Can Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan work for everyone? Including China’s green tea drinkers?

Well it’s certainly ambitious and a step beyond the corporate social responsibility agenda espoused by most of the world’s global marketers (some would add polluters).

Here it is:
Two billion times a day, somebody, somewhere, uses a Unilever brand. Our products make small but important differences to the quality of people’s everyday lives.

We have ambitious plans to grow our company, creating jobs and income for all whose livelihoods are linked to our success. But growth at any cost is not viable.

We have to develop new ways of doing business which will increase the social benefits from Unilever’s activities while at the same time reducing our environmental impacts. This is why we have created the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

The Opportunity

Our plan isn’t just the right thing to do for people and the environment. It’s also right for Unilever: the business case for integrating sustainability into our brands is clear.

Our Approach

Our impact goes beyond our factory gates. The sourcing of raw materials and the use of our products by the consumer at home have a far larger footprint. We recognise this and so our plan is designed to reduce our impacts across the whole lifecycle of our products. This full lifecycle approach is both ambitious and, we believe, unique amongst global FMCG companies.

The Plan

The Plan contains over 50 concrete targets that will:
Help more than one billion people improve their health and well-being
Halve the environmental impact of our products
Source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably

Unilever CEO Paul Polman has gone further, saying that each of the company’s major brands has to have a social mission, to make life better for consumers in some way.

He also says this is just as relevant for emerging markets as affluent westerners with a conscience, pointing out that people in these markets are at the sharp end of climate change and food shortages. He also says that in ten years or so they will account for 70 per cent of Unilever’s business.

But (there’s always a but) when he talks about Liptons tea coming from sustainable sources he must also be aware that the company’s major effort to market the brand in China (where its share is growing rapidly) presumably means that some Chinese consumers stop drinking healthy green tea in favour of a product that usually is taken with milk.

Thereby putting more pressure on dairy supplies and prices.

There’s no such thing as a free cup of tea…

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.