Paul Polman, who joined the consumer good giant in 2009, received the award in the Entrepreneurial Vision category, notably for his role as co-chair of the Global Consumer Goods Forum Sustainability Committee which resulted in both the Forum and Unilever pledging to net-zero deforestation by 2020.

Polman said: “I’m deeply honoured to accept this award. As the United Nations prepares to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals and agree a global climate deal, it is more important than ever that businesses take active leadership to show that growth and sustainability are not in conflict.

“In our experience sustainability drives growth. We have reached a tipping point for change in 2015, a once in a lifetime opportunity to end poverty and tackle climate change. But to make a real difference we need everyone on board – business, governments and NGOs. Now is the time to make this a fairer, more prosperous, more sustainable world.”

As CEO of Unilever, Polman introduced a plan to halve the environmental footprint of the company by 2020. Unilever has already achieved zero waste to landfill requirements across the entirety of its global factory network, reducing CO2 emissions by 37% in the process.

UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: “With his ambitious vision and personal commitment to sustainability, Mr Polman has established a reputation for leading by example. As Unilever CEO, he is demonstrating the need for long-term corporate thinking that accounts for social and environmental concerns. In addition, his leadership on UN and other sustainability boards is directly influencing a sustainability shift in the corporate world beyond his own company.

“He has been an untiring advocate in both professional and personal capacity to make the world of business commit to being part of the solution to the manifold challenges of sustainable development.”

External bodies

Polman also works with numerous external bodies, including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development – an alliance of more than 200 businesses worldwide committed to creating a sustainable future, the Commission on the New Climate Economy where he is a member and on the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, set up by the UN in 2000, where he acts as a board member.

Polman’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed previously, not only has he received this award but he was asked by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to be part of the UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, where he has been instrumental in laying out key recommendations for sustainability goals.

Recent recognition

Under his guidance Unilever continue to be named as an industry leader in Food, Beverage and Tobacco sectors of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI).

Last week Polman was among the 27 sector leaders to sign a joint letter backing an Apollo-style research programme to make renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels, backed by Sir David Attenborough.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie