Leadership is crucial in environmental management. Ahead are examples of some key sustainability leaders and what they have done in their companies for sustainability.
The area of sustainability has been a hot topic, and in 2013 a GlobeScan/Sustainability Survey was conducted in 73 countries, looking at the leaders of sustainability. This section gives a brief review of its findings and some of the key companies.
The report can be found at globescan.com, under “News – Reports.” It was not surprising to see under the key findings that “national governments were seen as demonstrating the poorest leadership on sustainability last year.” Social entrepreneurs are perceived as the leaders in advancing sustainability in all regions except Africa and the Middle East. Unilever captured the top spot for the third year in a row. The top companies listed as being perceived as leaders in sustainability in their business strategy are: Unilever, Patagonia, Interface, Wal-Mart, GE, Marks & Spencer, Puma, Nike, Coca-Cola, Natura, IBM, Google, Nestlé, and Novo Nordisk.
The report outlined the reasons Unilever was considered a sustainability leader, starting back in 2010, when the company identified evidence-based metrics for impact, as well as a focus on developing sustainable food, with ambitious goals set for the organization supported by the CEO's leadership through their Sustainability Living Plan.
It cannot be stressed enough that the setting of goals and direction for the organization is key to its leadership – not only the goals at high level but also the support throughout the organization in focusing its objectives to meet those goals by the activities that are being done.
Paul Polman is the chief executive officer for Unilever, a Dutch man on a mission, with a commitment to sustainability and creativity in new product development to meet environmental challenges, from waterless shampoo to eco-friendly, one-rinse fabric softeners.
He has put efforts in place to be responsible for providing solutions not only for environmental initiatives but also for scaling up nutrition in the world. He is involved in initiatives put on by the World Economic Forum to help malnourished youngsters, especially the 170 million children affected by stunting, and to help Africans create sustainable food systems so they are able to produce enough food for themselves and to export. In Kenya or Tanzania, over 100,000 families depend on Unilever for their livelihoods.
In July 2013, the Independent newspaper in the UK did a story on Mr. Polman entitled “Chief Executive of Unilever Paul Polman Is a Boss with More on His Plate Than Sales Figures.” He is not only thinking about soap and shampoo today; he hosts a summit on the problem of world hunger. It is interesting to note that the world population in 2012 was 7 billion people and it is still growing; the average person produces 4.4 pounds of waste per day, or around a ton of waste each year. The article reports that “Mr. Polman, and Nestle's chairman, Peter Brabeck- Letmathe, has been pressing David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to end the use of biofuels made from food crops, claiming that many varieties are worse for climate change than the fossil fuels they were created to replace. He also called for a halt to illegal deforestation driven by the need for raw materials such as palm oil.”
Mr. Polman understands the global marketplace and is taking his established brands from a footprint already in India and Indonesia to emerging markets, as the slower growth is in North America and Europe.
In the Bloomberg story “Unilever CEO Paul Polman on Earnings, Price Growth,” Mr. Polman said that 54 percent of their business was in emerging markets, and that the company's focus was on cutting costs that consumers are not willing to pay for and not compromising research and development, or advertising. He views what is happening in the world as a unique opportunity to regain credibility for sustainability, focusing on the environment. Look to what you can influence.
Unilever's website outlines its purpose and principles to succeed, stating, “The highest standards of corporate behavior towards everyone we work with, the communities we touch and the environment on which we have an impact.” It focuses on always working with integrity, positive impact, continuous commitment, setting out their aspirations, and working with others.
Corporate sustainability leaders like Unilever incorporate long-term economic, environmental, and social aspects into their business strategies, which achieve long-term shareholder value by reducing costs and risks.
-  Bloomberg TV. “Unilever CEO Paul Polman on Earnings, Price Growth.” Available at bloomberg.com/video/73511300-unilever -ceo-paul-polman-on-earnings-price-growth.html.