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Putting Sustainability at the Center of Business Strategy

According to the 1994 Oslo Symposium, which aimed to examine a new approach to consumption, production and consumerism, Sustainable Consumption is defined as: “the use of services and related products which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations.”

Today certain leading businesses are integrating sustainable consumption in their activities. Unilever is doing so with its Sustainable Living Plan and Nestlé with Creating Shared Value. Unilever explains the concept this way in their report of the Plan: “We have to develop new ways of doing business which will increase the positive social benefits arising from Unilever’s activities while at the same time reducing our environmental impacts. We want to be a sustainable business in every sense of the word.” Concretely this means Unilever’s aims are: “1. We will help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being. 2. We will decouple our growth from our environmental impact, achieving absolute reductions across the product lifecycle. Our goal is to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products. 3. We will enhance the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in our supply chain.”

And so that we, the public, know whether Unilever is living up to its promises, the company vows to “produce an annual public report on our progress towards these milestones. Key performance data will be externally assured.”

Nestle’s program for sustainable consumption is similar. Here’s what the company’s Chairman of the Board writes: “We strongly believe that for a company to be successful in the long term, it must create value for its shareholders and at the same time for the communities where it operates and for society at large. We call this Creating Shared Value. Analysing our entire value chain, we have identified three focus areas where Nestlé can optimise the creation of shared value: besides water, these are nutrition and rural development.”

Since beginning the program in 2009, among other feats Nestlé has in its own words: “Became the first food and beverage company to pledge our commitment to the UN Every Woman Every Child programme, to improve the lives of vulnerable women and children through training and education; Helped provide access to water and sanitation for over 100 000 people (since 2007), through our work with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; and Trained 200 000 farmers through our Nestlé Cocoa Plan.” See other accomplishments related to the company’s commitment to sustainable consumption on Nestlé’s website.

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