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Growing the use of renewable energy in the consumer goods sector: Unilever and Marks & Spencer - News

23 September 2015, 0:00 UTC 5 min read

As part of Climate Week NYC, two partners from RE100 - an ambitious global campaign led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, to engage, support and showcase influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity - Mike Barry Director of Sustainable Business Marks and Spencer and Jeff Seabright Chief Sustainability Officer Unilever who are also Co-chairs Consumer Goods Forum Sustainability Steering Group, write about their low carbon journeys in a three-part blog series

Tackling climate change is now of huge importance to many consumer goods companies.

They see the growing impact of extreme weather events such as drought and floods on their supply chains and operations. They understand that nature is their biggest ‘factory’, because the plentiful supply of high quality water, soil and crops underpins so much of what they do.

And they recognize the growing expectations globally from consumers and other stakeholders, that they are seen to be part of the solution – not the problem – for climate change.

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), which both of us are on the steering committee of, has already made 3 significant climate commitments:

  1. To halve food waste in its members’ operations by 2025 and contribute to the UN goal to halve per capita food waste by 2030.
  2. To ensure net zero deforestation in a key commodity in supply chains (palm oil, soy, beef, paper/pulp) by 2020.
  3. To begin the phase out of HFCs (potent greenhouse gases) in refrigeration systems by 2015.

Individual CGF members are complementing this collective action on climate by taking a bold stance on renewables.


For manufacturers like Nestle and Unilever this involves investing in new renewable solutions for their factories. For retailers like Marks and Spencer the solution is more about green electricity procurement.

For example, at Nestle the share of renewables in energy consumption is increasing quickly (+8% year-on-year in both 2013 and 2014) across its global operations.

The gas boiler at their Mousline mashed potato factory in Rosières, France, was replaced with a wood-fired boiler, which now provides approximately 95% of the plant’s fuel needs and reduced GHG emissions by 23,000 tonsCO2e a year. In total, three new wood boilers installed in France together save 25% of Nestlé France’s GHG emissions.

Another boiler at Nestlé Chile’s Osorno factory now uses wood sourced from local forests certified by the National System of Wood Certification of Chile; this prevents the emissions of approximately 10,000 tons of CO2e per year compared to an equivalent boiler using non-renewable sources.

All Nescafé coffee factories worldwide are using coffee grounds from the manufacturing process as a source of renewable energy.

In Switzerland the natural heat created by the source of their mineral water brand Cristalp, which emerges from the ground at 25˚C, is used to provide heat to the bottled water factory and local municipal buildings. The Cristalp factory has been running on 100% renewable energy since October 2014.

In California, US, Nestlé Waters has introduced two wind turbines at its bottling plant in Cabazon. The turbines provide wind power to generate some 30% of the facility’s electricity needs, reducing GHG emissions equivalent to more than 20,000 barrels of oil.

In Mexico, 80% of the electricity consumed by Nestlé’s factories is renewable – generated with wind power – following a power purchase agreement signed in June 2012. The project reduces GHG emissions by an estimated 120,000 t CO2e per year.


Meanwhile Unilever has a target to reach 40% renewable energy by 2020 and is working toward a 100% target. This is supported by work to reduce energy consumption. In May 2015 Unilever reached a new milestone of 1 million tons of CO2 savings since 2008 from its manufacturing network. Energy consumption has been reduced by 20% - the same energy used to run 40 factories or the equivalent in carbon of over 800,000 acres of forest in one year. This has also resulted in significant cost savings of €244 million.

Unilever has made a big move into renewables in Europe and North America where all of the electricity purchased by Unilever factories is from renewable sources. In some developing markets like Mexico they will soon be using 100% renewables. Across the globe, 28% of the energy used by Unilever factories comes from renewable sources, including 39% of all electricity.

As a retailer Marks and Spencer has fewer opportunities to invest in on-site renewables. Retail stores are much smaller consumers of electricity than food factories. There are many more of them and typically they are squeezed into high streets and lack roof space.

So the focus has been on reducing electricity use (36% less electricity per square foot compared to 2006-07) and investing in on-site renewables where it’s practical. For example, M&S has just installed the UK’s largest solar roof at its Castle Donington Distribution Centre with 24,272 panels.

All the electricity used in its stores and offices in the UK and Ireland is procured from renewable sources. Crucially 21% of this electricity comes from small-scale generators such as farmers supported by procurement contracts. It also has a customer energy supply business serving 250,000 customers, with all electricity it supplies now from renewable sources. M&S Energy has also just launched a scheme to support community renewable energy projects in the UK, with over 200 projects in the running for £400,000 of support over the next 12 months.

Nestle, Unilever, Marks and Spencer. Three different consumer goods companies but all united as members of RE100 and through their commitment to take practical action from factories, to stores to the consumer’s home, to support the uptake of renewable energy.

We all know there is more to do but we hope that by participating together in RE100 with many other companies, we can accelerate the uptake of renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions, encouraging a stable global policy framework and driving down deployment costs.

by Mike Barry Director of Sustainable Business Marks and Spencer and Jeff Seabright Chief Sustainability Officer Unilever, Co-chairs Consumer Goods Forum Sustainability Steering Group

You can chat live to Thomas Lingard, Climate Advocacy & Sustainability Strategy Director, Unilever and Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business (Plan A), Marks & Spencer on Twitter today to discuss how they’re switching to 100% renewable power as part of the RE100 campaign. Ask questions using #RE100 at 3.30 pm BST/11.30am EST September 23.