresh hair between washes, saving time and extending the period that their style lasts. We estimate that compared to washing with heated water, using dry shampoo reduces GHG emissions by approximately 85%.
The market is still relatively new and is growing. We sell dry shampoos in ten countries under nine brands, including Dove, TRESemmé, Suave, TiGi, Sunsilk and VO5. In 2016, our global sales grew by 14%. The US is our largest dry shampoo market, and we are the market leader, holding a 38% share.
Lowering GHG from our margarines with breakthrough technology
Our patented ‘Cool Blending’ technology, developed with Delft University, produces margarines with lower GHG impact.
Cool blending technology mixes ingredients at lower temperatures, reducing the amount of oil we use by 20-25%. This reduces our need for raw materials, significantly lowering our greenhouse gas emissions from farming.
We launched cool blending in Western Europe in 2012 through our Flora and Becel brands. We now use this technology for our I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Country Crock, Brummel & Brown and Imperial brands – amounting to around 200,000 tonnes of margarine each year.