Road to net zero emissions by 2030: Here’s how Unilever is doing it

MANILA, Philippines — Last November, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) came to a close at Glasgow, Scotland with renewed commitments on climate action and more targets on emissions reductions. The 13-day summit was dubbed as the planet’s “last best chance” to stop the worst consequences of climate change. 

While governments are called to lead their nations in achieving their targets and shift to clean energy, private institutions are also at stake. 

For centuries, the way businesses operate has consumed natural resources faster than these could regenerate, and has contributed significantly to greenhouse emissions. 

Companies, multinational or local, cannot turn a blind eye anymore. In recent years, they have set up their own targets to help stop the planet from becoming 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer. 

One such is Unilever, one of the biggest fast-moving consumer goods companies in the world, which has laid out its Climate Transition Action Plan ahead of COP26. The company also stepped up to raise questions and ask for actions from world leaders during the summit. 

“In December 2020, we announced our Climate Transition Action Plan, which basically puts forward our ambitious emissions reduction target: zero emissions from our operations by 2030 and net zero across all our entire value chain by 2039,” Ed Sunico, Unilever Philippines VP for Sustainable Business and Communications, said during the U-Talk webinar organized by Upsilon Sigma Phi. 

With 9 out of 10 Filipino homes using or having a Unilever product, the Climate Transition Action Plan indeed matters not just for their families but also for the planet. 

Here’s what we need to know: 

1. Shift to renewable energy 

From Paris Agreement to COP26, climate action centers on emissions reductions with set methodologies and timeframe. The year 2030 must see significant decrease on CO2 emissions to stop global rise in temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius above industrial levels. 

Unilever’s Climate Transition Action Plan in line with this, as it commits to eliminate emissions from operations by 2030. 

Locally, this has started already as Unilever began shifting to renewable energy. Since 2017, the company has been relying on 100% renewable grid energy, in partnership with other private companies. 

He noted that more work needs to be done: 

  • Optimize energy demand through energy efficiency programs.
  • Transition energy sources to renewable, not just in Unilever but in all its partners. 
  • Transition heating sources to renewable versus us of fossil fuel. 
  • Eliminate all remaining HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) refrigerants from all our cooling systems, replacing them with low global warming potential refrigerants. 

2. Make its entire value chain sustainable

Apart from reducing its emissions from operations, Unilever will also halve the emissions footprints of its products by 2030. It is also calling its suppliers to halve their emissions in the same year. 

The end goal is to achieve net zero emissions across its value chain by 2030

To achieve this, Sunico shared that Unilever will embark on sustainable business practices from its raw and packaging materials to its logistics and distributions network. Some plans include:

  • Establish Greenhouse Reduction Roadmaps for all key materials and ingredients. 
  • Reduce 40%-50% emissions in logistics by 2030.
  • Shift its global car fleet to 100% electric or hybrid vehicles in 2030. 
  • Include travel distance optimization and use newer technologies for refrigerated deliveries. 

3. Regenerate forests

Unilever is also steadfast in helping protect and regenerate nature. One of its most immediate commitment is to have zero deforestation by 2023 for its commodity crops such as palm oil, paper, soy and cocoa. 

4. End use of plastic

Unilever also commits to address another pressing environmental concern: plastic pollution. As an FMCG, majority of its products rely on plastic packaging, hence it is committed to use better, less and no plastic. 

Its action plan include: 

  • Make 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable and compostable. 
  • Incorporate use of recycled plastic in its packaging.
  • Reduce the use of virgin plastic by half.
  • Collect and process more plastic packaging waste than what is sold to the market.  

5. Fight hunger and malnutrition

Lastly, and most especially here in the Philippines, Unilever also vows to help end hunger and malnutrition by addressing food waste

“We are actively participating with the government’s task force against hunger, and working with Rise Against Hunger, an NGO that institutionalizes food banking. This basically ensures that no food from the operations goes to waste and that we are able to save and use this for humanitarian efforts especially during calamities,” Sunico shared.

It also has long-time nutrition programs in the country such as the Knorr Nutri-Sarap. For almost two decades, the program has been educating Filipino families on nutritious eating and cooking through a 21-day nutrition plan. 

Winning with purpose

For a long time, the climate crisis has been misunderstood as an environmental crisis. But it is also challenging and affecting lives and livelihood of people. 

“In Unilever, we know the implication of climate change for our business and our consumers in general. It is a threat to our entire value chain from how we grow our raw materials, to whether there’s going to be clean water available for consumer to use with our products,” Sunico said. 

According to the VP, climate change and social inequality are deeply connected. 

“Climate change is also a social issue when it starts to impact the lives and livelihood of people in the society,” he said. 

Ultimately, even if Unilever is a global company, it is very much a Filipino company with 95 years of history in the country. 

Through the Climate Transition Action Plan’s roll out in the Philippines, Unilever is driven by its purpose to serve and to improve the lives of 100 million Filipinos.