Design & Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Environment

Why Unilever + Sustainable Living Makes Sense


Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#MUNIonThis: Why is a multinational corporation like Unilever – involved in fast-moving consumer goods, with products using synthetic ingredients or chemicals and large amounts of plastic and foil sachet packaging – one of the proponents of an award-giving initiative dubbed as Unilever Sustainable Living’s Young Entrepreneurs Awards?

When Terri Jayme-Mora, country manager of Ashoka Philippines, the Philippine chapter of the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, got in touch with me about their partnership with Unilever for it, I thought perhaps it was a sinful industry’s way of doing penance for their wrongdoings on the planet; a CSR initiative to feel less guilty about their environmental impact.

However, if there’s something I’ve also learned from Pat Gallardo-Dwyer, former NGO worker and now Global Director for Sustainability of Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, it’s that large scale change happens by working with these large corporations – who do have a considerably bigger impact on the environment than the smaller players. It’s about being open to working with them to create systemic change.

Unilever Sustainable Living Plan

So I did a little further digging on Unilever and their Sustainable Living Plan, which was launched in 2010 as their blueprint for sustainable growth. This is something they came up with upon realizing that to grow as a company, it is necessary to reduce their environmental footprint while increasing their positive social impact.

Here are some goals I found particularly interesting:

  • Halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2020.*
  • Halve the waste associated with the disposal of our products by 2020.*
  • Source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020.

* Environmental targets are expressed on a ‘per consumer use’ basis or a single use portion or serving of a product.

[See where they are in their goals on nutrition, greenhouse gases, waste and packaging, and sustainable sourcing here.]

All these are some admirable (and rather ambitious) goals set by Unilever.

However, I’m not about to go out there and start buying Unilever products myself just because of this, but I do know that a large percentage of the population buys their products on a regular basis, and I won’t be able to change the buying behavior of millions overnight.

And though many of their products today still have a large environmental footprint, I am glad that they are taking great steps to making their business more sustainable in the long run, and encouraging other businesses to do the same.

As conscious consumers, we can encourage this behavior from companies by also checking in to see that their living up to their promises / claims.

Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards

After finding out about Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, it made a lot more sense to me that they are among the proponents of the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards, together with Ashoka Changemakers, and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).

Being indeed an industry that causes a lot of environmental consequences, it is only right that they help in supporting those that provide solutions.

For the second year running, the awards ask today’s young movers and shakers:

“What are you doing to help build a sustainable future?”

Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards

Recognition will be given to applicants who have already been working on scalable and sustainable products, services or applications that reduce environmental impacts, improve health and well-being or enhance livelihoods through changes in practices or behaviours.

The seven chosen entrepreneurs will take part in an online development programme and then participate in a two-day accelerator workshop at Cambridge University in January 2015, and access to leading sustainability experts and investors.

To enter the awards, visit Ashoka Changemakers or http://www.changemakers.com/sustliving2014.

Given the Filipino heart and creativity, and the ever-increasing aspiration of the country’s young to set up meaningful, socially and environmentally relevant enterprises, I have no doubt that a Filipino deserves a place in the final 7 as well.

Does this negate the negative effects of the industry?

Unilever is an old company (since 1890), and though one might argue that it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that all these damaging practices came about (excessive use of chemicals and non-biodegradable packaging), that’s still decades worth of consumer habit-formation to be undone.

Sure, it’s great that Unilever is spearheading this initiative too, but it should not cease consumers from asking questions and even demanding that the company rethink their supply chain, their processes, their chemical run-off and their waste management.

Ultimately, these large corporations have a lot to learn from smaller manufacturers that have learned to create wholesome products to begin with. And more importantly, we have more choices available to us as well, so I believe consumers have the power to influence how companies create products too, when we create a demand for more environmentally mindful products.

JEN HORN (@nomadmanager) is a wanderer, writer, and designer out to create a culture of caring for one’s self, one’s community, and the planet as MUNI’s Chief Collaborator. She is also a lover of handwoven textiles, and aims to keep weaving traditions alive through the use of Philippine textiles in modern fashion with her side project Tala Luna.

5 Comments

  • Well, this was disappointing.

    This article felt more like an advertisement for the Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Awards than something that would help us understand how Unilever + Sustainable Living “makes a lot of sense.”

    I was completely with you in the beginning when you were questioning the intentions of Unilever and I was also willing to consider that bit about big corporations being the best way to create large scale change. I was excited to read maybe an unbiased analysis of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan following that build up. You know, a good critical piece that would tell us if this was all just trendy greenwashing or if it was a sincere effort. Something that would tell us how to bridge that huge gap in making ethical decisions while supporting Unilever.

    But what followed was nothing at all what I expected. You linked the plans to us, yes, but nothing else that would incite critical thinking followed. It was disappointing and I honestly felt the hesitation in the writer’s voice as well in the succeeding paragraphs.

    What Muni is trying to do is cool, but I think that if you really want to help folks make ethical everyday decisions, articles like these need to be labeled as exactly what they are: ads. Not attempts to explain how projects like these by big bad companies like Unilever are or aren’t truly ethical or sustainable.

    Will continue to follow Muni though. I just hope that this is a one-off thing. 🙂

    Like

    • Hey Nicky,

      I appreciate your honest feedback and you taking the time to write down your thoughts. 🙂

      I really did have some trepidation in first, going to meet the Unilever folks, and second, writing this piece to promote the sustainability awards, which overall I feel is a good initiative nonetheless. However, I do acknowledge that the piece may have gotten lazy in the end, and your comment has encouraged me to consider revising my title, and my tone / voice in 2nd and 3rd sections, at least with it coming across as an ad.

      I do wish more Filipinos would send in their solutions, and while I question greenwashing, I would say that I would most likely be in favor of any company opting to devote a portion of their finances to supporting more sustainable solutions. This is not to say I would go out and start buying Unilever products myself, but I do appreciate their efforts at making things more sustainable.

      Again, I really really appreciate your comment and would love to read more of your thoughts in a future contribution to the site. 🙂 We really need more people questioning things and bothering to dig deeper too. Hope to meet you at a future MUNI event! Perhaps the upcoming one on August 9? 🙂

      Like

      • I’ve actually edited the article a little bit, and added a completely new section in the end. Your comment is very valid, and I really do appreciate every bit. It has definitely encouraged me to rethink my writing more, knowing that you’ve read it and were disappointed. I need for my writing to be challenged / questioned because it makes me complacent when it’s not called to question. So thank you. 🙂

        Like

  • Ah. I see that the URL indicates that this is indeed about the awards and not really what I expected when I saw the title. Okay, I guess that’s my bad for reading too much into it? Not all that sure. 😀 Anyway, I maintain everything I said in the previous comment. Huge props to what Muni is trying to do, maybe just not this article. 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s