Greenhouse gases

Our carbon positive ambition

We have a bold ambition to be carbon positive in our operations by 2030.

Unilever renewable energy

We are accelerating our action on climate change

We have long been reducing our manufacturing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions footprint. By the end of 2016, we achieved – and exceeded – our 2020 target of reducing CO2 emissions from energy four years ahead of schedule, cutting CO2 emissions by 43% per tonne of production versus our 2008 baseline. In May 2015, we reached a significant milestone when our global factory network achieved an annual reduction of 1 million tonnes of CO2 compared to 2008.

In December 2015 we announced that we will become carbon positive in our operations by 2030. This reflects our ambition to play a leadership role in the transition to a zero carbon economy, responding to the challenges set out by UN Global Goal 13 Climate Action. And in 2016 we publicly committed to science-based GHG reduction targets, through the call to action that was launched by the Science Based Targets Initiative.

Our roadmap to becoming carbon positive

To become carbon positive by 2030, we will:

  • Source 100% of our energy across our operations from renewable sources by 2030.
  • Source all our electricity purchased from the grid from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Eliminate coal from our energy mix by 2020.
  • Directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we consume, making the surplus available to the markets and communities where we operate.

We developed these targets with global non-profit, Forum for the Future, and are working collaboratively with partners, suppliers and others to achieve them.

Our success depends in part on broader changes taking place in energy markets worldwide, and we recognise we have a role to play as an industry leader to help shape those markets. We intentionally announced our ambition in the lead-up to COP21 to give governments – and others in industry – confidence that large businesses are committed to a zero-carbon economy.

Becoming carbon positive is just one part of our GHG strategy. Achieving our ambition by 2030 will reap many benefits for our business. The costs of climate change and related disruptions are likely to increase. But by becoming carbon positive, we expect to achieve lower operational costs, improve resilience in our energy supply, and develop a closer relationship with consumers.

“Achieving a zero emissions economy is the greatest business opportunity of the century. Businesses can now press forward with their ambitious plans knowing that the governments of the world have set a clear direction of travel and will implement the policy frameworks to support them.”

Paul Polman, Unilever CEO

Improving energy efficiency

Most of the GHG emissions in our manufacturing operations come from using fossil fuels to create electrical and thermal energy. Our first step towards becoming carbon positive is improving our energy efficiency. By reducing our energy usage, we are cutting our GHG emissions and our costs simultaneously. By the end of 2016, we had reduced the energy we use in our factories by 24% per tonne of production since 2008. This reduction has also contributed to cumulative cost avoidance of over €400 million.

We will eliminate coal from our energy mix

We will phase out our use of coal - the biggest source of man-made CO2 emissions and the dirtiest fossil fuel - by the end of 2020. By then we will source all our electricity purchased from the grid solely from renewable sources.

In 2016, coal made up just 4% of our total energy consumption in locations where there is currently no availability or infrastructure for an economically acceptable alternative cleaner energy source. Our solutions to eliminate coal – which could include solar energy, biomass and biogas  - will be different at each site, depending on local resources, geography and performance.

We’re scaling up our use of 100% renewable grid electricity

In 2016, 97 of our manufacturing sites across 28 countries were using 100% renewable grid electricity. This accounts for 63% of our total grid electricity consumption and includes manufacturing sites across five continents.

We are a founder signatory of the RE100 global campaign for influential businesses to commit to 100% renewable electricity and use RE100’s definition of renewable electricity as electricity which has been produced from biomass (including biogas), geothermal, solar, water and wind sources. As well as using renewable grid electricity, we generate renewable electricity ourselves. In 2016, following our solar PV installations in 2015 at our Taicang site in China and Casablanca site in Morocco, we switched on our solar PV system in Tianjin, China.


Corn cob husks
Producing energy from corn cob waste in Pakistan

As a developing country, Pakistan faces one of the world’s worst energy crises and our foods factory in Pakistan is leading the way in shifting to renewable energy. In 2016 we began using local farmers’ waste corn cobs to produce biofuel and converted our electricity-run chilling systems to steam-fueled absorption chillers. These changes led to an energy use being reduced by a third. We also installed a 200kW solar plant, which provides up to 25% of the site’s electricity needs during peak sunlight hours.

Where it is not possible to produce our own renewable electricity, we make direct purchase agreements with large-scale solar or wind installations, and with small-scale hydropower schemes. For example, since 2016, all of our electricity for our manufacturing operations in Brazil has been generated by hydropower and around 90% of the electricity used across our factories, distribution centres and offices in Mexico has been produced from wind power.

In many countries, we also use high quality Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). These detail date, time and facility name to ensure we are buying fully validated renewable electricity – meeting CDP and RE100 criteria. Additionally, we follow CDP and RE100 climate reporting frameworks, which do not allow energy offsetting.

Nearly a third of our manufacturing energy comes from renewable sources

By the end of 2016, 31.6% of the energy used across our manufacturing operations came from renewable sources. Additionally, 16% of the energy that we generated directly on our manufacturing sites was from renewable sources. Through producing and generating renewable energy, we saved around 700,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from going into the atmosphere in 2016. This is equivalent to nearly 40% of our total manufacturing CO2 emissions worldwide.

Sustainable sources of biomass is one of the sources of renewable energy that offer a significant opportunity so we are investing in biomass boilers to increase the amount of renewable energy that we generate on site. In 2016, we installed a biomass boiler at our Maydon Wharf site in South Africa, which now produces 50% of the site’s energy needs using wood waste from a furniture manufacturer.

We only use sustainable biomass from genuine ‘end of life’ sources that do not compete with food crops, such as sunflower husks – a by-product of food production. Building on global standards, we have created our own guidelines for sustainable biomass production, carefully considering and validating sources ourselves.

We are also turning organic waste from our factories into biogas for fuel use, through on-site anaerobic digestion. In January 2017, we started to buy Certified Green Gas in the UK, whereby biogas from food and biological waste is injected into the national gas grid.

In 2016, 40 of our manufacturing sites used biogenic fuels – such as agricultural by-products and wood waste – reducing our annual CO2 emissions by over 210,000 tonnes. In 2016, biogenic fuels accounted for both 16% of our global fuel use and 9% of our total energy source in our factories.


Solar panels and wind turbines
Internal carbon price to fund our renewable energy generation

In 2016 we expanded our use of carbon pricing by announcing an annual carbon price on emissions of CO2 from our manufacturing network. The levy has created a Clean Energy Fund for 2017, which will be invested in installing renewable energy sources on our manufacturing sites. This greatly expands our ability to accelerate the rate at which we move towards our 2030 ambition to achieve use of 100% renewable energy.

A carbon positive vision: will you be a part of it?

Ambitious climate action is possible – and profitable. We want to go beyond eliminating CO2 emissions from our own manufacturing, by helping the markets and communities associated with our factories to move to using renewable energy.

The challenges that society faces through climate change means there is a strong case for government and business investment in new renewable energy technologies, as well as further research on the sustainable use of biomass. Investment should be accelerated in existing low-carbon energy production and in deploying new low carbon energy technologies, such as wind and solar energy.

In developing countries, we will look to stimulate investment to expand and further develop the renewable energy industry through partnering with renewable energy providers.

System-wide change is key to success. If you think you can help us achieve these targets, please contact us at

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