An inspiration to other businesses who want to actively do good rather than just ‘not do bad’, Unilever has created an impressive Sustainable Living Plan to ensure it takes responsibility across its total value chain. From farm to fork, the plan addresses external issues such as climate change, food security, deforestation and sanitation. This is for the greater good – but also for a greater impact on its profits. Refreshingly, CEO of Unilever Paul Polman says there are limited downsides from simply doing the right thing.
‘The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is a more than a business model – I see it as a philosophy and a way of life’, says Polman. ‘Decoupling growth from environmental impact and increasing overall social impact is a must. We need to operate all businesses with a positive footprint otherwise why would we allow them to be around?’
By embedding the plan into the company, Unilever in turn reaches 2.5 billion consumers every day. ‘You might be able to outsource some activities but you cannot outsource your responsibilities. The good thing is that it attracts talent, builds reputation, mitigates risk, reduces costs – and above all, provides enormous opportunities for growth’.
Ambitious targets for Unilever include to become carbon positive by 2030, to ensure all their plastic packaging is fully recyclable or compostable by 2025, to send zero waste to landfill across their factory network, to create five million additional jobs in their value chain, to promote human rights and to ensure gender equality. ‘We also try to be very mindful about how we travel and where we stay,’ adds Paul.
It’s an inspiration to others as to how to bring purpose squarely back in the centre of business. ‘After all’, says Paul, ‘if a business cannot explain what it does to positively address the world's challenges, why should we as citizens allow that business to exist in the first place?’
Read our interview with Unilever CEO Paul Polman or find out more about the plan here.