How Sustainability Is Growing Unilever’s Brand Equity and Profits

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Unilever__Sustainable_Living_PlanUnilever is a pioneer in the art of winning customers and creating competitive advantage with brand authenticity through their positive impacts upon human and environmental well-being. Their CEO, Paul Polman, has staked his professional career on a strategy that says a business can achieve ambitious financial results by also achieving ambitious CSR results. Their business and sustainability results are establishing best practices in product design, marketing, branding and business operations.

Unilever’s CEO links financial success and sustainability

Unilever has successfully sold its products to 2 billion worldwide households. Most Americans would recognize their products like Dove Beauty Bar or Hellman’s mayonnaise (know as Best Foods west of the Rockies). Their annual revenues are approximately $66 billion. The company’s goal is to grow revenues in excess of $100 billion.

CEO Paul Polman is convinced that “…businesses that address both the direct concerns of citizens and the needs of the environment will prosper over the long term.” A key component of his strategy is building a new business model that “…enables responsible, equitable growth that is decoupled from environmental impacts.” This vision is the foundation of Unilever’s strategy for doubling revenues, reducing the company’s environmental impacts and increasing the company’s positive impacts upon society. His conviction merits business attention because, since assuming the CEO role in 2009, Unilever’s stock price has grown from approximately $20 per share to $40 per share.

How Unilever’s Sustainability Plan Grows Brand Equity

Unilever has developed a Sustainable Living Plan with these three goals:

  1. Help 1 billion people improve their health and well-being.
  2. Source 100 percent of a product’s raw materials sustainably.
  3. Enhance the livelihoods of people across the value chain.

A fourth Unilever goal is to double revenues! Branding is their link between this financial goal and their Sustainable Living Plan. Unilever is recognizing that to win and retain customers a product must align with customer expectations for value and values. Their implementation path is through the execution of a virtuous circle of growth that accelerates the integration of sustainability into their brands (see top of page image). The link between sustainability and revenues is achieved by offering healthier and more sustainable brands and then engaging current and prospective customers through awareness outreach campaigns that accelerate consumer adoption of more sustainable and healthier behaviors.

Sustainable brands grow market share and profits

Like the majority of companies that have adopted sustainable best practices, Unilever is achieving financial results through cost and risk reductions. Where Unilever is creating leadership best practices is in using their sustainability commitment to align their brands and brand messaging with the consumer thirst for authenticity. Tellingly, through their implementation of their Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever is achieving product market share growth and increased profits. For example, Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap is achieving double-digit growth through a hand-washing awareness campaign that links human health and hand cleanliness. Unilever’s “Brush Day and Night” oral health campaign that encourages parents and children to adopt good brushing habits has reached 49 million people. It has also grown Unilever’s Signal oral health care brand by 22 percent since 2008.

Exclusive Interview: Unilever’s Christine Cea

Creating a vision like Unilever’s is one thing. Making it happen is the challenge. In the following interview Christine Cea, Unilever Senior Director Marketing Communications, talks about Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan and how it has shaped the company’s brand campaigns, including the “Sketches” video that has achieved almost 56 million YouTube views.

About the author

Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017

About Bill Roth

Bill Roth is the founder of Earth 2017, author of The Secret Green Sauce and a nationally-followed contributor to, Triple Pundit, The Green Economy Post and Media Post on best business practices emerging from the smart, healthy and green global economy. He coaches entrepreneurs, business and community leaders on how to grow revenues, profits and jobs by going smart and green.
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