Unilever has not got all the answers to the world’s social and environmental problems, nor can it save it on its own. According to Geoff there needs to be a completely different mind-set round collaboration with governments, civil society, competitors and social entrepreneurs.
However, during this talk Geoff gives us statistics to show exactly how big Unilever is. In essence, they are big enough to make an impact. But what are some of the challenges they, and all of the rest of us, are facing?
- Population growth
- Rising commodity prices
- Growing food is becoming more difficult
- Energy is becoming in shorter supply
The world is facing environmental and social challenges but not each one individually. Geoff refers to it as “Systems Challenges” and warns the system will grind to a halt. We are already experiencing this, for example the extreme weather many parts of the world have experienced recently and the growth in obesity and malnutrition.
Unilever’s response to these systems challenges has been to be hugely ambitious. They have put purpose right at the centre of their business. Their purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace in people’s homes. They want to “do well by being good”. They no longer have a Corporate & Social Responsibility Department – it lives within the whole company.
Geoff cannot tell people to stop consuming but Unilever can ensure they have products and services that either have a positive environmental or social impact. They want to become a company who doesn’t market to consumers but actually matters to people.
This may sound philanthropic but it is not. The motivation behind this total change in how they do things is that they want to double the size of their company by 2020. They believe the way to achieve this is to radically reduce their environmental footprint and enhance their social impact therefore make sustainable living commonplace.
Four years in and the company is showing progress in business terms towards its goals however Geoff admits the biggest challenge they still face is reducing their environmental impact due to greenhouse gas and water.
Geoff finishes his talk on a personal note with a couple quotes that mean a lot to him. I’ll not ruin it here, you’ll have to watch instead!
Click on the link to view more videos from Geoff McDonald.
No matter who you are, or where in the world you are, the chances are that Unilever’s products are a familiar part of your daily routine. They create, market and distribute the products that people choose to feed their families and keep themselves and their homes clean and fresh. They are one of the world’s most successful consumer goods companies. In fact, 150 million times a day, someone somewhere chooses a Unilever product.
Focusing on performance and productivity, they encourage their people to develop new ideas and put fresh approaches into practice. Hand in hand with this is a strong sense of responsibility to the communities they serve. They don’t only measure success in financial terms; how they achieve results is important too. They work hard to conduct their business with integrity – respecting their employees, their consumers and the environment.