Building Sustainable Legacies


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Deep “new” change vs. changing the titans – a comment on George Monbiot opinion on Unilever

Let me be honest – I love Monbiot’s columns: they are sharp, edgy, provocative and to the point. They challenge present thinking and strive for more. I also think that Unilever is one of the way to few examples of a multinational working honestly on making the world a better place. I think we should clone Paul Polman – he is that good! So Monbiot’s critic on Unilever certainly got my attention – if you haven’t read it, here it is: http://www.monbiot.com/2014/04/08/loved-to-death/. As usual a real Monbiot piece of work. And I think he makes the point well in many ways of challenging Unilever for not yet having managed to be as coherent as they probably wish across all brands and divisions. I can think of a bunch of examples that would greatly support Monbiot’s case. Yet, I also think that Unilever more than any other similarly large multinational has initiated significant change both inside their organization and in their markets including consumers and investors. But, or better, and, there are still dark and blind spots. Look at Nestle and you see more dark than bright spots, despite their Creating Shared Value (CSV) claim – what they do with their water strategy and what they claim outrages me! It is tough for a large multinational to change course – maybe impossible. Just a few degrees of change, however, brings significant leverage and change due to the sheer size and relative impact of such large organizations.

Of course a few degrees is totally insufficient – we need radical, deep change. And we need it now. But, much like in any other industry or field of practice – business schools included – such radical and deep change does not happen in the established, large organizations with the famous brand names. Transformational change happens in the fringes, with small, relatively unknown players who have little to lose and much to gain. Such organizations are still lean, agile, fast and thus innovative. Like sailing boats compared to streamliners! I am in favor of supporting those streamliners who dare to embrace change, even if its just a few degrees and I am willing to celebrate those who are ahead of the pack and are undertaking radical big change that from the outlet looks impossible, yet inspires others to follow (and Paul Polman at Unilever is leading such radical big change). I believe we should focus our criticism on those who are fast asleep and have not yet woken up to the new realities of a resource-constrained, climate-changed world. Our criticism should tear them out of their sleep and their comfort zone, shake them up and get them to sit up straight and think – fast. Our students have created a consumer opinion poll to show companies in the food sector what consumers think of their sustainability initiatives – vote here to express your opinion, share the link and we will ensure the world hears about the results!

Monbiot talks about a critical issue: the lack of healthy food. Lets take a look at it. Indeed, since food has become a processed and heavily industrialized item, “healthy food” has become an oxymoron. To get the nutritious value an apple had in the 1950s, we would today need to eat 25 apples we buy in our supermarkets – “an apple a day” won’t keep the doctor away anymore! Sugar, salt and fat are our top 3 societal enemies that are and will be costing us not only unimaginably big health bills but are also ruining us as healthy, capable and caring human beings. Just take the combination of stress and sugar – it will turn anybody in a monster, unable to breathe, care and slow down. I recently wrote about this in the Transatlantic Blog. The pharmaceutical industry must love all of this, the number of emerging new conical deceases  are sky-rocketing, assuring life-long medical dependencies and revenues. Read what Michael Moss (salt, sugar, fat) has to say about it! I believe that the single biggest opportunity for food companies today is to turn their practices upside-down and to step back from feeding the world junk. To remove all the unhealthy, addictive ingredients and to serve us healthy, nurtious food that supports our well-being, happiness and health. There is chocolate without added sugar (thanks to Villars in Switzerland, a hugely innovative, small chocolate producer at the fringes!). It is possible! It is also unacceptable – I agree with Monbiot – that food companies including Unilever boycott and prevent proper “traffic-light” labelling of our enemies sugar, fat and salt. They managed to prevent a law to pass in Switzerland and I am sure in many other countries – scandalous! It feels like back in the days when tobacco companies tried to manipulate research that proved that smoking was bad. Unilevers of this world: embrace the challenge and return healthy food to us with your great distribution and brand power that you have. You can not only save the world, but build the foundation of a society that can start to heal itself and become well again. BSL is a place to help make it possible: we are a platform where engaged citizens work on burning societal issues. Our food-waste collaboratory on May 6th is such an example: we are committed to reduce consumer food-waste by 50% by 2018. What could you do in your space and what are you going to do to make a difference?

 

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