Unilever Aims to be Synonymous with Leading-Edge Sustainability

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Unilever Aims to be Synonymous with Leading-Edge Sustainability

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#Unilever, planning to become THE company that stands for leading-edge #sustainability http://3bl.me/f8xkfn @Companies4Good #csr
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Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 7:15pm

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In the world of sustainable products, marketing messages can be misleading and many consumers are confused about how to make ‘good’ choices when they shop for groceries, clothing, personal care items and the like.  From ‘natural’ to ‘organic’ to ‘humane’ to ‘Rain Forrest Alliance Certified’ to Greenpeace’s “International Seafood Red List’ to whatever the latest certification is, consumers face challenges in understanding how their purchases affect the greater good. 

Enter Unilever, which hopes to clear through that clutter and offer a one-stop-shop option.  Unilever plans to become THE company that stands for leading-edge sustainability. 

Unilever has undertaken a 10-year Sustainable Living Plan, launched in 2011, to embed sustainability into the company and its brand messages.  The latest effort within the program is a corporate advertising campaign to communicate the company’s sustainability efforts and the impact its brands are having on solving social and environmental problems.

As Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed told Marketing Week, “I don’t want people to have to worry about whether this product has a better sustainability profile than another, I want people to know that Unilever is leading edge in this area and if you see the Unilever ‘U’ logo on an ad or on a product, that gives you the reassurance that we’ve done our homework.”

I applaud Unilever for taking this approach and hope other consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies take a cue to think about how their product footprint can be improved.  That said, I do think it will be a challenge to make a connection between Unilever as a parent company and the brands that consumers know on market shelves.  While the Unilever logo may eventually become a shorthand for  smart, sustainable shopping, that result can only happen through tremendous consumer education and encouragement to read the back of the packaging – and that means swimming against the tide of irrational consumer behavior. 

Ratings systems and certifications can be very powerful, but their effectiveness becomes diluted when they compete to set the same quality standard.  Perhaps Unilver would better serve consumers by working with other CPG companies, or distribution partners like Walmart,  to set a sustainability certification system that can be applied across the sector.  Or even better, collaborate with an existing certification system and put the weight of a Fortune 500 company behind it to build adoption and momentum.