Insights into Creating a 'Sustainable Living Brand'

Kathleen Dunlop, Global Brand VP of Unilever, doesn’t believe there is such a thing as business as usual anymore. Climate change, population growth and the planet’s finite resources require businesses to re-think the way they operate. Kathleen joined me today for a PageConnect Corporate Purpose & Societal Value webinar to discuss Unilever’s efforts to address some of the world’s global challenges. 

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, created in 2010 by former CEO Paul Polman, has three main goals. First, to improve the health and well-being of a billion people, which they deliver through their brands. Second, to enhance the livelihood of millions, which is done through the way they do business from sourcing to product distribution systems. Lastly, to reduce their environmental footprint by half, not only their manufacturing environmental impact but also the consumer end use of the product. Today, Unilever has achieved 100% renewable energy in its factories, warehouses, distribution centers, offices, data facilities and research and development facilities across five continents. This achievement is a “significant step” towards Unilever’s target of becoming a carbon-neutral company before 2030.

To be qualified as a “sustainable living brand,” the products must have a purpose, to achieve a social impact and/or measurably reduce their environmental impact. It has been proven that when these criteria are met, consumers have greater affinity and purchase of authentic purpose brands. Unilever Sustainable Living Brands are some of the world’s foremost purpose products such as Dove, OMO, Lifebuoy, Ben & Jerry’s, that demonstrate the power of business and social purpose. In 2018, Unilever saw their 28 purpose brands grow 69% faster than non-purpose brands and delivered 75% of the multinational’s overall growth. 

In 2014, Kathleen began working on defining Vaseline’s purpose. She knew it needed to be a universally understood worthy social issue that was authentic to the product. Unilever conducted exploratory research to see how people were using their products and found that doctors in third-world countries were using Vaseline for treatment of skin diseases, which are among the most prevalent health challenges in refugee camps. This sparked the idea for the The Vaseline Healing Project, an aid effort that provides Vaseline, dermatological care and medical supplies to help people affected by poverty, dislocation and natural disasters around the globe. 

Unilever partners with Direct Relief, a global non-profit to provide ongoing care to populations in need in 52 countries around the globe where the organization operates.  Kathleen’s work with Unilever is a great example of how a brand with purpose can focus on one issue, dig deeper and evolve thoughtfully. No matter how ordinary a product may be, Kathleen reminds us that you can find the extraordinary behind it. 

For an even deeper discussion, listen to her podcast on Purpose 360 here

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