Our climate-friendly hydrocarbon (HC) freezers have a negligible global warming potential compared to those that contain hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). They are also around 10% more energy efficient.
In addition to buying freezers with climate-friendly refrigerants, we have been pioneering new models using state-of-the art components to increase their energy efficiency. Over 2010-12 we purchased around 290,000 of these more energy-efficient freezers.
We estimate that the energy efficiency of the freezers we bought in 2012 avoided around 40,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions compared to 2008 models.
What is a climate-friendly refrigerant?
Refrigerants traditionally used in cabinets and other storage facilities have a much higher global warming potential (GWP) than carbon dioxide. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have GWP ranges from 1,200 to 8,500 whereas CO2 has, by definition, a GWP of one.
Finding environmentally friendly alternatives to refrigerants is important in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We have committed to using refrigerants which have a GWP of less than three, such as hydrocarbons (HC), CO2, ammonia, water and air, which can all be used as cooling agents in refrigerators and freezers. Almost all our production facilities and cold stores already use ammonia in their refrigeration systems. Ammonia has the added benefit of being very energy-efficient for large-scale use.
Our primary focus is our point-of-sale ice cream freezer cabinets.
Since 2004 we have been replacing these with climate-friendly alternatives, using an HC refrigerant which is also about 10% more energy-efficient. For technical and legislative reasons, we cannot replace all our cabinets with HC technology. Advocacy is an important part of influencing changes in technology. We are working with stakeholders, such as governments and NGOs, to bring about regulatory change so that new, greener technologies can be introduced.
See Downloads for more information on the development of ice cream cabinets using HC refrigerants.
Climate-friendly freezers grow sales and cut costs
Our greener freezers have helped us win new contracts with customers.
In Denmark our greener freezers have helped us win new business. We agreed new partnerships with Fakta discount stores in 2009 and the OK Plus petrol chain in 2011, which are part of the retailer COOP. Prior to this Unilever had very little business with either company. A key factor was our ability to demonstrate that our climate-friendly freezers generate lower CO2 emissions and use less energy, delivering better energy efficiency for our customers. We have achieved excellent growth with both each year since then.
In 2013 we entered into a multi-million euro partnership with multinational catering and retail company Autogrill for Out of Home. Autogrill was keen to use the most environmentally friendly technologies because they will help it achieve its own sustainability targets, and will also reduce energy costs.
A key factor in agreeing this contract was Unilever’s leadership in energy-efficient freezers. We have agreed to replace a significant number of Autogrill’s existing cabinets with more energy-efficient models in Spain, Italy, Germany and Switzerland over the next three years.
The partnership is expected to deliver excellent growth for Unilever and Autogrill over the next two years as well as reduce CO2, as less energy will be used to run the new freezers.
Advancing the case for change
In the United States, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations had prevented us from using climate-friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants in previous years. The introduction of new refrigerants is highly regulated, requiring formal application through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) programme. Working with Greenpeace, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and others, we lobbied the EPA to convince them that there are no safety issues.
Ben & Jerry’s made a SNAP application for the use of the HC climate-friendly refrigerant in its ice cream cabinets in 2008. At the end of 2011 the EPA gave approval for the use of hydrocarbon gas as an alternative to current refrigerants. Not only has this ruling paved the way for the introduction of climate-friendly refrigeration for our own use, but it will also enable other companies to take advantage of the significant greenhouse gas savings such cabinets offer.
In 2012, we began purchasing HC freezers for the US market, and put the first 840 HC freezers into use. We plan to phase in HC freezers across 95% of the US fleet in future years.
We are driving an industry commitment to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 2015 through our participation in the Consumer Goods Forum and as the chair of Refrigerants, Naturally!
Unilever is a founder member of a multi-stakeholder collaboration known as Refrigerants, Naturally! This is a multi-stakeholder group established in 2004 and is supported by Greenpeace and UNEP. It aims to promote a rapid shift away from the use of hydrofluorocarbons towards natural refrigerants such as ammonia, carbon dioxide and climate-friendly hydrocarbons for refrigerated point-of-sale equipment such as ice cream freezers and vending machines.
At the end of 2010, Unilever took over as chair of Refrigerants, Naturally!
In March 2011, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University announced Refrigerants, Naturally! as the recipient of the prestigious 2011 Roy Family Environmental Award for its work on persistent fluorinated gases. The Roy Family Award celebrates an outstanding public–private partnership project that enhances environmental quality through the use of novel and creative approaches.
The Consumer Goods Forum
The Consumer Goods Forum is a network of consumer goods manufacturers and retailers from around the globe. It comprises more than 400 retailers, manufacturers and service providers spanning 70 countries.
Unilever worked with the Coca-Cola Company and others to convene a refrigeration summit in Chicago in October 2010. Leading manufacturers and retailers gathered with suppliers, experts and NGOs to explore the issue of sustainable refrigeration. Participants shared knowledge about the barriers that are preventing the roll-out of natural refrigerants in some countries. The summit resulted in a broad consensus that natural refrigerants are essential for a sustainable future for refrigeration equipment.
At the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010, Unilever worked with Tesco as co-chair of the team charged with delivering the deforestation and refrigeration pledges of the Consumer Goods Forum. Participating companies agreed to begin phasing out HFC refrigerants from 2015 and to replace them with non-HFC refrigerants. See the consumer goods industry press release in Downloads for more.
The Forum is working to achieve both goals using a combination of individual company initiatives and working in partnership with NGOs. The Forum also pledged to work to overcome the barriers to the wide-scale adoption of more climate-friendly refrigerants and will use its collective influence to encourage suppliers to develop natural refrigerant technologies that are able to meet the growing demand for refrigeration and air conditioning worldwide.
Both the refrigeration and deforestation initiatives focus on aspects of the consumer goods sector with the greatest impact and opportunity to drive effective climate solutions. These are both highly significant. The combined influence and reach of the organisations involved means that there is huge potential to change behaviour.
We have invested in and continue to investigate, develop and test potential new technologies such as magneto-caloric refrigeration concepts, where ice cream is kept cold by using magnetic fields, and solar-powered mobile cabinets for selling ice cream.
Although promising results have been achieved, these novel technologies are still far from mainstream use.
See Downloads for more details on these innovative technologies.