Unilever CEO Urges Systems-Based Approach to Sustainability


by | Jan 24, 2014

paul-polmanUnilever CEO Paul Polman says a systems-based approach, like the one developed by the Forum for the Future’s Network, is a valuable model that can help business, government and other organizations make a genuine shift towards sustainability.

Polman, who shares his views on sustainability in a column in The Guardian, says the 2 billion people living in extreme poverty and warnings from the IPCC that we have spent more than half the global carbon budget that gives us a less than 66 percent chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees illustrates that the current system is broken.

Polman says collaboration is critical to systems change and notes that all transformational projects share the same characteristic of one or more companies, governments and NGOs working together towards a common aim.

Politics can get in the way of this approach, but Polman says despite this hurdle companies and organizations need to begin working across the value chain to make change.

Unilever is already taking this approach, Polman says, noting the company’s involvement in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development‘s Action 2020 program, the CEO-led, global association’s roadmap for how business can positively influence environmental and social trends.

Polman is part of a nonprofit founded last year, dubbed the B Team, that seeks to help companies develop a new way of doing business that puts “people and planet alongside profit.”

The B Team includes business heavyweights Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz and Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault.

To move toward a more sustainable way of doing business, the B Team says it will address three initial challenges: the future of leadership, the future bottom line and the future of incentives to help firms focus away from short-term gain and instead balance long-term benefits for people and planet.

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