Going the distance: six ways we’re driving towards net zero
Discover the electric vehicles, biofuels, route optimisation and smart warehousing innovations that are helping drive efficiencies and cut emissions in our road transport fleet.
Logistics and distribution may 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,” says Sundarrajan Bhyravan, Director of International Logistics and Decarbonisation.
Here’s how they’re being put into action:
Heavy-Duty Electric Trucks (HDETs)
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,” says Unilever’s Head of Customer Service and Logistics in Turkey, Tugba Serez.
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 van offers end-to-end green transportation, even the electricity we charge it with is generated from solar panels on our warehouse,” says Diana Ali, Logistics Excellence Manager, Arabia, North Africa, Levant and Iraq.
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.
“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,” says Myles Marjason-Smyth, Ambient Transport Manager, UK & Ireland.
Smart warehousing, route optimisation and truck loadability
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.
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.
“The trailers have proved to be reliable,” says Logistics Specialist Jim van Veen. “In H1 2024 our electric vehicle trailer fleet will be scaled up to 60% of the Benelux fleet, by H2 this will be 75%.”
Carbon capture, hydrogen and beyond
In North America, we’re looking at carbon capture technology that stores carbon emitted from trucks and sells it on to the construction industry.
There’s also consensus that in the long term, electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles are going to be the key technologies in the industry, acknowledges Sustainability Logistics Manager Laura Realpe. “We expect Western Europe and North America to be the first adopters at scale,” she says.
“In the meantime, we’re making good progress in the roll-out of electric vehicles,” Laura adds. “The journey ahead won’t be without challenges, but we’re committed to meeting our target of net zero by 2039. And we’ll continue to work with governments and partners to drive tech and infrastructure to make green logistics the new normal.”