Unilever's Net Zero Journey: 6 Ways
In pursuing enhanced efficiency and reduced emissions within their road transport fleet, Unilever is exploring a range of innovative solutions, such as electric vehicles, biofuels, route optimisation, and smart warehousing.
While logistics and distribution constitute a mere 3% of Unilever's overall greenhouse gas emissions, a substantial 90% of this figure stems from road transportation. Reducing this environmental impact to zero is a top priority for Unilever's logistics team.
The company's journey towards this ambitious goal is founded on two key strategies. The first involves optimising the usage of transport and the distances travelled, while the second centres on transitioning their fleet away from fossil fuels.
Sundarrajan Bhyravan, Director of International Logistics and Decarbonisation, explains, "The first is optimising transport used, and distances travelled. The second is transforming our fleet to non-fossil fuels."
These strategies are actively being implemented through various initiatives:
Heavy-Duty Electric Trucks (HDETs)
Unilever has taken the pioneering step of introducing heavy-duty electric trucks (HDETs) to its fleet, starting in the Netherlands in 2022. Additional HDETs have been incorporated into Unilever's operations in Arabia and Turkey, with the latter's HDETs powered entirely by renewable energy sources. Tugba Serez, Head of Customer Service and Logistics in Turkey anticipates that each HDET will reduce CO2 emissions by an impressive 215 tonnes annually.
Unilever has deployed fleets of commercial electric vans designed for urban ice cream deliveries in Brazil, Turkey, and Mexico. Further pilot programmes are underway in the US, China, Thailand, Chile, and Uruguay. Unilever Arabia, in particular, introduced its first electric 1.5-tonne battery-powered van, offering a range of up to 300 kilometres and reducing CO2 emissions by 250 kilograms per day compared to a similar diesel van.
Transition to Alternative Fuels
While the transition to electric or hydrogen-powered fleets takes time, Unilever's operations in the US, UK, Netherlands, Italy, and Arabia have turned to biofuels, which offer a significant 70% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to conventional fossil fuels. The UK's Port Sunlight factory, for instance, has embraced hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) derived from sustainably used cooking oils, anticipating an 800-tonne reduction in CO2 emissions for the year.
Smart Warehousing and Route Optimisation
Unilever's efforts extend to optimising its vast network of source factories, warehouses, and distributors to reduce the distance goods travel by 21% by 2025. By maximising truck loadability and route optimisation, this approach not only reduces emissions but also proves cost-effective.
Collaborating with partners and adopting new technologies is critical to advancing toward a net-zero emissions goal. Unilever's collaboration with TIP Trailer Services, green tech experts Maxwell and Spark, and transport company Daily Logistics Group (DLG) in the Netherlands exemplifies this. They have replaced diesel refrigeration in trailers with zero-emission battery-electric prototypes, which efficiently maintain low temperatures while running on renewable electricity, potentially saving up to 25 tonnes of CO2 per trailer annually.
Carbon Capture, Hydrogen, and Future Technologies
Unilever is exploring carbon capture technology in North America, aiming to capture carbon emissions from trucks and supply them to the construction industry. In the long term, Unilever acknowledges that electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles will play a pivotal role in the industry, with an initial focus on Western Europe and North America.
The company remains committed to achieving its net-zero target by 2039 and continues to collaborate with governments and partners to drive green logistics as the new standard.
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