Unilever aims to be ‘carbon positive’ in its operations by 2030.  To achieve this, the company is committed to sourcing 100% of total energy across its operations from renewables by 2030, and to sourcing all grid purchased electricity from renewables by 2020. Marc Engel, Chief Supply Chain Officer, tells us how the company plans to achieve these ambitious goals.

What is driving Unilever to be ‘100% renewable’?

“Unilever is well known for its leadership on the environment – and for good reason. The consumer goods sector is vulnerable to climate change; the increasing likeliness of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts poses a threat to our supply chains and operations.

“We also recognize the business case for going 100% renewable. As well as reducing risk, it will make our energy supply more resilient and deliver on our consumer promise to deliver brands that are responsibly produced in a world of finite resources.”

How did you decide on your goals?

“We believe that a sustainable business requires a sustainable world, and our commitment to make sustainable living commonplace is brought to life through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan launched in 2010. It outlines how we aim to reduce our environmental footprint while continuing to grow the business. 

“Our announcement that we will be 'carbon positive' by 2030 demonstrates how we are stepping up our efforts to deliver broader change in energy markets and directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we consume.

“To ensure we stay on track we’re committed to ensuring that all the grid electricity we consume is renewable by 2020, and to eliminating coal from our energy mix by the same year.” 

What are your achievements so far?

“All of the electricity we purchase from the grid in Europe, the US and Japan is already 100% renewable.

“Unilever Japan switched to renewables in 2015, including geothermal power, for all its domestic operations. Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, and with the country’s reputation for advanced technology, we knew we had a chance to be a role model and help develop a market for renewable energy.”

What challenges and opportunities have you encountered while working to be 100% renewable?

“The lack of options for purchasing renewable electricity in some of the countries where we operate has been a challenge. But that’s part of the reason for being in RE100 – to show utilities and governments in those locations that business wants to be using renewables.

“Fossil fuel subsidies are a challenge to renewables more generally as they distort the real costs and do not reflect the financial impacts of burning coal, oil and gas.”

How do you plan to switch to renewable electricity going forward?

“We’re working to eliminate our use of coal completely by 2020 – demonstrating real climate leadership.

“The speed at which we can switch to renewables from the grid depends on the ease of purchasing renewable energy in different parts of the world, but we’re committed to getting there by 2020. Our other sources of electricity may take a little longer to switch, but we’re looking at a number of options.”

Why do you think it is important for companies to help increase demand for renewable electricity?

“COP21 led to a successful Paris Agreement that should now give businesses the confidence to make long-term investments in renewable energy.

“The corporate world can use its influence and capital to accelerate the development and deployment of new renewable electricity projects.

“As more and more companies make the switch to renewables, we can show that business growth and environmental protection go hand in hand, and lead the way to a low carbon future.”

Why do you think RE100 is a good initiative to join?

“It’s empowering to be part of RE100 because the collective efforts of individual companies are becoming an unstoppable movement. By collaborating with other leading companies we send a powerful market signal that businesses want to use renewables all around the world.”

What else are you doing to help drive a low carbon economy?

“We are continuing to drive change to eliminate deforestation from global supply chains, support mainstream sustainable agriculture, and advocate for public policy to tackle climate change.

"We will also continue to work with our partners and suppliers to increase momentum for change throughout the value chain.

“Climate action is also an important means of engagement with our consumers and through our Sustainable Living Plan we are supporting consumer efforts to recycle more as well as use less energy and water.” 

Last updated: February 2016