Consumer product giant shows sustainability can be good business
Learn more about the Responsible Supply Chain advisory team
The latest evidence that the true green of sustainability is money - comes from Unilever.
In May, the company announced the brands that most aligned with its "Sustainable Living Plan" grew at twice the rate of the rest of its business and accounted for half of its growth in 2014. The best-performing brands included Dove, Lifebuoy, Ben & Jerry's and Comfort.
That's not all. Unilever also said sustainability measures at its factories saved it more than 400 million euros - or about $446 million - since 2008, according to Reuters.
BusinessGreen.com reported on Unilever's effort to send zero waste from its 241 factories to landfills - a plan the company says resulted in savings of 200 million euros, or about $220 million.
Steve Polski, senior director of sustainability from Cargill, says Unilever proves that sustainability is not function but a behavior - and can be a profitable one.
"They believe that they are a sustainable organization. It's embedded into every job regardless if you’re in sales marketing, operations, procurement, it doesn't matter," says Polski.
A service to get started
Polski is leading a new service designed to help their customers gain savings through sustainability. It's called the Responsible Supply Chain, or RSC, Advisory Business.
The goal is to help customers recognize the definition of sustainable is not limited to environmental or social issues. It can refer to anything that is continuous or unending. What company doesn't strive for longevity?
"Sustainability isn't just green in terms of the environment, but it's also green in terms of profit improvement," says Polski.
How it works
The RSC framework brings together employees from the participating company who represent different departments - from finance to procurement and sales to operations - with a team from Cargill for about eight hours of work over two days.
The RSC team then takes the information gathered and creates a list of prioritized, actionable opportunities. Companies receive recommendations - for investments designed to generate quick returns - in just weeks.
"What we're trying to do is use responsible supply chains - which is another way of talking about sustainability - as a way to help stakeholders create more value," says Polski.
He says it's about finding innovative ways to better manage cost, create transparency and differentiate brands.
"Innovation doesn't necessarily have to come in terms of product development. Innovation can come from logistics. It can come from moving things differently. It can come from better communicating information. It can come from better crop yield information. Better measurement of carbon dioxide emissions. There are a number of different ways that you can capture innovation," says Polski.
Building momentum for sustainability
Cargill's ideas for how sustainability helps grow business are spreading.
While the practice of clearly defining corporate values still holds the top spot, other factors are growing in importance.
For example, the value of making sustainability a part of your core business shot up in prominence.
The Guardian article wraps with this: "It seems that, for a growing number of experts, the question is no longer whether companies say the right things about sustainability, but whether or not they've made it part of their DNA."
By the way, Unilever topped the 2015 Sustainability Leaders Report. It was ranked number one for the fifth year in a row for best integrating sustainability into its business strategy.