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Going the distance

12 April 2024

Unilever is going the distance in its drive towards net zero, explains Sundarrajan Bhyravan and this is evident with a raft of initiatives.

LOGISTICS AND distribution only account for 3% of Unilever’s total greenhouse gas emissions, but 90% of that figure comes from road transportation. For the logistics team, driving that figure down to 0% is a priority.

That journey is based on two strategies. The first is optimising transport used, and distances travelled. The second is transforming our fleet to non-fossil fuels.
In 2022, Unilever was one of the first companies to add a heavy-duty electric truck (HDET) to its fleet in the Netherlands. This year, Unilever Arabia added one and Turkey added three. Turkey’s HDETs are used for deliveries between its Tuzla factory and Gebze warehouse. Each truck is powered by 100% renewable energy. We expect each HDET to reduce CO2 emissions by 215 tonnes a year. Brazil, Turkey and Mexico already have fleets of commercial electric vans specifically designed for urban ice cream deliveries. Additional pilots are being carried out in the US, China, Thailand, Chile and Uruguay. In May, Unilever Arabia added its first electric 1.5-tonne battery-powered van with a range of up to 300 kilometres. Compared to a similar diesel van, it reduces CO2 emissions by 250 kilograms a day. The vans offer end-to-end green transportation, and we will use electricity from solar panels on our warehouses charge them.


Transitioning our fleets to electric or hydrogen takes time. In the interim, fleets in the US, UK, Netherlands, Italy and Arabia are using biofuels which offer a 70% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to fossil fuels. In the UK, 40% of our Port Sunlight factory’s fleet is fuelled by hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), refined from sustainably sourced used cooking oils. As Myles Marjason-Smyth, ambient transport manager, UK & Ireland, says: “HVO produces significantly lower nitrogen oxide and soot, it’s sulphur-free and can be used in any modern diesel engine. We’re forecasting it will deliver a reduction of 800 tonnes of CO2 this year.”

Smart warehousing

Hindustan Unilever’s logistics digitisation and sustainability manager, Sayali Patil, is part of a team managing 100+ source factories, 28 warehouses and 15,000+ distributors. By optimising this network, they aim to reduce the kilometres goods travel by 21% by 2025.
“We’re also working to make each journey more efficient by maximising the weight and volume of every truck that leaves the premises. It’s cost-effective, because we use fewer trucks, and it reduces GHG emissions too,” she says.

Cross-sector collaborations

Partnering to pioneer new technology not only speeds progress towards net zero, it also provides both parties with valuable learnings. In the Netherlands, Unilever partnered with TIP Trailer Services, green tech experts Maxwell and Spark, and transport company Daily Logistics Group (DLG) to replace diesel refrigeration in four trailers with zero-emission battery-electric prototypes. The system keeps freight chilled at temperatures down to -25°C – and runs on renewable electricity, with the potential to save up to 25 tonnes of CO2 per trailer per year. There is consensus that in the long term, electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles are going to be the key technologies in the industry.

Sundarrajan Bhyravan, director of international logistics and decarbonisation, Unilever