Mar 19, 2020

Unilever: driving eco-efficient operations in manufacturing

Green Manufacturing
Georgia Wilson
3 min
By using fewer resources and generating less waste, Unilever sets ambitious eco-efficient...

By using fewer resources and generating less waste, Unilever sets ambitious eco-efficient targets for its manufacturing operations.

As its business continues to grow, Unilever aims to reduce its operational environmental footprint to become carbon positive by 2030.

Under the ‘Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP)’, the organisation outlines its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste reduction, as well as its ambitions to be a leader in the transition towards a global zero carbon economy. 

Unilever's activities support its commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 7 (clean and affordable energy) and 13 (climate action).

Becoming carbon positive

Despite a significant increase in production volume, Unilever's initial targets for carbon positivity by 2030, include the reduction of its CO2 emissions from energy used within its factories to meet or be below the levels of 2008 by 2020, representing a reduction of 40% per tonne of production. 

By 2030, Unilever aspires to become carbon positive within its manufacturing operations, by:

  • Sourcing 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030

  • Sourcing all electricity purchased from renewable sources by 2020

  • Eliminating coal from its energy mix by 2020

  • Directly supporting the generation of more renewable energy than need, making the surplus available to the market


Achieving targets

In order to achieve its ambitious manufacturing sustainability targets, Unilever is focusing on five areas of change:

  1. Increasing its use of data to identify opportunities

  2. Embracing technology and promoting best practices

  3. Empowering teams to implement projects

  4. Increasing access to capital investment fund

  5. Driving efficiency within its global and regional procurement processes

Manufacturing programme

Building on its existing total productive maintenance (TPM) tools and techniques, Unilever has developed a world class manufacturing (WCM) programme to focus on sustainability via continuous improvement and investment in efficiency equipment and technology.

As part of its target setting process, each factory is given improvement targets in order to measure the organisation's performance against its sustainability performance indicators. This helps each factory maintain a link between eco-efficiency and better factory performance. 

Each year, Unilever secures capital investment for projects that reduce energy and energy, as well as water use and waste, in order to deliver the strongest environmental and financial benefits.

Training and best practices

Unilever stresses that every person has a part to play in reaching its targets under its USLP. “we’ve found that a practice from one factory can often be easily replicated elsewhere, reducing equipment purchasing and design costs. It means we can leverage our global scale, sharing ideas, inspiring our colleagues to think outside of the box,” says Unilever.

GHG emissions by type

Unilever’s manufacturing sites uses multiple energy sources depending on production processes and geographical location.

Emissions pie chart

In 2014, Unilever issued a US$288mn Green Sustainability Bond, which invited investors to support its sustainable growth vision. The proceeds have been used on greenhouse gas projects as well as water and waste projects in the USLP.

This included: Home Care South Africa, Home Care China, Beauty and Personal Care Turkey, Refreshment and Spreads US.

Efficient purchasing

By consolidating its global, regional and national procurement contracts, Unilever strives to achieve cost effective environmental improvements.

Although Unilever strives to reduce its energy intensity, it is scaling up its use of renewable energy. By the end of 2018, 111 of its manufacturing sites in 36 countries used 100% renewable grid electricity, accounting for 67% of its total grid electricity consumption.

For more information on manufacturing topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Manufacturing Global.

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Image source: Unilever

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Jul 29, 2021

Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030

Dominic Ellis
4 min
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades says the UK's National Infrastructure Commission

Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission

Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.

The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.

The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture. 

It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.  

The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020. 

Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.

The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.

While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.

Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.

Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse. 

"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.

“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.” 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets. 

Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.  

Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."

McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:

  • Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
  • Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
  • Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
  • Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
  • The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere

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