Engage to Change: Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan Seeks to Shift Consumer Behaviour

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Engage to Change: Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan Seeks to Shift Consumer Behaviour

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Transparency in action: @Unilever_Press's #Sustainable Living Plan open to discussion with anyone: http://bit.ly/ICWFOY @justmeans #CSR
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Monday, April 30, 2012 - 8:45pm

April has been a busy month for one of the world's largest consumer goods companies. A year into its Sustainable Living Plan, the company released its 2011 progress report, and hosted global in-person meetings and a 24-hour live online Sustainable Living Lab, facilitated by GlobeScan. All this activity managed to generate a lot of buzz and rightfully so. Corporate Social Responsibility - or CSR - has been a delicate dance for many companies balancing the growing need for transparency with traditional communication tools that tend advertise only the positive. Unilever's commitments to reduce its environmental and social impacts are laudable and place the company among a small group of leaders in corporate sustainability. However, what is truly impressive is the way with which this global giant opened the conversation to anyone who wanted to join the dialogue. Especially interesting was the discussion on changing consumer behaviour. Unilever wants consumers to use less - a novel idea in an increasingly capitalist-consuming world.

The Lab
Hosting a 24-hour online forum seems like a big task, but not without its rewards. For the company, engaging with stakeholders enables the company to learn from customers, suppliers and others that joined the forum. The Lab was designed around four streams: Sustainable SourcingSustainable Production and DistributionConsumer Behaviour Change and Recycling and Waste. It is a smart, authentic way to try and explore difficult questions.

Ethical Consumer Behaviour
According to GlobeScan research, ethical consumers "reward" or "punish" companies by choosing to actively purchase (reward) or refuse to buy (punish) goods and services. [1] Voting with your money is a powerful tool for companies and over the years the increase of "green" products speaks to satisfying growing consumer demands. This pattern creates a rewarding environment for companies such as Unilever who listen to the shifting needs of their customers.

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Meirav Even-Har is a Justmeans staff blogger. She reports on Canadian CSR issues. Meirav is an independent sustainability consultant and writer working in Toronto, Canada.