Our carbon positive ambition

We have announced a bold new ambition: to be carbon positive by 2030 across our operations.

Going further than ever before

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face – as a society and as a business. At Unilever, we are already taking significant action on our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in our value chain but we want to do more.

Since we launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) in 2010, we have cut our manufacturing GHG footprint by 39% per tonne of production since 2008 – the equivalent of one million tonnes of CO2 per annum.

Our previous renewable energy target was to more than double our use of renewable energy to 40% of our energy requirement by 2020. However, we are furthering and deepening our action to reduce our GHG emissions by announcing that we will become carbon positive in our operations by 2030.

Being carbon positive means that in partnership with others, we will directly support the production of more zero carbon renewable energy than we need for our own operations. This reflects our ambition to play a leadership role in the transition to a zero carbon economy.

Our stretching new targets

To achieve our ambition of becoming 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.
  • In order to achieve our carbon positive target by 2030, we intend to 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 our new targets with independent, global non-profit organisation Forum for the Future. We will continue to work collaboratively with partners, suppliers and others to achieve them.

‘The greatest business opportunity of the century’

The approach to become carbon positive in our operations by 2030 is just one part of our greenhouse gas strategy. Our success depends in part on broader changes taking place in energy markets worldwide. We intentionally announced our ambition in the lead-up to the Paris Climate Change Summit (COP21) in December 2015to give governments, and others in industry, confidence that large businesses are committed to a zero-carbon economy.

Achieving this goal by 2030 will reap many benefits for our business. We expect the costs of climate change and related disruptions, such as droughts and extreme weather events, to increase. By becoming carbon positive, we expect to achieve lower operational costs, greater resilience in our energy supply, and a closer relationship with consumers.

Following COP21, our CEO Paul Polman said, “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.”

Our roadmap to becoming carbon positive

The first step will be to phase out our use of coal by the end of 2020. Whilst this only makes up 4% of our total energy consumption, we recognise the importance of early action to phase out the most polluting fuels. Over the same time period all the electricity we buy from the grid will be from high quality certified renewable sources, something we have already achieved in the US and Europe. By 2030, all the energy we use will be from renewable energy sources – a mix of purchased and self-generated renewables.

First Unilever business switches to 100% renewable energy

In November 2015, Unilever Japan announced it was the first Unilever business to switch to 100% renewable power for all its domestic operations. This will cut carbon emissions by 3,600 tonnes every year. All products we make in Japan will be able to carry a new Green Power logo on packaging, providing a highly visible point of difference for consumers and a clear indicator of our sustainability credentials.

We now aim to work with our Japanese third-party manufacturers and logistics providers to collect data on their energy consumption related to Unilever. We want to work with them to achieve 100% renewable energy across our supply chain.

Renewable energy sources

In 2015, 28% of our energy requirements for manufacturing came from renewable sources:

Internal energy generation or purchased (GJ)External energy generation (GJ)
PurchasedCertified green power3,583,200Renewable electricity from national grids928,182

3rd Party Hydro-electric power630,499
GeneratedFuel crops758,022
Solid biomass waste1,398,312
Wood/wood waste217,202
Liquid biofuels89,489
Biogas35,571
Hydro-electric power34,547
Solar photovoltaic & thermal3,656
Totals6,119,9991,558,681

Proportion of global energy supply

22.5%5.8%

During 2015 we maintained the proportion of energy we purchased from verified renewable energy schemes. All manufacturing sites in Europe, Canada and the US now purchase all their electricity from renewable sources. That is more than one-third of all our manufacturing sites. The only exception to this is where a site sources electricity from energy-efficient combined heat and power (CHP) plants.

We have saved approximately 600,000 tonnes in CO2 emissions by purchasing or generating renewable energy on site. This is equivalent to approximately one-third of our total emissions worldwide.

Eliminating coal from our energy mix within five years

Coal-fired power stations are the biggest source of man-made CO2 emissions as well as impacting on the health of the surrounding communities and environment through pollutants like sulphur dioxide.

We believe coal has no long-term future in Unilever’s energy mix. Currently, coal powers just seven of our sites globally. We use coal only where there is a lack of availability or infrastructure to deliver a cleaner alternative. By 2020, we will have moved these sites onto economically viable cleaner alternative fuels. The solution will be different at each site, depending on local resources, geography and performance – and could include solar thermal, gas, biomass, or electrical heating systems. By 2030, we will have phased out gas and be 100% powered by renewables.

Sustainable sources of biomass present a significant opportunity to increase our use of renewable energy in manufacturing, so investment in biomass boilers is an integral part of our wider manufacturing sustainability strategy. We only use sustainable biomass from genuine ‘end of life’ sources that do not compete with food crops. We typically use sources such as sunflower husk, which is a by-product of food production. In the absence of a global standard we have created our own guidelines for sustainable biomass production, and carefully consider and validate sources ourselves.

We use biomass at 32 of our manufacturing sites, which reduces our annual emissions from fossil fuels by over 190,000 tonnes of CO2. Biogenic fuels used on site now comprise 9% of all fuels used in our factories.

Understanding biofuels & developing bio-energy technologies

We have examined the increased production of biofuels, which can be divided into first and second generation. Currently, only first-generation fuels are on the market. These are produced from feedstocks such as vegetable oils, starch ethanol or sugar ethanol. Second-generation biofuels are produced from non-food feedstocks and are not yet available on a commercial scale.

A number of studies have shown that several first-generation biofuels are neither environmentally efficient nor cost-effective in terms of reducing GHG emissions. We also have concerns about the impact of first generation biofuels on the availability and sustainability of a number of raw materials. We therefore promote more sustainable alternatives based on wind, solar and second generation biofuels and believe it is essential to develop high-performance, bio-energy technologies.

Sources of CO₂ emissions by different energy sources (2015)

Our manufacturing sites use different sources of energy depending on their production processes and also their geographical location. The following chart shows the CO2 emissions from our different energy sources for 2015.

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