It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog and having had a hectic summer it is about time I shared some more of my thoughts.
During the last six months I have been involved in a number of projects, all of which have had a CSR element to them, leading me to do more research into different elements of CSR and the potential impact they have on a business. More importantly it has meant reading more about the impact on customers that a businesses’ environmental activity will have.
I have always thought of myself as considerate when it comes to the environment and as an animal lover and someone who is passionate about outdoor activities it really is becoming a “cause” for me. However, I am also very well aware of the commercial pressures we all live under and have been involved in several debates recently about profit versus environment and the fact that the two are mutually exclusive.
I don’t agree.
One thing is certain, if we don’t fundamentally change our approach to business, we will be singularly responsible for the destruction of the environment and ultimately the world that our children and grandchildren will have. It doesn’t have to be, but it will take all of us and not just the politicians to change the way we work.
Unilever today confirmed that they plan to cut plastic use by half to appeal to Gen Z, but that still means they will be responsible for producing 350,000 tonnes of plastic each year. My observation with this approach is that they are looking at this the wrong way, they are assuming that this move will engage with Gen Z and in reality, whilst it is moving in the right way, I don’t think Gen Z will accept it as going far enough. I think Unilever should be looking at the potential business benefits of becoming plastic free.
Firstly, Gen Z have more information that we ever had and will increasingly make purchase decisions based on socio economic factors. Secondly, I believe they will be prepared to pay slightly more if a product is eco-friendly. This approach could mean that not only can plastic be removed but that profit can be increased as well.
What the global corporates need to do is look at the bigger picture, if for example Unilever came out and said they were looking to be plastic free inside five years using paper based, sustainable packaging, or another type of eco-friendly packaging and to ensure their supply they were going to sponsor the planting and growing of forests in the Amazon, I believe they would have a unique message that could flow through all their product marketing and increase both their customer base and profit. The big change though is that this strategy must be for the long term and corporates will have to manage investors expectations that there may be some years where dividends will be down due to the investment required, but that doesn’t mean the business isn’t performing.