As one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, whose products are used by 2.5 billion people around the globe on any given day, Unilever’s logistics network transports its finished goods more than 1.5 billion kilometres every year, from Unilever’s factories to where they are sold. Reducing emissions from transport through better routes, more efficient vehicles or alternative fuels is, thus, a top priority.
This case study is based on the 2017 Sustainable Living Report by Unilever published on the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Disclosure Database that can be found at this link. Through all case studies we aim to demonstrate what CSR/ sustainability reporting done responsibly means. Essentially, it means: a) identifying a company’s most important impacts on the environment, economy and society, and b) measuring, managing and changing.
Unilever’s transport CO2 emissions are equal to its emissions from manufacturing. As a consequence, Unilever’s transport management team focuses on constantly increasing efficiency in the distribution of its finished products. Tweet This! In order to reduce transport emissions Unilever took action to:
- design an efficient logistics network
- switch from road journeys to rail and sea freight
- use alternative fuels
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With this case study you will see:
- Which are the most important impacts (material issues) Unilever has identified;
- How Unilever proceeded with stakeholder engagement, and
- What actions were taken by Unilever to reduce transport emissions
What are the material issues the company has identified?
In its 2017 Sustainable Living Report Unilever identified a range of material issues, such as agricultural sourcing, deforestation, packaging & waste, human rights, nutrition & diets, women’s rights & opportunities. Among these, reducing transport emissions stands out as a key material issue for Unilever.
Stakeholder engagement in accordance with the GRI Standards
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) defines the Principle of Stakeholder Inclusiveness when identifying material issues (or a company’s most important impacts) as follows:
Stakeholders must be consulted in the process of identifying a company’s most important impacts and their reasonable expectations and interests must be taken into account. This is an important cornerstone for CSR / sustainability reporting done responsibly.
Key stakeholder groups Unilever engages with:
How stakeholder engagement was made to identify material issues
To identify and prioritise material topics Unilever carried out a series of interviews with a cross-section of internal and external stakeholders.
In its 2017 Sustainable Living Report Unilever reports that it took the following actions for reducing transport emissions:
- Designing an efficient logistics network
- When using road transport, Unilever plans every journey to find the most efficient route and reduce the number of kilometres travelled, avoiding empty trucks on the road. Unilever also pays attention to how it loads lorries, making sure it uses the maximum space available and/or weight allowed. To achieve this, Unilever standardised pallet sizes and introduced double-decker trailers in some markets. For example, Unilever’s ‘Big Bang’ project in Europe, which focuses on using trucks and pallets efficiently, increased, in 2017, truck load fill rates by 2 per cent, meaning more products transported on every journey and fewer truck journeys. In China, by making changes to the pallet size (adding one extra layer), Unilever increased its load fill by 11 per cent, saving €500,000 and reducing CO2 emissions. In the US, Unilever uses thermal insulated blankets that make it possible to transport some temperature sensitive shipments in normal trailers. These blankets reduce energy use by keeping products at the right temperature without refrigeration, saving an important amount of CO2 compared with traditional temperature-controlled trailers.
- Switching from road journeys to rail and sea freight
- In 2017, Unilever switched to sea and rail freight for 60 per cent of journeys between the UK and its Fauverney distribution centre in France and Bydgoszcz centre in Poland. This reduced CO2 emissions by 45 per cent per journey between France and the UK, and 29 per cent between Poland and the UK. In China, transportation by rail increased, in 2017, to 55 per cent and many road routes were replaced by sea routes.
- Using alternative fuels
- To reduce CO2 emissions from trucks, Unilever is carrying out alternative fuel trials worldwide, including in the US, Europe, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Argentina, China and Russia. In the US, Unilever uses compressed natural gas (CNG) as an alternative to diesel, and is currently running more than 50 trucks in this way. In addition, along with CNG, Unilever is also looking at adopting electric vehicles for its transportation needs.
Which GRI Standards and corresponding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been addressed?
The GRI Standard addressed in this case is:
Disclosure 302-2 Energy consumption outside of the organization corresponds to:
- Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
- Business theme: Energy efficiency, Renewable energy
- Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
- Business theme: Energy efficiency
- Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
- Business theme: Energy efficiency, Transport
- Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
- Business theme: Energy efficiency
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1) This case study is based on published information by Unilever, located at the link below. For the sake of readability, we did not use brackets or ellipses. However, we made sure that the extra or missing words did not change the report’s meaning. If you would like to quote these written sources from the original, please revert to the original on the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Disclosure Database at the link:
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