Machiavelli in The Prince famously stated: ‘And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack, they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.’
Many of us are trying to shift the current ‘order of things’ in our businesses, in our communities and even in the global economy, since we know there is a different and better way to “grow”. And on that journey, for many of us, Machiavelli’s words ring true.
We know that growth that drives social inequity, that is not inclusive, and that ignores the limits of the natural capital to which we owe our very existence, cannot possibly endure.
It is becoming increasingly clear that deep down billions of people in the world know that the ‘old model’ is exhausted, that the global ecosystem is out of balance and that it will correct itself somehow…we just need to make sure that our businesses, our families and even our species does not become a casualty of the great correction. We see this in the desire for more stuff that just does not fulfil the basic need of our human nature to belong and be significant, we see this in unemployment and the broken dreams of those who put their trust in big business, we see this in the scenes of destruction and stories of exclusion that reach us through every media channel every day, and we see this in the fear that is increasingly obvious…the fear that we have somehow contributed to this state of affairs and we will one day lose our privileged position or be held to account.
This is all good! When the financial or emotional cost of inaction begins to outweigh the cost of action…we see major shifts. Most recently, the centre and far right have claimed much more support in EU politics as people find ways to express their concerns with the results of inequity and poor growth, the global village has united against abuse against women in parts of the world where there are deep inequities, Lloyds of London have recently launched a significant private flood insurance programme in Florida removing the state burden and empowering home owners to manage their own risk, and this week the Obama administration took the largest step of any nation, with the EPA introducing carbon standards that will require electricity providers to reduce their CO2 per megawatt 30% below 2005 levels by 2030…a new ‘order of things’ is gaining momentum and opportunity calls.
At Unilever, we believe that we have reached a tipping point. Solar power, apps for health management, devices for home energy management, no car drive schemes, sharing models like shwopping and many other examples are creating a new set of opportunities that businesses ignore at their peril.
Many of us who have been experimenting with a regenerative growth model in our businesses, have not only realised that there is much benefit to be gained as forerunners of the new order but we have also come to realise that to get greater shift, we need to bring about significant system change. This does not absolve us of the responsibility for doing what we can do ourselves, but it requires us to reach out to others, to partner and to design and implement significant interventions to drive industry, society and global shifts. It is now time for enlightened businesses to make sure that tipping point actually tips! and we are discovering that the opportunities for responsible equitable growth are just waiting to be discovered.
This certainly has been the case with Unilever, where we set very ambitious social and environmental goals and have driven significant focus on sustainable growth within our business. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), three years in, is becoming deeply embedded in our organisation and it is a differentiating element in our business growth strategy. A differentiating element that, among other benefits, drives excellent growth (with each of our brands that have put sustainable living at the core of their purpose and innovation experiencing growth well ahead of the norm) , delivers strong cost savings (with over 350M€ saved over the past years directly attributable to sustainability initiatives), and which engenders deep commitment from both our own people and others who wish to work with us (over the past 3 years we have become the third most desired employer on LinkedIn …and we simply sell soup and soap!)
The opportunities to release more innovation and successful change multiplies when we begin to address the full system. This is why in our refreshed USLP launched in April, we have significantly increased our focus on transformational change in the areas where we believe we can make the greatest impact.
Our current corporate transformation priorities focus on:
- Addressing Climate change through helping to end deforestation
- Addressing Food Security through sustainable agriculture and
- Addressing child mortality and community health through our water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.
In addition, we are driving strong signals and activities in many other areas such as finance (we launched the first green sustainability bond in the Fast Moving Goods Sector in April 2014, which came in at a highly competitive rate and was oversubscribed by 300%), human rights and women empowerment (we have launched a Responsible Sourcing Policy that takes suppliers on a journey to best practice in sustainable business, we are committed to providing advancement opportunities for women and micro-entrepreneurs more extensively with a commitment to advance and include over 5 million people through inclusive business models), and to drive consumer behaviour change we have launched Project Sunlight that aims to curate a movement for sustainable behaviour change and which has received 18 million views since its launch late last year and is gaining momentum as people log on to deliver ‘acts of sunlight’ that drive sustainable living.
Here is the very good news. When we do what is right and involve others, there is no lack of appetite and many superb partners…and a new order begins to be formed!
Maybe it is time to rephrase Machiavelli’s view: Yes creating a new order is difficult, uncertain and risky, but when the likeminded band together to introduce a new order, then the new order becomes ‘the way we do things around here’. Now that is the power of system change!
For more information on the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and our systems Transformation Agenda please see: Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: Making Progress, Driving Change at http://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living
To spread some Sunlight, please see: http://www.projectsunlight.com
Blog provided by Gail Klintworth in her final month as Chief Sustainability Officer for Unilever.