This week there has been coverage, ideas and blunt language coming from the Global Landscapes Forum, held alongside United Nations climate negotiations. The press coverage has included discussions about carbon credits; the interplay between developing and developed countries; local and international policies; biodiversity and deforestation; and a review of the activities which impact our effort to address climate change.
One line of reporting that caught our eye was that which covered the address from Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman. You’ll have, undoubtedly, heard of Unilever but you may not know the company’s scale: it is the third largest consumer good conglomerate in the world, just behind Procter & Gamble and Nestlé, with products sold in more than 190 countries.
Paul Polman not only spoke about the “inconvenient facts” on how corporates and certain sectors impact climate change, he admitted that his company and his sector was part of the problem and needed to change. He stated “Most CEOs, I’m convinced of now, know that their companies cannot prosper in a world with runaway climate change. This is increasingly evident.”
We understand that Polman and his views do not represent every CEO. Yes, he is a CEO of a successful Fortune 500 company who is handsomely-compensated for exceeding growth targets and meeting shareholder expectations. That does not make him different. What makes him different is that this is accompanied by a very public commitment to being a green CEO. He openly shares these views and as such is creating a legacy for the Unilever brand and building on its global reputation, while meeting all the other global challenges presented to him as chief executive.
In our role as experts in furniture asset management working with hospitality, education and government organizations, we understand the need for every type of organization to be driven by a vision and a mission. A commitment to sustainability and to green initiatives and environmental targets needs to be led from the top, to be woven into that vision. When sustainability is a top-level vision it means that all activities which impact the business: its assets, its infrastructure, and its day-to-day impact on the environment, are all taken into account.
We understand that each organization and every business faces different challenges: growth, maintaining standards, balancing budgets against spend. But to see corporate leaders such as Paul Polman stand up and to show that a company of Unilever’s size can demonstrate successful business while integrating sustainability from the very top, is a lessonto every organization of every kind and of every size.