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Unilever advances carbon reduction commitment at five UK & Ireland sites

One year after announcing its ambition to become carbon positive by 2030, global consumer goods major Unilever has taken another step on its renewable energy journey, with the signing of a contract to use biomethane at five of its sites in the UK and Ireland.

According to a statement, Unilever UK & Ireland has signed a deal with a renewable energy company GENeco, which means that from 1 January 2017, its offices in Leatherhead (Surrey) and 100 Victoria Embankment (London), and its food and drink factories in Norwich, Trafford Park and Cork (Ireland), will use around 10 GWh of biomethane to power the sites’ heating and significantly reduce carbon emissions from the sites.

Carbon neutral sites

The biomethane – which is fully traceable and certified – is generated by GENeco’s anaerobic digester (AD) in Avonmouth, the UK and uses inedible food waste and sewage as feedstock. With electricity already coming from certified renewable sources, the purchase of a certified supply of bioemethane means that Unilever has become carbon neutral in energy terms at these five sites.

The new contract supports the overarching work that Unilever has already undertaken in cutting its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: since the launch of the Sustainable Living Plan in 2010, the company says it has cut its manufacturing GHG footprint by 39 percent per tonne of production since 2008 – the equivalent of one million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per annum.

In 2015, just as world leaders came together for COP 21, our business committed to making our operations carbon positive by 2030. The ambitious target encouraged us to look carefully at our sites through a fresh, sustainability lens which helped to inspire our landmark agreement with GENeco today. With Biomethane or “green gas” still in its relative infancy compared to other forms of renewable energy, this agreement marks a significant step forward in helping us source 100% renewable energy for five of our UK and Ireland sites. Recognising that this is only the start of our journey, we hope to build on this great foundation and eventually convert waste from our own operations into energy to truly support a circular economy, said Charlotte Carroll, Sustainable Business Director, Unilever UK & Ireland.

Increasing role for biomethane

GENeco has been carbon neutral and zero waste to landfill in its operations since 2013. Biomethane generated at its Bristol site is produced from household food and sewage waste; from here it can be injected into the national gas grid to power thousands of local homes, or used as vehicle fuel.

This deal marks a significant step change in the decarbonisation of UK industry and we are very pleased to be working with Unilever to help in their aims to become carbon positive. We believe that in order for the UK to meet the 2020 targets as defined in the Renewable Energy Directive, there will need to be an increasing role for biomethane in the UK’s heat networks, said Mohammed Saddiq, Managing Director, GENeco.

In late November 2015, Unilever outlined its ambition to become carbon positive, eliminating fossil fuels from its operations and directly supporting the generation of more renewable energy than it consumes. Through the ambition, which is part of the Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever will:

  • Source 100 percent of its total energy across its operations from renewable sources by 2030
  • Source all electricity purchased from the grid from renewable sources by 2020
  • Eliminate coal from its energy mix by 2020
  • Directly support the generation of more renewable energy than the company consumes and make the surplus available to the markets and communities in which it operates

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