My job is to help Unilever achieve net-zero carbon emissions. That means no longer using fossil fuels and supporting the generation of more renewable energy than we consume. Essentially, it’s about doing our bit to help the world transition to a low-carbon economy.
We use two types of energy in our operations. Thermal energy – for heating and cooling – is used mainly in the form of steam and hot water for manufacturing. This is managed by our sustainable manufacturing team. And electrical energy – power – is needed for things like lighting and running machinery. My role focuses on electrical energy but also supports the sustainable manufacturing team in sourcing feedstocks to produce thermal energy.
As part of our overall goals on climate change – which are to reduce emissions in line with holding global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – we want to source all our electricity purchased from the grid from renewable sources by 2020, and all our energy – across the entire business – from renewable sources by 2030.
I work in our centre of expertise for renewable energy procurement and waste management services. We develop strategies, set standards, track what’s going on in the outside world, and ultimately help teams put programmes in place locally.
Governments often use energy as a political tool to boost the economy, win an election or drive their climate change targets. That’s why I find energy procurement so interesting. What we can do in each country really depends on national energy legislation. In large countries, like India and China, legislation can even vary between states or provinces.
It’s amazing how fast things have moved on from where we were in 2015 when we set our most recent goals on renewable energy. We got off to a slow start, because it was a relatively new – and challenging – concept for people to understand. But in the last couple of years, we’ve made exciting progress.
Across our manufacturing sites, over two-thirds of our total electricity consumption already comes from renewable sources and around a quarter of our thermal energy is from renewables.
Where possible, we purchase electricity directly linked to large-scale solar, wind, hydro and geothermal installations, and small-scale hydropower schemes. Around 90% of the electricity we use in Mexico has been produced from wind power. In the Philippines, we are now sourcing all our electricity from a geothermal power plant.
Renewable electricity is also being generated at Unilever sites, with solar power installed at facilities in 18 countries. At Kericho, Unilever’s tea plantation in Kenya, the river that runs through the estate generates hydroelectric power which, when combined with an on-site solar installation, provides more than 70% of the plantation’s electricity needs.
As coal is the biggest source of man-made CO2 emissions, we're completely eliminating it from our energy mix. How we phase it out depends on the alternatives available locally. For example, our Odense site in Denmark moved from coal to biogas, generated at an adjacent wastewater treatment plant. In many countries in Africa and Asia, burning biomass from agricultural waste will be the first choice as a substitute for fossil fuels.