Unilever’s global advocacy manager Hannah Hislop and Karin Laljani who heads up Corporate Citizenship said corporations were wrestling with the notion of sustainable consumption and how to deliver on it in meaningful ways while maintaining profit margins.

Participating in Unilever’s online sustainable living lab debate today (April 25), Laljani said: “Businesses need to imagine new business models, new systems, to manage waste. The reality is don’t throw it away – there is no away.”

She argued that more effective collaboration was needed within business value chains – a view echoed by Hislop, who said that the bottom of the waste hierarchy still represented the biggest challenges for her company.

“We have a lot more control over the top of the hierarchy … a huge amount of our effort goes into [waste] prevention and reduction.

“But the nature of our business means that primary packaging will always play an important role so it’s really important for us to focus on increasing recycling models,” she maintained.

Looking forward, Hislop floated the idea of pioneering service-based product models that could deliver direct benefits to local communities.

“One direction we could move towards is providing not detergent, but services such as community laundry initiatives, building on nappy wash examples. But Unilever is a manufacturing company so becoming more service-orientated would be a considerable shift,” she said.

Laljani agreed that adopting such models would pose considerable challenges, but not insurmountable ones.

“Having a responsible company switch from produce and sell (lost ownership) to produce and lease (keep ownership and reuse, recycle afterwards) – we could see a shift for the positive in an area like waste,” she argued.

“In my experience, selling this model will require collaboration across the [value] chain to change the way consumption or use happens.”

Maxine Perella

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