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“Smaller Footprint, Giant Task” explains business sustainability in the real world

Unilever CEO Paul Polman, “a roving sustainability evangelist” personifies the fast-spreading, challenging sustainable development/corporate social responsibility business model.

In its Sunday business section lead report, The New York Times presents an unusually extensive appreciation of why and how companies around the world are integrating traditional business strategies with the sustainability concept — meeting the needs of today while preserving natural resources for tomorrow.

The Times describes how, Under Mr.Polman’s leadership, “not only does the Unilever sustainable living plan pledge to cut the company’s environmental impact in half by 2020, it also vows to improve the health of one billion people and enhance livelihoods for millions while doubling Unilever’s sales.”

All this by creatively adapting and implementing the company’s core competencies.

Of course, Unilever is by no means alone in advancing the sustainability business model. As a sampling, the Times report includes similar, if brief, references to Walmart, PepsiCo and Apple.

If space allowed, it could well have gone much further in documenting the current evolution and growth of  business sustainable development (aka corporate social responsibility) even beyond how it describes Mr. Polman’s plan as “unique in its audacious ambition”.

As one of many indicators of this evolution, consider the United Nations Global Compact, the premier international sustainable development organization. UNGC, with over 8300 member companies and some 4000 additional government, NGO and academic participants, has many substantive programs as it “works with business to transform our world, aiming to create a sustainable and inclusive global economy that delivers lasting benefits to all people, communities and markets.” UNGC will play a central role in the development and implementation of the UN’s recently announced 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

And many companies are moving toward “integrated reporting”, coalescing the costs and financial benefits of their sustainability commitments with traditional financial reporting. This progress is being coordinated by the International Integrated Reporting Council.

Hopefully, “Smaller Footprint. Giant Task” is the harbinger of much more in-depth top media attention to how business is responding to society’s macro challenges.