Unilever opens new, ‘green’ SA factory

12 December 2011

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies officially opened consumer goods giant Unilever’s new, environmentally friendly savoury foods factory outside Durban last week, calling the investment a sign of confidence in South Africa’s manufacturing capability.

The R670-million plant, located at Riverhorse Valley and named Indonsa – meaning “morning star” in Zulu – produces products sold under the Aromat, Knorr, Knorrox, Rajah and Robertson’s brands. It is in start-up phase and will be in full production by the first quarter of next year.

Indonsa is a global first for the group in terms of advancing its focus on advanced sustainable “green” technology. It is Unilever’s second-largest plant out of 250 worldwide, and is the company’s fifth plant in South Africa.

The plant has been designed to produce 65 000 tonnes of product per year and has an expansion capability of up to 100 000 tonnes – which would make it Unilever’s largest dry foods plant worldwide.

The 22 000 square metre factory is equivalent to three soccer fields and is situated on 78 000 square metres of land.

Confidence in South Africa

Davies said the investment was a boost for manufacturing, production and building local capacity for such products, adding that the investment was in line with the objectives and priorities of South Africa’s Industrial Policy Action Plan.

“Such investments confirm that South Africa is indeed a preferred destination for investment,” he said, adding that it also demonstrated the confidence in South Africa’s manufacturing capability.

“Our National Industrial Policy Framework has confirmed that the government sees the manufacturing sector continuing to play a pivotal role in ensuring that South Africa achieves higher rates of economic growth that we need.

“Unilever has been a critical part of the process and we look forward to it continuing to play a role in ensuring that South Africa becomes an even more globally competitive manufacturing location, especially through increased investment in modern plant and energy efficiency, as well as skills development.”

Reducing carbon emissions

According to Unilever chief supply chain officer Pier-Luigi Sigismondi, the group aims to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions from manufacturing and logistics globally by over 40% by 2020 from its 1995 baseline, at a rate of almost 5% a year.

“It is imperative for Unilever to respond positively to growing global demand for sustainably sourced products,” Sigismondi said. “We will continuously reduce our impact across the entire lifecycle of our products and intensify the advancement of new technologies such as used here at Indonsa to achieve our global sustainability objectives.”

Carbon reduction is achieved by using energy efficiently controlled zoned lighting throughout the plant, while innovative insulation methods reduce heat loads from the sun to minimise air conditioning requirements.

Super-efficient motors drive mixers and air compressors, reducing energy requirement levels substantially.

Rain falling on the 22 000 square meter roof is channelled into a 1.5-million litre tank, treated and added to recycled water. The application of smart water efficiency technology virtually eliminates municipal supply, enabling the recovery of 70% of all water used in production phases.

Waste energy plant

Other examples of water saving include capturing and treating condensate from air-conditioning, and using it to clean toilets. All process and shower water is recycled via biological and reverse osmosis treatment.

The plant’s solid waste is recycled to levels where nothing goes to landfill. This achieved by using recoverable packaging materials. Product waste will be designated for composting in local gardens that support poor communities, while excess is converted by a waste energy plant and the resultant energy is fed back into the national energy grid.

“The advanced technology in operation at Indonsa sets new global standards in responsible and sustainable dry food production. It embodies our resolve to simultaneously improve the lives of people and to entrench respect for the environment,” said Unilever South Africa chairman Marijn van Tiggelen.

SAinfo reporter

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