Unilever Sustainability Report: GHGs Down 16% in One Year
Unilever’s greenhouse gas intensity fell 16 percent over the course of 2012, from 118.31 to 99.97 kg per metric ton of production, according to the company’s latest Sustainable Living Plan progress report.
The manufacturer of Dove, Knorr, Lipton and other household brands also revealed that its waste intensity fell 22 percent in that time, from 4.96 to 3.85 kg per metric ton of production, and water intensity fell 7 percent, from 2.4 to 2.23 cubic meters per metric ton of production.
The company’s commitments and progress do impress in many ways. But given Unilever’s prominence as a sustainability leader, it’s surprising the report itself is not more thorough. There are few data tables to allow comparisons between years. There is also a major reporting flaw that make comparisons difficult. The company’s environmental targets are expressed against a 2008 baseline, but it says that of April 2013, “our new automated system only allows us to compare our footprint to 2010 rather than to our original 2008 baseline.” That seems like a serious oversight.
On the other hand, the company doesn’t appear to gloss over its failings. Unilever admits that it is not living up to its expectations on GHG impacts from customer use of soaps, shampoos and shower gels – the biggest carbon impact from those products – and devotes a surprising amount of space to discussing how it might address the problem.
The company made waves in 2010 with its Sustainable Living Plan, setting a target to double its business while halving the environmental footprint of its products across the value chain, and sourcing 100 percent of agricultural raw materials sustainably, all by 2020.
It says that two years in, it can report solid progress on the sustainable sourcing goal.
Earlier this month, Unilever announced that 36 percent its agricultural raw materials are being sourced sustainably, meaning it exceeds the interim milestone of 30 percent it set itself in 2010.
The company now sources 100 percent of palm oil from sustainable sources, certified by GreenPalm, up from 64 percent in 2011. It is aiming to make 100 percent of its palm oil traceable back to the plantation. Unilever also says it’s made progress in sustainable sourcing of sugar, cocoa, vegetables and sunflower oil, and has helped to train 450,000 tea farmers in sustainable practices, of whom over 300,000 have achieved Rainforest Alliance certification.
The company says it is on-plan for every individual sustainable sourcing target except one: it had aimed to use only Fairtrade ingredients in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. But Unilever says it found that some Fairtrade ingredients are not available or do not meet its specifications, so it has changed the target to Fairtrade certification for 100 percent of Ben & Jerry’s flavors by end of 2013.
Of its environmental footprint, the company says, “Unilever is making good progress in areas it can control.” It has cut its greenhouse gas impact per consumer use – meaning a single use, serving or portion of its product – by about 6 percent since 2010. The company aims to halve the GHG impacts of its products by 2020.
Unilever says it is not keeping pace with its target of reducing GHGs from skin cleansing and hair washing, but is on track to reduce the GHGs from customer washing of clothes, and from manufacturing, transport, refrigeration and offices. Last week, the company announced that it had reduced CO2 from its manufacturing and logistics operations by more than 1 million metric tons since 2008, saving the company more than €300 million ($394.8 million).
For manufacturing, this represents a reduction of 31.5 percent per metric ton of production, a company spokesperson told Environmental Leader.
Unilever says its own manufacturing impacts account for just four percent of the GHGs in its value chain, with 25 percent from raw materials, and 68 percent from customer use, including cooking and cleaning.
It says the product categories that make the biggest GHG contribution are those where the customer uses heated water. Soap, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner on their own account for over half the company’s footprint, and its biggest challenge is to reduce the hot water use associated with these products. To achieve this, Unilever says it must provide customers with products and tools that motivate them to use less water. But it says it also depends on wide-scale decarbonization of energy grids, effective carbon pricing and “courageous government policies.”
In 2012 the company rolled out a number of “dry” shampoos, products that customers can use between showers to refresh their hair. It estimates that compared to washing hair with heated water, using a dry shampoo reduces CO2 by around 90 percent. While the dry shampoo market is still quite new, US consumer panel data shows that for those who bought it, the dry shampoo replaced a wet wash in 60 percent of uses. And the company’s sales of dry shampoos grew by nearly 20 percent in 2012.
Waste and packaging
In January, Unilever announced that 133 of its 252 manufacturing sites – more than half – achieved zero waste to landfill by end 2012. Meeting the target prompted the company to speed up its company-wide zero waste to landfill target, from 2020 to 2015. The target applies to non-hazardous waste.
Under its Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever announced that by 2020, total waste sent for disposal will be at or below 2008 levels, despite producing significantly higher volumes.
The company says it is progressing well with packaging reductions, increases to recycled content, increases to recycling and recovery rates, and reductions in office waste, but is off-target in packaging reuse.
Similar to its GHG results, Unilever says it is off-track for water reductions from skin and hair washing, but on-track in providing easy-rinse products and products that require less water; and on-track with cutting water use in manufacturing and agriculture.
It says its water impact per consumer use has remained broadly unchanged since 2010.
Unilever, a 173,000-employee company, generated €51.3 billion($66.6 billion) in sales in 2012. The firm is included in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index and FTSE4Good Index series, and in 2012 it topped both the Climate Counts Company Scorecard and GlobeScan/SustainAbility ranking of corporate sustainability leaders.
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