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Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan: Putting Sustainability at The Center of Business Strategy

The case describes how Unilever PLC (Unilever), a multinational corporation, integrated sustainability in its business strategy and aimed to make sustainable living commonplace for billions of people globally. Unilever, of Anglo-Dutch parentage, was formed in 1930. It owned many of the world’s consumer product brands in foods, beverages, cleaning agents, and personal care products. Unilever’s products extended to over 190 countries around the world. The company brought in Paul Polman (Polman), an outsider, as its CEO consequent to a fall in market share and financial performance and its first ever profit warning in 2004. In 2010, Unilever started a new initiative called the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) in response to a major global trends Unilever had identified –growth in emerging markets, increasing population, environmental stress, the digital revolution and changing (urbanization) demographics. Unilever also faced a backlash for environmental destruction. The Unilever SLP initiative covered not just Unilever’s greenhouse gas emissions, waste and water use – but the impact caused by its suppliers and consumers, from agricultural growers to its packaging and waste water produced by consumers of Unilever brands. In 2020, Unilever celebrated the final year of its 10-year USLP. The Unilever SLP strategy was not successful in all sectors. The company had planned to halve the waste associated with the disposal of its products by 2020, but it managed to reduce it by only 34%. The company also could not reach to its defined target regarding GHG emissions and water usage. In its endeavor to make the company sustainable and achieve all its SLP targets, the company faced many challenges. The question experts were asking was how Unilever would be able to make sustainable living commonplace for the world’s 8 billion people and continue to be the leader in sustainable business worldwide.

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