With 50% Faster Growth, Unilever Sees ROI of Sustainable Brands

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Unilever Sustainable Brands

Unilever is delivering on its sustainability promises set forth in 2010 in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) roadmap for accelerating growth while reducing environmental footprint and increasing positive social impact.

In 2016, the company’s portfolio of ‘sustainable living brands’—defined by their contribution to one or more of the USLP targets—delivered over 60% of growth year-on-year and grew more than 50% faster than the rest of the company’s brands.

That portfolio now includes 18 sustainable living brands and four of them—Ben & Jerry’s, Hellman’s, Dove and Lifebuoy—are leading the charge while achieving “above average growth.” New acquisitions such as Sir Kensington’s premium condiments brand contribute to that portfolio.

On the social impact front, Unilever to date has helped around 920,000 women worldwide to access initiatives promoting safety, developing skills and expanding opportunities through their supply chain. By the end of 2016, Unilever had helped 538 million people improve their health and hygiene, and around 650,000 smallholder farmers have accessed initiatives improving agricultural practices and incomes.

Environmentally, the company has reduced CO2 from energy by 43%, water abstraction by 37% and total waste disposed of by 96% per ton of production in manufacturing operations since 2008.

Since 2010, Unilever’s water impact has been cut by nearly 7%, while the waste associated with consumer disposal of its products has dropped by around 28%. Looking forward, the company pledged this year to ensuring all plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

“There is no doubt that the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is making us more competitive by helping us to build our brands and spur innovation, strengthen our supply chain and reduce our risks, lower our costs, and build trust in our business,” Unilever CEO Paul Polman commented. “It is helping Unilever to serve society and our many consumers, and in doing so, create value for shareholders.”

Unilever commissioned research about consumers’ purchasing patterns and behavior and found that 33% already buy products with sustainability in mind, and the 21% who currently do not, are ready to make the change.

Unilever Sustainability

“It’s important for brands to identify which sustainability efforts best resonate with their consumer base, and why,” as FoodDive notes. “This level of understanding can greatly benefit food and beverage brands, as evidenced by Unilever’s strong sales. Unilever’s growth hasn’t been impacted by its rejection of Kraft Heinz, which attempted to take over the company earlier this year, but shareholders are pressuring it to improve efficiencies and sustainability efforts could be one way to do that.”

Unilever Sustainable Living Plan has three major goals:
1. By 2020 we will help more than 1 billion people take action to improve their health and well-being.
2. By 2030 our goal is to 1/2 the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products as we grow our business.
3. By 2020 we will enhance the livelihoods of millions of people as we grow our business.

Proving the value of sustainable brands, nine of its Sustainable Living Brands are featured in the new Kantar Worldpanel #MostChosenBrands FMCG brand report.

The next Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Awards challenge is now open and soliciting ideas for answers to sustainability issues for anyone wanting to be a part of the solution instead of the problem.

“‘Brands with purpose,’ that great clarion call we have all been deafened by, finally has a great example in Unilever,” as Mediapost notes. “Not only is it just a plain simple good thing to do in its own right, but building sustainable brands is good for the bottom line too.”

But Hargrave continues, “brand meaning clearly doesn’t have to be about sustainability or CSR. Just look at who else is thriving and we can probably boil it down to brand meaning equating to the brand meeting a customer need better than its rivals. It could be allowing them to buy great products that are better for the environment, or getting a package deliver tomorrow or a place where all your friends share their wonderful lives in full color. We call it brand meaning. I’m wondering whether it should be ‘brand meeting’ —  meaning meeting expectations, meeting budgetary constraints, meeting time restrictions?”

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