May 27, 2014 – Back at the beginning of May I wrote about Mars, the company, and its Sustainable-in-a-Generation program. Mars is not alone as evident from a recent series of speeches made by senior Unilever executives. Unilever is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies selling products in 190 countries to more than 2 billion consumers every day. It employs more than 174,000. A company of this size has a bit of sway when its senior managers talk.
One of them, Miguel Veiga-Pestana, Vice President Sustainability Strategy and Global Advocacy at Unilever, in a recent comment urged all companies to “future proof their operations…..step off the sidelines and move into action.”
What was his subject? Climate change. He went further and stated, “if every major company affected by climate change – not only in the food and beverage sector, but other impacted sectors such as tourism, insurance and transport – were to address the issue as one of business survival, and step change their efforts for delivery, we could together make a significant impact.”
These comments by a senior manager of one of the top ten food companies in the world has implications for us all. Unilever is taking the subject of climate change and improving its ability to mitigate the risks throughout its entire organization and supply chain. It is, therefore, influencing the many other companies with which it does business.
At a recent meeting held in Abu Dhabi, the CEO of the company, Paul Polman spoke of t he growing support among businesses worldwide for action on climate change. He mentioned a groundswell of support with thousands of businesses representing 10% of global GDP who:
- want to be part of a climate solution.
- recognize that none can prosper in a world of inequality and poverty fostered by climate change.
- understand that political leadership and business are needed to address the issue and all its challenges.
In his speech he stated that evidence is apparent to business that “the cost of inaction is now greater than the cost of action,” citing the $2.7 trillion U.S. spent in the last decade to deal with natural disasters, a much larger number than in past decades and much of the increase attributed to a warming atmosphere.
Words of encouragement included the following:
- Global investment in clean technologies is now up to $300 billion a year. The global low carbon economy is now a $4 trillion reality, growing at nearly 4%.
- 50 of the top 200 companies have carbon intensity reduction goals of 6% per year to stay within the IPCC’s recommended 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) warming limit.
- 75% of the biggest companies on the planet have incorporated environmental and social policy goals.
- 1,000 companies in 60 countries have organized under The Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change.
- 9,000 members of the United Nations Global Compact have committed to action on climate change.
- Carbon asset disclosure is now supported by 722 institutional investors representing $7 trillion in assets.
- 35,000 national businesses under the World Business Council for Sustainable Development have also agreed to disclose carbon assets.
Why is business on board? It’s about survival. It’s about future proofing. Polman’s entire speech is well worth the read. It should be sent to the in-box of every CEO in every business on the planet. It should be sent to every government leader and representative. It should be a conversation in which we are all engaged with singular purpose. When Polman speaks of the things business needs from government, he is speaking for all of us when he says, “Business needs three things from the political community: Clarity, Confidence and perhaps most of all, Courage.”