Unilever calls for business ‘mindfulness’ on consumption

Unilever CEO Paul Polman has questioned whether businesses are in denial over the growing trend for mindful consumption, as he called for companies to widen their understanding on the issue.

Claiming that consumers ‘get sustainability’ better than businesses do, Polman said that there was tendency for marketers to be blinkered and keep pushing consumption-based models – and that this needed to change.

Speaking to CSRwire, Polman said: “Consumers are speaking out every day, but we don’t want to see it. We need a new model and get companies to adjust their marketing strategies as well as their job roles.”

He continued: “Our understanding of consumers is too narrow. We need to get much closer to consumers. If we go to any of the emerging markets – 81% of the world’s population lives outside the US and Europe – most of the growth is occurring in climate stretched areas today. They might not understand Rio+20 or climate change language, but they know that weather patterns are changing and water is decreasing.”

Unilever is working on various initiatives to encourage more sustainable consumption – last year edie reported on how the manufacturer is examining the different types of behavioural levels needed to motivate people to consume more mindfully.

According to Polman, marketers need to switch from asking whether consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable goods, and instead focus on offering a better world to their customers – one with less poverty, more education, cleaner air and better nutrition.

“We just need to be astute about solutions,” he observed. “Consumers expect more and more from business, and if business understands this, it is a wonderful time.”

Long-term solutions

As an example, Polman cited diseases from which children die of that can be solved with hand washing – this potentially opens up new product opportunities and markets for a company, but many businesses have yet to make that connection, he argued.

“We must get out of short termism because lots of solutions are long-term … and we can only solve them if we invest over longer periods and evaluate the social and economic capital. Then business people can optimise these.”

Earlier this month, the manufacturing giant called on the business world to step up its commitment to tackling climate change in response to a report from Oxfam International which highlighted the fact that the ‘top 10’ food companies – Unilever included – collectively emit more greenhouse gases than the country of Scandinavia, and would rank as the 25th most polluting country in the world if grouped together.

Maxine Perella

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