Unilever calls for consumers to join sustainable change movement

Unilever calls for consumers to join sustainable change movement

Unilever CEO says a commitment gap between what governments say and what they deliver on sustainability provides an opportunity for business, NGOs and society to step up to the challenge.

Speaking at a debate in London on mainstreaming sustainability, watched live by more than two thousand people in over 50 countries on The Guardian website, Paul Polman described the current challenging economic situation as a “moment to get a different type of growth” by making sustainability “a part of the business model”.

With two billion consumers worldwide using a Unilever product on any given day, Polman urged consumers to “join the movement” not “stay on the sidelines” because their “small actions can make a big difference.” Combining the efforts of businesses, governments, NGOs and consumers “to work differently together” would be the only way, he said, to help find solutions to the sustainability challenge.

The debate was prompted by recent studies showing that while most people say they are concerned about sustainability issues and want to live sustainable lifestyles[1], there is a gap between good intentions and taking action.

Unilever used the occasion to publish ‘5 Levers for Change’, a set of principles and techniques its marketers use to inspire behaviour change habits, such as more frequent hand washing and brushing teeth twice a day instead of once. “We have been working hard to distil those critical areas of behaviour change insight that we all need to use to engage consumers. We are publishing our approach because we think that there are wider benefits from sharing our work with others.” said Polman.

Also taking part in the debate were Malini Mehra, CEO of India-based NGO Centre for Social Markets, Rainforest Alliance Executive Director Tensie Whelan and David Jones, CEO of advertising agency Havas and co-founder of One Young World.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, announced in November 2010, has three big goals to be achieved by 2020: Helping over 1 billion people take action to improve their health and well-being, halving the environmental footprint involved in making and using its products, and sourcing 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably. Commenting during the debate on how a large proportion of Unilever’s water footprint comes from consumers using water to take showers, Paul Polman issued a challenge to people watching the event to come up with simple ideas to encourage people to take more efficient showers.

[1] The Futures Company 2011 Global Monitor. (Concerned in Asia: 54%; Western Europe 64%; Latin America 73%)

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