Paul Polman has a lengthy and impressive history when it comes pushing the boundaries on sustainability strategy at a major global corporation.
As Unilever prepares for his retirement as their CEO at the end of 2018, we wanted to share his recent address from the CECP CEO Investor Forum and look at some of the remarkable changes he helped implement with his focus on sustainable efforts and embracing “long-termism” in the business world.
When Polman became the CEO of Unilever in 2009, he was committed to the notion that business has to be a force for good. However he knew that that wasn’t just going to happen without strong strategic leadership, demonstrating possible profitability alongside sustainable efforts, and ability to push back when required.
His team developed and introduced the Sustainable Living Plan early in his time with the company. This plan aimed to allow Unilever to grow while reducing their environmental footprint. Unprecedented at the time, the plan included significant changes, such as having 100% of agricultural raw materials be sustainable by 2020, developing a framework for fair pay, and investing heavily in hygiene promotion in developing markets.
Unilever became one of the classics in sustainability case studies – proving that profitability and sustainability can thrive with the right set of goals and directives.
As Unilever’s success grew, Polman has worked to promote sustainability and long-termism outside of Unilever as well. He has served as the chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and currently sits on the board of directors of the Consumer Goods Forum, leading its sustainability efforts. He is a member of board of the UN Global Compact and has also served as one of the 27 members of the UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
The recipient of numerous awards for his leadership and efforts in the area of sustainable development, we can only hope Polman will continue being committed to promoting and developing sustainable efforts around the world in the new year. Thank you, Mr. Polman, for being a standard bearer for strategic sustainability throughout your accomplished career.