Case of Success: UNILEVER - Aldo Rodríguez

Case of Success: UNILEVER - Aldo Rodríguez

Case of success


It is a multinational British-Neo-Irish company, created in 1930, whose corporate vision is to help people to look good, feel good and take more advantage of life. In one day millions of people use Unilever products. It has more than 400 brands and they have a sustainable business plan. Some facts and figures to highlight are: sales reached 53.3 billion euros in 2015; 58% of the business is in rising markets; 13 brands have sales of more than 1 billion euros a year, 168,000 people are employees of Unilever; 45% of its managers are women; and it has obtained a reduction of 29% on the impact of waste by the use of its products since 2010.

Twenty-two years – almost a marriage, I would say – with UNILEVER. Undoubtedly the company has managed to reconnect with its purpose, with sustainability; and I’m talk about me reconnecting and I'm talking about reconnecting to this community of 170,000 employees who are part of Unilever around the world – practically 170 countries where we’ve stepped, and (just as it was mentioned) arrive today: every day there are 2 billion people who come into contact with our product. That also gives us an enormous responsibility when it comes to speaking about sustainability, which is the subject that I will develop.

My intention is to provide a case study from a mass consumer company; saying, “Well, to see how we can approach it and what results this approach has brought so far.”

The first is to raise the need. Unilever embraces sustainability in the heart of its business since 2010, due to well-known issues: social and environmental inequalities that trigger this sustainable movement.

I believe the difference or the distinctiveness of Unilever is that it addresses a global commitment that has to do with...well, we want to double our growth by 2020, but at the same time we want to reduce the impact to the environment by half; and we make this public, and this is a commitment for which we account for every year.

This commitment has to do with understanding that the business model...capitalism has to transform itself into something that is more considerate, not only in the economic area, that is essential for the development of any business, but also in the social and environmental.

We always say, on the one hand there are a billion people who are going to bed every night with hunger, and then there are millions who suffer from obesity; a very important contrast. And on the one hand we have geographies that are flooded, and geographies that suffer from dryness.

Mobilized by all these questions that surrounds us, which is a reality, it is during this time that we live in, that Unilever launches our sustainable living plan; a plan that says – it proposes two things: on the one hand, embrace a purpose that seems quite simple, although it is complex to implement, which is to make sustainable life an everyday thing, to incorporate it in our day to day. And when we talk about this we are not just talking about Unilever employees, but also what employees do through our brands when they make contact with consumers.

And the other is the vision; and we say, well, our vision: we want to keep growing. However, at the same time we want to reduce the impact on the environment and generate a positive impact on society.

I can say up to right now – and I will show some concrete results – that this is possible to couple the growth of environmental impact and generate positive impact on society. Something of which we had our doubts six years ago, the natural doubts of anyone who embarks on a new project like this, ambitious as this is, but today six years later we can say that it has brought results.

A brief review of what sustainability means for us. It basically has 3 pillars; it has 50 goals that, as I said, we report every year; and has 3 big goals, 3 big objectives.

On the one hand, the pillar that has to do with health, hygiene, and nutrition: improving the well-being of one billion people. On the other hand, and clearly speaking about the environment: halving the impact on the environment (measured as generation of waste, water consumption and generation of greenhouse gases). And finally, to improve the quality of life of the people who work within Unilever and in relation to Unilever; and here we are also talking about gender equality, respect in working conditions, and also the generation of inclusive employment.

I move onto results (which today seems to me the most attractive part of the presentation). So far, from 2008 to date, we have been able to accumulate more than 600 million euros, of savings, by this eco-friendly approach or I would say eco-efficiency in all our productive sites around the world; an undoubtedly shocking figure.

At the same time, 28% of the energy we use comes from renewable sources; and by 2030 we want this 28% be transformed into 100.

A point no less important (and here I quote): in 34 countries we reach the position of the number one employer. This has to do with how we relate to the different factors in the market, which gives us greater confidence, gives us strength that it is the right direction, and generates loyalty: companies that want to work with us, people who want to remain part of Unilever or want to join Unilever.

That generates a great attraction in retention and the capturing of talent; something that anyone who has owns a company knows is key. And for Unilever we always say: brands and human resources are the two most valuable things that we treasure in our organization.

I leave for the end the result of the sustainable brands, now I will develop the concept a little more: what we mean by sustainable brands. But the first thing to announce: that they have grown 30% more than the rest of the business, and this is clear evidence that this way serves, this road is business.

Our definition of sustainable brand has two dimensions. On the one hand we say: well, there has to be a sustainable product, and there has to be a brand that has a purpose. The combination of these things give us this concept of sustainable brand.

And here I have 5 examples of brands that have achieved this category, brands of our portfolio, we have achieved this category around the world; and there are more brands that grew in 2015 more than in 2014; brands that have represented for the company more than half of the growth of UNILEVER. And as I said before, they are brands that have grown 30% faster than the rest of the business.

Now, this sustainable brand approach has required some audacity. Let me cite two examples today. One is Dove. It is a cosmetic brand that has dared to challenge the concept of beauty; And if any of you have seen our campaigns around the world, it's an approach in which Dove talks about real beauty, and works on the women’s self-esteem; a concept that has been identified globally, because studies say that one in ten women, only one feels beautiful, and the rest have serious objections regarding their personal appreciation and their look of their inner and outer beauty.

And Dove comes to work in this dimension, to enhance the beauty that each woman has. Undoubtedly challenging the paradigm of beauty constituted for centuries and centuries. And for a brand of cosmetics to dare to tread this territory, is really something that within Unilever has had a hard time to embrace, which has cost us to convince ourselves.

But I have a video to share with you on some impressions of young teenagers who may be your granddaughters, may be your daughters, and in some cases were daughters of senior managers of the organization, and who allowed through their testimonies to modify the communication route and brand interaction with consumers.

 [Video clip presentation]

This video is a trigger for workshops that we are deploying around the world with children between 10 and 16 years old, who – as I mentioned – trigger discussions around the concept of beauty, “Why do these things happen to us?”

Then the campaign that spoke of real beauty and where you (if you have seen) will see that are not models that carry the Dove brand on television, on digital channels or by whatever means, but also that there is an internal construction, in contact with consumers, generating awareness about the security that we want future generations to have around their own beauty.

And as I said, working with both girls and boys, also having worked with parents in different areas that have allowed us to reach up to date. It is a program that we launched last year in the Southern Cone and we have directly impacted 20,000 lives; and we expect to reach 15 million by 2020.

And we have done it with collaborators, both with internal collaborators, as well as with associations, such as the Ministry of Education, as well as other parent groups that are sensitive to this issue and find that content is relevant to be shared and disseminated.

Well, one can say, all this is very nice; this emotional connection of the brand with consumers is very good, but finally it also feeds back into the business equation. This greater emotional connection that the brand obtains with consumers has managed to win or implied greater relevance for the brand, and in 2010 I’d say that relevance was almost lost globally, today it is one of the brands that gives the most growth to the organization.

So before, in previous conferences, a possible ethical dilemma had been raised around sustainability, “If I do it because it's good, if I do it because it's ethical, if I do it because it's business...”; and the conclusions were: I do it for all three things, put them in whatever order you want, the most significant for you, for your organization, but the three things come together. It is not walking a path, doing good, doing something right or doing it right, implies that my business is going to go back. My business goes forward, and it generates a greater and greater connection with consumers.

Why? Because consumers have problems, they need us to meet certain needs; not necessarily or not only from the functional side, from what the product can bring you (to hair, to cosmetics), but from what is transmitted to you from the moment you choose it.

And the entire system grows, like a snowball; six years ago this question of sustainability or social action was not so relevant to the consumer; now, it is becoming more relevant. And if we got into this thinking that we had to deal with global issues, today we say, “He who does not get involved in this is going to disappear.” It is like thinking of a dinosaur, and pretending that, because it is big and many bow down to it today, it will endure in time.

Undoubtedly the economy has to be transformed, we recognize ourselves as an agent of transformation, an agent that alone cannot do much. A small contribution (and I say only): who are the others? Well, they are the other agents involved in the economy; from the government, from the entities that do not belong to the government, from the degree of involvement of society in these issues of society, which make this increasingly more active, more required, more demanded, giving it more relevance; and then more brands are going to move in this direction generating a positive impact on people.

Then it is a loop, a circle, something that closes.

I am going to take another example, a global initiative, with a local application, from Paraguay (I thought it was worth sharing, since this event is being developed in Paraguay).

Video OMO Camp:

OMO is a brand that also dared to challenge a paradigm, which is: “Getting dirty is good.” Anyone who is here has undoubtedly been raised by another paradigm, which was: “Do not lie down, do not get dirty”, and that had an implication about play and learning; and this is what interpreted the brand that had to change, the paradigm that had to change.

Getting dirty is good” has to do with enabling the game at an early age in children, so that through that game children can make the most of themselves; can learn, can make contact with nature and the different stimuli that make early childhood learning at school age.

That is the launch the brand made here in Paraguay: a camp that had different stations, and what they were looking for – exactly – behind the game, to promote learning and to encourage competition that the school possibly would not have had such close contact (for example astronomy, the care of the environment, the sciences); and therefore, they passed through the different stations, and through the game they were left with this knowledge.

A number of schools and children went through these stations, and mothers interested in seeing how this was unfolding also participated; and they found that connection, that emotional bond that the brand creates with consumers at the time of deploying this activity. Well, yet another example of daring to do something different and go against what has been done historically in the market, and propose something that is a common good with a positive impact for society, which has a return on value, on brand recognition, on the consideration of the brand, and that has been one of the engines by which the brand continues to grow as it has been doing up until today.

And to close (I'm running out of time), a final conclusion. In six years that we have been running hand in hand with sustainability, my final conclusion is: it is something that is directed from the top-down of an organization; if this is not considered – this vision – is not embraced by the organization's directory, it does not happen; from the bottom-up it is hard to thrive.

It is something that needs consistency over time. We started with a very ambitious commitment and undoubtedly many of the goals we had we did not know how to solve them, I confess, we did not know how; but we were clear on where we wanted to go, and on the way we discovered the means to reach them.

And today we have a partial result of our sustainable agenda, say 80%; and there are 20% of things that we are working towards – in part yes, in part not –  and we are still discovering how to execute them.

And finally I would say: it is not something we can do alone. When we launched our sustainable living plan in 2010, we said: if by 2020 we reach them, if we achieve all the goals and no one else adds up or the impact on the environment has not been significant, the transformation does not happen.

We definitely need to work in an articulated way in the industry, with the public sector, with organizations that do not belong to the government, with society, in order to shape it, continue to shape sustainability, and have this increasingly become a fact and not an idea.

So good, thanks for the time to share with you the experience.