Sustainability: the new business standard

Businesses are both influential contributors and solvers of climate change. Their products will be affected by the global effects of climate change. This is why sustainable business practices are so important. Sustainable practices also influence the buying habits of consumers. According to a study performed by Unilever, a third of consumers are choosing to purchase brands that are sustainable.  Interestingly, developing world consumers are more interested in sustainable brands than those in developed countries.

The term sustainability is a broad term but it basically means operating in a way that doesn’t harm future generations. Some ways that businesses act sustainably is by supporting local small businesses, providing education and making products that are safe for the environment.

In July, Catherine McVitty, Unilever’s Specialist in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, visited a Lazaridis MBA class (BU615– Environmental Management) to discuss the sustainable living plan that Unilever has created. As the World’s most purposeful brand according to the Fit for Purpose index, Unilever is a great company to learn about sustainable practices from. The goals of this plan are to improve health and well-being, reduce environmental impact by half and enhance the livelihood of millions.

Here are some of the topics of interest that were discussed:

Sustainable Living Brands

Sustainable living brands are growing 50% more than other brands, driving Unilever’s growth. What makes a brand a sustainable living brand is that sustainability is both its purpose and integrated into the product. Dove, Lipton and Hellmann’s are just some of Unilever’s top performing sustainable living brands.

Future Proofing

Future proofing is the process of adapting current business practices to last longer by being sustainable.  McVitty explained that the benefit of future proofing is reducing volatility in the business and therefore risk. Unilever’s practices of using renewable energy and sustainable agriculture are some ways that the company is future-proofing.

Sustainable Sourcing

Unilever’s sustainable sourcing practices involve engaging women, micro farmers, and entrepreneurs in developing countries. This practice again reduces the risk in their raw material supply chains and improves the quality of products. They educate their producers in other countries about sustainable practices and pay a premium for complying with their codes of conduct.

Carbon Footprint

Unilever’s carbon footprint consists of emissions from raw materials, manufacturing processes, transportation and consumer use, including whether or not they recycle it after use. According to McVitty, more than 60% of Unilever’s carbon footprint is out of their control due to consumer use and disposal. One of the ways to combat this is through consumer awareness. Unilever tries to make their products using materials that consumers know are recyclable and tries to bring awareness about the sustainable practices used. However, the company is very aware in their advertising to avoid greenwashing, the practice of misleading consumers about how eco-friendly the product is.

To learn more about Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, click here.