‘Uncomfortable (environmental) Targets’ Necessary – Unilever’s CEO has message for governments

Can governments learn something from business?  I think that Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever  could  teach a thing or two to certain governments who hold the future of my children in their hands.  If the key messages in Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan Progress Report are to be believed, Polman is on the right track.

Unilever introduced its 10-year Sustainable Living Plan in 2010 and just released its first progress report.  The company made a challenge to itself that not many manufacturers have been willing to match – to take “responsibility for the environmental footprint of its products right across the value chain”.

But that is not all.  Throughout the Unilever approach there are numerous forms of forward thinking.  Polman notes: “…our future success depends on being able to decouple our growth from our environmental footprint, while at the same time increasing our positive social impact.”  He also says “uncomfortable (environmental and social) targets” need to be made in order to make actual change.

What – we don’t have to choose between the economy and social/environmental goals?  “Aspirational targets” are not just the delusional “green” dreams of environmental radicals?

Next you will be telling me that this captain of industry  thinks that “sustainability” is good for the economy!  Well – he sort of said that too: “We see no conflict between sustainable consumption and profitable growth: they are mutually supportive.”

OK -wearing your “critical thinking” hat, you might argue – “Hey, but the growth word is still there – it is still a finite planet you know.”  Very true.  It is a finite planet with population growing each day by 211,000 people.  How we reduce, reuse and recycle eco-system services is perhaps where the concept of innovation and sustainable consumption comes in.

So I’m wondering out loud whether Mr. Polman could have a little “sit down” with a few Candian government leaders.  You know, they could talk about this new era of sustainability and what businesses (and every living organism on the planet) needs inorder to prosper in this new paradigm.  They could talk about the role of government in supporting citizens, business and civil society in making the transition to this new way of “being”.   It could be a positive and up lifting discussion about creating a blue print for an innovative future inwhich we live within our ecological budget.

At the very least, this is a much better discussion for the future of my children than the current dialogue about fossil fuels, dinosaurs and extinction.

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About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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