The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan for

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Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases

Droughts, floods, crop failures, disrupted and displaced communities and impacted economies - the potential threats posed by climate change are significant and urgent. But while tackling climate change presents serious challenges, it also offers enormous opportunities.

Taking action on climate change is a necessity - but it’s also a chance to grow our business by responding to opportunities across our value chain.

We want to play our part in the global movement to create a low-carbon economy, so we’re increasing our use of renewable energy as we move towards becoming carbon positive in our operations by 2030. We’ve also set ourselves a science-based target* to halve the greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts of our products across their lifecycle by 2030.**

The GHG pillar of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) contributes to a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), primarily: Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7); Climate Action (SDG 13) and Life on Land (SDG 15).

Taking action across our value chain

Following the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries are pressing ahead with low-carbon reforms, helping to open around $23 trillion in opportunities for climate-smart investments by 2030. The key to transforming the current high-carbon infrastructure into a low-carbon one, is systems change.

The risks presented by climate change cross the boundaries between nations, continents, industries and societies. SDG 17 – partnerships for the goals – is critical to unlocking progress to the other 16 SDGs. Businesses, governments and citizens all have a role to play but fundamental to creating systems change is collaboration, which is why we’re prioritising advocacy and partnerships with others.

This has led us to work on issues ranging across our entire value chain, from combating deforestation and improving the carbon footprint of our agricultural supply chain, to designing more products with a lower GHG impact for people to use at home.

27% of our GHG footprint comes from raw materials for ingredients and packaging. Impacts of climate change on agriculture will be different in different parts of the world. An important step in our sustainable sourcing programme will be the launch in 2018 of the renewed Sustainable Agriculture Code, which has guidance on all aspects of Climate Smart Agriculture.

In the middle of our value chain are our own factories and sites - the parts of our business over which we have the greatest control. We've committed to becoming carbon positive in our operations by 2030. That means 100% of our energy will come from renewable sources - and we intend to directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we need for our own operations, making the surplus available to the markets and communities in which we operate.

Technology and innovation are playing a critical part in addressing climate change - and in opening up the opportunities for business that a low-carbon economy will bring. Over 60% of our GHG footprint occurs when consumers use our products in their homes. To reduce this, we’re using our knowledge and resources in innovation, and Research and Development, to bring people products they enjoy but which come with lower GHG impacts.

The Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)

A growing number of investors demand more information on how companies are addressing the effects of climate change, and we recognise the importance of disclosing climate-related risks and opportunities. Adopting the TCFD recommendations is an important step forward in enabling market forces to drive efficient allocation of capital and support a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy.

Within the scope of our business, climate change touches everything we do, and a wide range of our USLP activities address it. We’ve integrated climate-related disclosures throughout our Annual Report and Accounts 2017 PDF and within the Reducing Environmental Impact sections - Greenhouse Gas, Water, Waste, and Sustainable Sourcing – of our Sustainable Living Report 2017.

Our approach

Our pillar commitment is to halve the GHG impact of our products across their lifecycle by 2030. This commitment is a science-based target, which is in turn supported by our carbon positive science-based targets. These are defined as "in line with the level of decarbonisation required to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures"*** - which underpins the Paris Agreement.

To understand the financial risks that climate change could have on our business, we’ve performed a high-level assessment of the impact of 2°C and 4°C global warming scenarios in 2030. We’ve identified the material impacts on Unilever’s business from each of these scenarios, based on existing internal and external data. We are taking action to address our climate change risks in line with the output from the scenario analysis, as well as benefiting from any opportunities these changes could present across our value chain.

The main impacts of the 2°C scenario:

  • Carbon pricing is introduced in key countries and hence there are increases in both manufacturing costs and the costs of raw materials such as dairy ingredients and the metals used in packaging.
  • Zero net deforestation requirements are introduced and a shift to sustainable agriculture puts pressure on agricultural production, raising the price of certain raw materials.

The main impacts of the 4°C scenario:

  • Chronic and acute water stress reduces agricultural productivity in some regions, raising prices of raw materials.
  • Increased frequency of extreme weather (storms and floods) causes increased incidence of disruption to our manufacturing and distribution networks.
  • Temperature increase and extreme weather events reduce economic activity and gross domestic product (GDP) growth, hence sales levels fall.

The results of the scenarios analysis confirm the importance of doing further work to ensure that we understand the critical dependencies between climate change and our business. And ensure we have action plans in place to help mitigate these risks and prepare the business for the future environment in which we will operate.

To tackle climate change, we've adopted a combined approach of making changes to our own business - aimed at reducing the emissions over which we have most control - while joining collective efforts and advocacy to help achieve the wider systems changes needed to create a low-carbon world. Our work includes:

Our commitment

We will halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030.**

In addition, in our own operations, we will become carbon positive by 2030 by eliminating fossil fuels from our energy mix and switching to 100% renewable energy. We also 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.

Progress to date

We've cut CO2 from energy by 47% per tonne of production in our operations and continued to develop products with a lower GHG impact, however the GHG impact of our products across their full lifecycle has increased by around 9%† since 2010.**

Underlying sales growth over the same period was 33.1%, so it is encouraging to see that we are decoupling our value chain GHG impacts from our business growth. The increase in GHG emissions per consumer use is mainly driven by our Personal Care business which has expanded in hair and shower products via acquisitions.

Future challenges

The momentum behind climate action is continuing to grow. More investors are factoring carbon resilience into their decisions. And according to research we conducted in 2016 (PDF), consumers are increasingly looking for sustainable companies and products. We believe the transition to a lower-carbon model for economies and societies can be made - but there's no doubt challenges remain.

The amount of available renewable energy is increasing, and the costs are falling rapidly. But, much of the world's infrastructure remains reliant on fossil fuels. For example, that means that the electricity used to heat water, including the hot water used by our consumers, significantly contributes to GHG emissions.

To reach our 2030 commitment of halving the GHG impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030, we’re dependent on a wide range of external factors, such as the energy efficiency of consumer appliances, and the carbon intensity of the energy supplied to people’s homes – as well as consumer behaviour.

We believe that carbon pricing is a fundamental part of the global response to climate change and without it, the world is unlikely to meet its GHG reduction targets. We have publicly supported calls for carbon pricing and are a member of the UN Global Compact’s (UNGC’s) Caring for Climate Campaign and The Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, hosted by the World Bank. We have implemented the UNGC’s Business Leadership Criteria on Carbon Pricing and in 2018, we increased our internal price of carbon to €40 per tonne.

* Two of our targets were approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) in 2017. We set our first science-based target in 2010, to halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030. The second science-based target was introduced in 2015, aiming to source 100% of our energy across our operations from renewable sources by 2030.

** Our environmental targets are expressed against a baseline of 2010 and on a 'per consumer use' basis. This means a single use, portion or serving of a product.

***As described in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5).

Independently assured by PwC


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Targets & performance

We have an ambitious commitment to halve the greenhouse gases (GHG) associated with the consumer use of our products in our value chain.


Greenhouse gases
Our commitment

Halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030.1

Our performance

In 2017, our greenhouse gas impact per consumer use increased by around 9% since 2010.*

Our perspective

In 2017, our factory sites reduced CO2 emissions from energy by 47% per tonne of production compared to 2008. We have also increased our use of renewable energy within our manufacturing; in 2017, this increased to 33.6% compared to 15.8% in 2008. Additionally, 65% of all grid electricity used in our manufacturing operations was generated from renewable resources.

Since we launched our Plan in 2010, we have learned a lot about the areas we can influence and those we cannot, and which areas need wider action from other players. For example, this includes the shift in the energy grids towards more renewable sources takes time, but are moving in the right direction, which will contribute positively to halving the GHG impact of our products by 2030.

To play our role in this, we have also set targets to become ‘carbon positive’ in our operations by 2030. This includes sourcing 100% of our total energy from renewable sources by 2030 and extends to making surplus renewable energy available to the markets and communities where we operate.

However, the GHG impact of our products has risen by 9% since 2010.* Underlying sales growth over the same period was 33.1%, so it is encouraging to see that we are decoupling our value chain GHG impacts from our business growth.

The increase in GHG emissions per consumer use is mainly driven by our Personal Care business which has expanded in hair and shower products via acquisitions. Over 60% of our value chain GHG footprint comes from consumer use, primarily from heated water for showering, which is more difficult to influence.

* Our environmental targets are expressed against a baseline of 2010 and on a 'per consumer use' basis. This means a single use, portion or serving of a product.

Independently assured by PwC


  • Achieved 4

  • On-Plan 7

  • Off-Plan 1

  • %

    Of target achieved 0

Key to our performance
  • Achieved

    This is the number of targets we have achieved

  • On-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are on track to achieve

  • Off-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are currently not on track

  • %

    Of target achieved

    This is the percentage of the target we are on track to achieve

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Become carbon positive in manufacturing

  • By 2020 CO2 emissions from energy from our factories will be at or below 2008 levels despite significantly higher volumes.

This represents a reduction of around 40% per tonne of production.

Versus a 1995 baseline, this represents a 63% reduction per tonne of production and a 43% absolute reduction.

1,218,554 fewer tonnes of CO2 from energy in 2017 than in 2008 (a reduction of 47% per tonne of production).

Compared to 1995, this represents a 69% reduction in absolute terms.


We will become carbon positive in our manufacturing by 2030:


  • We will source 100% of our energy across our operations** from renewable sources by 2030.

In 2017, 33.6% of our total energy use in our manufacturing operations was generated from renewable resources, compared to 15.8% in 2008.


  • We will source all our electricity purchased from the grid from renewable sources by 2020.

In 2017, 65% of all grid electricity used in our manufacturing operations was generated from renewable resources.


  • We will eliminate coal from our energy mix by 2020.

In 2017, 1.1 million GJ of the energy used in our manufacturing was generated from coal. During the year, 16 of our manufacturing sites used energy generated from coal. By the end of 2017, this was reduced to 12 sites.


  • In order to achieve our target of carbon positive by 2030, we intend to directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we consume and make the surplus available to the markets and communities in which we operate.

In 2017 we continued to develop our methodology and will report on our target progress in our 2018 Sustainable Living Report.


  • All newly built factories will aim to have less than half the impact of those in our 2008 baseline.

New factories in Turkey, Vietnam, India and Iran started production in 2017. When fully operational each aims to achieve only half the emissions of CO2 from energy compared to a representative 2008 baseline.


Our Perspective

In 2017, our factory sites reduced CO2 emissions from energy by 8.1% per tonne of production compared to 2016 and 47% per tonne of production compared to 2008, despite having achieved our target four years ahead of schedule in 2016. 1,218,554 fewer tonnes of CO2 from energy were produced in 2017 compared to our 2008 baseline. We continued to reduce energy use by 2.8% per tonne of production in 2017 and by 26% since 2008.

In 2015 we announced our carbon positive ambition. This supersedes our previous target of sourcing 40% of our energy across our operations from renewable sources by 2020. By the end of 2017, 109 manufacturing sites in 36 countries across all continents purchased 100% of their grid electricity from verified renewable sources. In 2017 we met 33.6% of our global energy needs from renewable sources.

How we’re becoming carbon positive in our operations

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from washing clothes

Reformulating our products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2012.

Over 95% (by volume) of our laundry powders in our top 14 countries have been reformulated, achieving a reduction of 15% in greenhouse gas emissions by end 2012.

We continue to reformulate by optimising raw material usage in powders and capsules and optimising our manufacturing.


Our Perspective

Liquid laundry detergents have a lower greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint than powders. We are driving market development through liquids: we grow faster in liquids wherever powders, bars and liquids are present.

Many of our liquids are now sold in concentrated form which reduces GHG emissions. They also provide great cleaning performance at lower temperatures. We are also increasing the number of unit dose washes which mean consumers cannot over or under dose.

We continue to lead the industry in developing lower impact powders by removing or reducing phosphate and zeolite – key components with high GHG impact. We have eliminated phosphates in 100% of our machine dishwash products and reached a 95% reduction in the global use of phosphates across our laundry powders, resulting in lower CO2 emissions of up to 50% per single consumer use. We’re continuing to investigate technologies that could lead to zero-phosphate products in the future.

Innovating to reduce greenhouse gases

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport

By 2020, CO2 emissions from our global logistics network will be at or below 2010 levels despite significantly higher volumes. This will represent a 40% improvement in CO2 efficiency.

We will achieve this by reducing truck mileage; using lower emission vehicles; employing alternative transport such as rail or ship; and improving the energy efficiency of our warehouses.

31% improvement in CO2 efficiency since 2010. 6% improvement in CO2 efficiency and a 4% decrease in absolute terms in 2017 compared to 2016.1


Our Perspective

In 2017, we achieved a 31% improvement in CO2 efficiency since 2010. We have made steady progress, with some of our market clusters achieving their highest ever improvement in CO2 efficiency.

Meeting our 2020 target remains ambitious, but we are determined to achieve it by continuing to build on the strong foundations we have in place. Through innovation and developing bottom-up carbon reduction projects, we will share best practices to ensure we build efficiency into our transportation logistics.

We are increasingly using non-road forms of transport such as rail and sea to move goods. For journeys still undertaken by road, we are exploring technologies such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative fuel, electric vehicles, thermal blanket technology for temperature controlled trucks and hydrogen technologies. We are working with our partners to accelerate the adoption of the above technologies.

1 Cumulative improvement since 2010 is measured across our top 14 countries; annual improvement is measured in more than 50 countries.

Reducing transport emissions

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration

As the world’s largest producer of ice cream, we will accelerate our roll-out of freezer cabinets that use climate-friendly natural (hydrocarbon) refrigerants. When we launched our Plan in November 2010 we had already purchased 450,000 units with the new refrigerant.



  • We will purchase a further 850,000 units by 2015.

In 2013 we exceeded our target of purchasing 850,000 climate-friendly freezers, reaching a total of around 1.5 million.

In 2017 our total increased to around 2.6 million hydrocarbon freezers.


Our Perspective

The climate-friendly hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants we use in our freezers have a substantially lower global warming potential compared to previously used hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have a global warming impact thousands of times greater than the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. The refrigerant change alone makes our freezers around 10% more energy efficient. By the end of 2017, we had purchased around 2.6 million freezers using natural refrigerants.

We are continuing to roll out climate-friendly HC freezers and make our freezers more energy efficient. In 2017, our purchased freezers were 50% more energy efficient compared to our 2008 baseline, with the most energy efficient models going even further. We are working on innovations to make more improvements in freezer energy efficiency, including piloting the use solar panels to power our cabinets.

Climate-friendly freezers

Reduce energy consumption in our offices

By 2020 we will halve the energy (kWh) purchased per occupant for the offices in our top 21 countries versus 2010.

30% reduction in energy (kWh) purchased per occupant since 2010.


Our Perspective

We have set a challenging 2020 target to reduce energy purchased per occupant at our in-scope sites. In 2017 we saw a slight increase in the overall energy purchased and a fall in the number of occupants at our in-scope sites. We have continued to work on energy efficiency programmes at our sites and many have become more efficient in 2017.

But we're challenged by the energy demand of our data centres and our Research and Development (R&D) sites, which make up around half our energy purchased. In 2017, we reduced the total energy consumption of both data centres by 7%, but increased demand on other sites have pushed the reduction percentage per occupant over the 2016 figure. R&D sites run pilot plant experiments, which are more similar to factory operations, and the energy demand for these processes are not linked to occupancy.

We have continued to save energy through using our PC power management tool. We’re continuing to focus on the optimisation of our building management systems and the roll out of LED lighting across a number of our offices, to reduce our energy consumption.

We’re also looking at the carbon impact of our energy purchasing decisions. In 2017, 42% of our in-scope sites purchased certified renewable electricity. Additionally, our offices in central London and Surrey became carbon neutral through the purchase of certified renewable gas. Although it’s challenging to reduce energy purchased per occupant, we’re continuing to reduce the GHG impact of our offices.

Reducing office impacts

Reduce employee travel

We are investing in advanced video conferencing facilities to make communication easier while reducing travel for our employees. By 2011 this network will cover more than 30 countries.

54 countries were covered by end 2011.


Our Perspective

We have continued to invest in implementing Skype for Business as well as advanced video facilities to reduce our travel footprint.

Our advanced video conferencing system, Video Presence, is used for over 950 meetings a month across Unilever offices worldwide. We have video conferencing facilities in 90 countries. This is substantially reducing our need to travel to meetings, and our carbon emissions. It delivers clear benefits such as cost and time savings for the business and cuts down on tiring travel for our employees.

To further reduce our GHG employee travel impacts, we have introduced messages on the benefits of using Video Presence when employees use our travel booking system to book flights. This encourages employees to travel only when necessary.

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