There are many articulations for successful corporate social responsibility/sustainability, but none more forceful and convincing than that of Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman.
First, Mr. Polman’s context:
“Capitalism needs to evolve … Business simply can’t be a bystander in a system that gives it life in the first place. We have to take responsibility, and that requires more long-term thinking about our business model.”
At the heart of the long-term Unilever Sustainable Living plan — which is increasing the company’s turnover while reducing its environmental impact and increasing positive social impact — is the bold decision to stop full reporting on a quarterly basis “to remove the temptation to work only toward the next set of numbers.”
Unilever is not alone among companies foregoing such short-term reporting. But it has done so with solid business objectives and implementation: focusing on attracting “the right long-term shareholders” (such as pension funds); motivating employees “proud to work on something where they actually make a difference in life”; moving to sustainable sourcing; and addressing consumers by helping to establish the Consumer Goods Forum (representing $3 trillion in retail sales).
These and other long-term commitments are generating progress on issues such as smallhold farming, food security and deforestation.
And the Unilever business model is visionary.
“In the coming 15 years”, Mr. Polman contends, “we need to align on the new [United Nations] Millennium Development goals. We have a unique opportunity to create a world that can eradicate poverty in a more sustainable and equitable way. That is very motivational. Business needs to be part of it.”