For the past decade or so, I've watched with increasing interest as Unilever has gone on a unique and winding journey towards sustainability, evidenced most recently by its 'Sustainable Living Plan'.
My observation of Unilever started when I was in a sustainability role at The Coca–Cola Company and has continued as I have moved further into the world of Sustainable Development and I have always been impressed with how they have embedded sustainability at the heart of their business and seen the competitive advantage (and profit) that it can bring them. And the resources they continue to invest in being a leading Multinational Company in this space.
My most recent direct experience of their commitment came during a project looking for new customers and markets for Fairtrade commodities, when I started digging once more into what Unilever were doing in the Asia–Pacific and was pleasantly surprised to see their sustainability strategy was now beginning to explore how they could have a greater positive impact on the communities that supply the ingredients they use in their products.
Part of this deepening approach has admittedly come about following their purchase of Ben & Jerry's, but I'm anything if a purist when it comes to driving change, and wherever it comes from – whether begged, borrowed or stole – is fine by me, as long as lasting change is the end result.
In Unilever's case, Ben & Jerry's commitment to Fairtrade seems to have accelerated their own goals in the sustainable sourcing space to the point where they are now looking for better and more meaningful ways to have long–lasting partnerships – and therefore positive impacts – with local agricultural communities.
Underpinning their approach is a clear connection to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a growing understanding of the strong role they can play in helping countries achieve the various goals and targets laid out by the SDGs.
Clearly Unilever are far from perfect – no Multinational I have ever researched is – but they are, in my opinion, the best there is from a Sustainable Development perspective, with there underlying drive to earn more money from being more sustainable an absolutely essential component of their success to this point.
Given my underlying view that to make effective sustainable development happen you need to make sure people make a profit, I'm not particularly surprised they're having more and more success with their Sustainable Living Plan as time goes by. I just wish more companies would follow their lead and discover how much more money there is to be made through protecting human society, rather than damaging it.