Mktg needs to take the lead in building sustainable businesses: Paul Polman

Change needs to come from brands as brands have bond, trust & potential for social mission. Every company is as strong as its weakest brand, says the Global CEO of Unilever

e4m by Maneka Tanwani
Published: Oct 31, 2013 8:06 AM  | 4 min read
Mktg needs to take the lead in building sustainable businesses: Paul Polman

The European debt crisis and the Syrian tragedy are products of today’s volatile world. These issues of global magnitude are far from being resolved because of the short-term views our politicians. “It took 17 days for the regime in Egypt to fall, it will take nano seconds for that to happen in a company,” noted Paul Polman, Global CEO, Unilever, talking about building responsible sustainable business models in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, during ISA’s Global CEO Conference, which took place in Mumbai yesterday.

We are struggling on a geo-political, economic and sustainable level, he added.

End of the era of abundance
We currently live in 1.5 times our planet (using that many resources). If all of us live like the Americans, we will need 4-5 planets. Considering we have only one planet with limited resources, we need to make drastic changes, he said.

The trust in political systems is low and trust in business is equally low.

What we need is more transparency as today’s consumers come to know everything. One cannot build trust without transparency.

Polman said, “Transparency builds trust and trust is necessary for prosperity.”He further said, “More than transparency, we need to become solution providers.”

Stating that we all need to work towards solving larger societal problems, he shared that even today, a billion people go hungry every day. How many businesses can succeed in a society that fails? – was a question he raised.

The top one billion people in the world use 70 per cent of our resources. The bottom one billion use 1 per cent. This is not a system of equilibrium – for the society or business. You cannot afford any more to have a system of over-consumerism, he added.

“We need to find a solution in the next 50 years,” urged Polman.

Unilever’s sustainability drive
Polman spoke about Unilever’s much talked about sustainability initiative and the fact that the company takes responsibility of its entire value chain – from farm to form. He said that it is critical as almost two billion people use Unilever’s products every day.

He further said that the objectives set by the company for sustainability are so big that Unilever cannot do it alone. He then urged the audience to join hands to work towards a common goal.

Consumer in charge
In today’s inter-connected world, the consumer is in charge. And more importantly, they are discovering the power of their voice. This is especially true of young emerging markets, wherein almost 50 per cent of the population is under the age of 25 years – and they are concerned.

Lessons for business leaders
• Make your business model for the long-term. Short term view of looking at quarter to quarter basis no longer works
• Take responsibility of the entire value and supply chain
• Businesses need to come together and partner as the problem is too big for any one entity to solve
• Do business with a deeper purpose

Polman pointed out that Tata Group’s stand, ‘We give more to society than we take’, is the reason why it is successful. More business leaders need to have courage to do the same.

“Businesses say that consumers do not want to contribute to sustainability. This is wrong. Talk to any youngster and you will understand. Marketers are losing the race. They need to run ahead and redefine sustainability,” said Polman.

“Business leaders need to come together to bring about this change and marketing community needs to take lead. Finally, change needs to come from brands as brands have a bond, trust and potential for a social mission. Every company is as strong as its weakest brand,” concluded the Unilever Global Chief.

Paul Polman was sharing his views on the topic ‘How Responsible Business Models can Help in VUCA Times’ at ISA’s Global CEO Conference on Navigating a VUCA World, organised by the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) in partnership with exchange4media.

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