Measuring Knorr's greenhouse gas footprint

With greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions one of our priority environmental impact themes, we conducted the world’s first lifecycle* GHG assessment at a brand product portfolio level.

The aim of the study

The ultimate goal was to identify opportunities to manage GHG emissions related to our operations, such as manufacturing, and influence reductions elsewhere in the product lifecycles. We also wanted to assess the impact of the brand’s innovation and portfolio strategies on its GHG footprint.

Complex challenges

Knorr’s product portfolio has over 7,500 different recipes, pack sizes and formats, with thousands of ingredients sourced from around the world. This level of complexity meant we had to develop a ‘meta-product’ approach which involved assessing product types representative of the portfolio. Products were grouped by type (for example, soups, bouillon and drink shots) and also by packaging format (cans, glass jars and sachets).

Assessing up to 16 meta-products in each region allowed for geographical differences as well as variations in aspects such as energy provision, technology and transport. The total, global Knorr GHG footprint was derived by multiplying the GHG impact calculated per tonne of each meta-product with the regional sales volumes for the year.

Several hotspots identified

At the time of the study (2007), the global Knorr brand GHG footprint was estimated to be in the region of 3 to 5 million tonnes of ‘CO2 equivalents’. This covers all greenhouse gases – including nitrous oxide and methane which are important in agricultural systems and much more powerful greenhouse gases than CO2 – normalised to the greenhouse effect of CO2.

The hotspots identified were the production of ingredients, particularly the use of synthetic fertilisers which are energy intensive in their manufacture and emit nitrous oxide, and the energy used to cook products. Each of these represent about a third of the total footprint.

Raw materials processing, such as drying and freezing, and packaging production, each account for about 10%. The Unilever-owned factories contribute only around 4%.

How the results are influencing strategy

The study showed that the biggest opportunities for reducing GHG emissions lie upstream and downstream from the factories. This insight was used to influence Knorr brand strategy.

For example, in terms of ingredients, we are working with farmers to implement sustainable agriculture practices and with suppliers to develop new processing technologies. On the consumer use side, we are gathering insights on habits around best practice in the kitchen to help generate innovative ideas for product formats that require less cooking and heating.

This study was conducted by Unilever’s Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre

Read the full journal paper (purchase required)

* The product lifecycle includes all the stages required to bring a product to market (ingredient sourcing, processing, manufacture, distribution and retail) as well as consumer use, disposal or recycling.

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