IAA World Congress: Paul Polman spoke about sustainable development goals

The former CEO of Unilever, Polman, broke down the basic issues that bother the whole economy be it the consumers or the corporate at the IAA World Congress in Kochi

Paul Polman

Sustainable development is the buzz word of the modern day economy and Paul Polman, President of the ICC, Chairman of the B-Team and Vice-Chair of the UN Global Compact, believes growth alone cannot drive an economy unless it is sustainable for all. 

Speaking at the inaugural session of the second day of International Advertisement Association World Congress in Kochi, the former CEO of Unilever, Polman, broke down the basic issues that bother the whole economy be it the consumers or the corporate. 

According to Polman the global economy in the present times is looking at short terms goals only and leading themselves to an unstable and unsustainable future.

“The statistics requires us to do things quite differently than how we are currently doing them. I am reminded of Charles Dickens’s book written in 1859 – ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ where he wrote about London and Paris. He writes it was the spring of hopes and winter of despair and I think that summarises pretty well where we are in now. It defines the global citizens and global economy and where we are as an industry. Over the last 5 decades the population has tripled GDP has grown one and ten forth. We have lifted more people from poverty than any time in human history and even in India the number of poor people has reduced significantly in the last ten years by 30-40 per cent. We created enormous wealth for people and we should be proud of that. More people are educated and less people are hungry, people live longer and healthier lives and in fact if you want to be more this is the best time to be more but as they say it is also the worst of times. It is good that the poor are becoming less poor but the system that we are using to achieve these numbers are not sustainable,” said Polman.

Elaborating on what is going wrong in the scheme of things Polaman said, “We are causing more harm to the environment in this age of consumerism than we have done in a million years. What gives us the right to do so? Hubert Reeves said man is the most incredible species he worships and invisible god and destroys the visible nature not realising that the visible nature is the invisible god he worships in the first place. Issues of climate change and income disparity are probably the biggest issues we are facing in the world today. If you look at some statistics last year deforestation was up 51 per cent, animals are dying at an alarming rate and 8 million people is said to die pre-maturely for air pollution.”

According to Polman the consumer in the present day economy doesn’t trust brands for what they say, they trust them for what they do. “But as brands do we put the interest of our children and their children above our greed? We need to be responsible in the way we behave as brands?” said Polman.

CSR is not enough Polman said to show responsibility. “We need to move our companies from CSR to make RSC which is responsible social corporate. That is how we can make a difference,” he said.

Four big challenges corporate around the world face and need to address are the need to de-carbonise the global economy, move business models to one that has long term purpose, moving to a circular economy and be sure that companies have an inclusive economy and growth.

“It’s the time for business to step up and take a little more responsibility. We cannot run the business if we do not take up responsibility,” Polman said.

Citing examples of some of Unilever’s brands like their soap Lifebuoy that advocates hand washing as a healthy habit, Dove that promotes women and their need to stick to natural product, Domex that promotes domestic cleanliness Polman said, “All of our brands that have a purpose are growing faster and are more profitable.”

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