Climate-friendly freezers

We are accelerating our efforts to roll out ice cream freezer cabinets that use energy-efficient, climate-friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants.

Why are climate friendly freezers important?

Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants are greenhouse gases (GHG) that are traditionally used in freezer cabinets and other cold storage facilities. Although freezers are designed to keep refrigerants sealed inside, if released they can have a global warming impact that is significantly greater than the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

That’s why for over a decade we have been taking action. We have pioneered the use of environmentally-friendly alternatives to reduce our GHG emissions, and are working on innovations to make our freezers as energy-efficient as possible.

Our approach

We are the world’s largest producer of ice cream with our brands – such as Wall’s, Algida and Kibon – on sale in over 40 countries. With that reach comes responsibility.

One of our key business objectives is to reduce the future risk to our business from carbon regulation and rising energy bills, by minimising our freezers’ contribution to climate change. Our approach has two elements.

Firstly, we are developing new technologies to enable our retail customers to lower their GHG impact. For example, we have introduced climate-friendly refrigerants in our new freezers, lowered the energy consumption of our most popular freezer models, and provided innovative solutions for retailers.

Secondly, we work with governments, NGOs, industry groups and other manufacturers to bring about further change. Together we can have an even greater influence on reducing GHG emissions.

Rolling out natural refrigerants at scale

The impact of our fleet of freezer cabinets that we rely on to reach consumers is a significant contributor to the total GHG footprint of our ice cream business. In 2004, we started pioneering the use of hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants in our ice cream freezers. Since then, we have been driving a strategic agenda to reduce the carbon and energy footprint of our freezer cabinets worldwide, engaging customers on our progress and driving a shift in industry.

Between 2010 and 2013, we purchased more than 850,000 climate-friendly freezers. This took our natural refrigerant freezers in the market to over 1.5 million, and enabled us to achieve our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan target for 2015 two years ahead of schedule. By the end of 2015, we had purchased over 2 million freezers containing natural refrigerants.

Alongside the roll out of freezer cabinets using natural refrigerants, we are also actively working on deploying cabinets with reduced energy consumption. Freezers purchased in 2015 consume on average 38% less energy versus our cabinets purchased in 2008. Some of this reduction is due to the transition to hydrocarbon refrigerants but is also due to the use of lower energy and best in class technologies. We are aiming to go further and our latest low energy freezer cabinets consume 50% less energy than the equivalent 2008 model.

“The potential for emissions reductions through the use of natural refrigeration technologies is enormous,” says Unilever CEO Paul Polman. “I would encourage everyone in the industry to go further and faster in their journey to HFC-free refrigeration systems.”

Wall’s creates our most energy efficient freezer cabinet yet

Recent advances have enabled our scientists to develop ice cream freezers that are capable of over 60%1 energy reduction.

The new freezer range delivers ground-breaking energy efficiency, alongside increased reliability and ease of use, saving money for retailers everywhere.

Partnering on our new technologies

We place great value on investing in and exploring new technologies to help reduce our energy consumption. We consider new technical solutions in design, insulation and refrigeration systems. Some of these innovations have been implemented. Others are still being developed as we aim to take our energy reduction further through our next phase of developments.

Our progress to date has been achieved by giving consistent priority to this agenda with support across a number of business functions. Our Partner to Win (strategic) suppliers are also instrumental in delivering our vision. Working closely with them enables us to have best-in-class capabilities, sustainable practices and innovation.

The catalyst for industry change

For technical and legislative reasons, we cannot yet replace all our freezers with HC technology. So we have worked with stakeholders, such as governments and NGOs, to bring about a change in regulations. We are driving an industry commitment to phase out HFC refrigerants in commercial refrigeration equipment.

Achieving change in the US

Prior to 2011, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations prevented companies from using HC refrigerants. Working together with Greenpeace, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and others, our Ben & Jerry’s brand submitted a formal application through the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) programme.

As a result, the EPA approved use of HC climate-friendly refrigerants in ice cream freezers. This ruling paved the way for other companies to take advantage of the significant GHG savings these cabinets offer.

We now have over 16,000 hydrocarbon ice cream freezers in use in the US.

Refrigerants, Naturally!

We are a founder member of Refrigerants, Naturally!, a multi-stakeholder group established in 2004, and supported by Greenpeace and UNEP. It aims to promote a rapid shift away from the use of HFCs towards natural refrigerants such as ammonia and carbon dioxide. It also promotes the use of climate-friendly HCs for refrigerated point-of-sale equipment such as ice cream freezers and beverage coolers. Between 2010 and 2013, Unilever chaired Refrigerants, Naturally!.

In 2014, during the European Commission’s review of commercial refrigeration, Refrigerants, Naturally! members advocated for change and succeeded in having damaging HFCs banned from many commonly-used types of freezers with effect from 2022.

Extending our ambition through the Consumer Goods Forum

We also work to overcome barriers to the wide-scale adoption of more climate-friendly refrigerants through the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). This uses its collective influence to encourage suppliers to develop natural refrigerant technologies that are able to meet the growing demand for refrigeration and air conditioning worldwide. The combined influence and reach of the organisations involved means that there is huge potential to change behaviour across industries and governments.

1 Using a 2008 baseline

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