Paul Polman co-founds Imagine venture to drive corporate action towards SDGs

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Polman, who officially stepped away from Unilever last week after announcing his departure in November 2018, has co-founded Imagine alongside Valerie Keller, former executive director at EY and Jeff Seabright, Unilever’s chief sustainability officer.

Imagine will work with corporates to help mobilise action to meet the SDGs. There is a well-known action gap between corporate aspirations and projects aligned to the Global Goals, despite 13 of the world’s biggest corporates collectively generating $233bn of revenue by strategising in line with the goals.

Polman, who has been synonymous with corporate sustainability leadership over the last decade, will invest an undisclosed amount of his own personal wealth into the venture.

“The imperative to eradicate poverty and inequality and stem runaway climate change has never been more acute,” Polman wrote in an email, as seen by Bloomberg. “What’s more, we still miss the collective sense of urgency to move at scale and speed.”

Lasting legacy

Polman penned the rousing foreword of edie’s 2019 Mission Possible report, aimed at highlighting how businesses can turn ambition into action to achieve a sustainable future. He noted that courage and collaboration would be key to this future, two themes set to be explored by Imagine.


Winner of edie’s Lifetime Achievement accolade at the Sustainability Leaders Award earlier this year, Polman made sustainability business critical during his time at Unilever. The Dutch-Anglo firm has consistently proved the business case through this strategy, with the firm’s ‘Sustainable Living’ brands accounting for a record 70% of turnover growth last year, and growing 46% faster than the rest of the business.

Polman spent his tenure as chief executive advocating for climate action and was a firm believer that business could accelerate the global decarbonisation process to help nations hit national climate targets.

While Polman will target the SDGs at a business level, the Goals are primarily aimed at nations. The UK recently published its first Voluntary National Review (VNR), exploring how the nation was performing against the 17 Goals and its sub-targets.

The review found that ONS had been able to source good data on most of the Goals – reporting data on 74% (180 of the total 244) of Global Indicators this year. However, the review notes that data and policy gaps exist.

Matt Mace

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