Unilever CEO Paul Polman: innovation will be critical to driving mass behaviour changes

Posted: 12 June 2012 | Unilever | No comments yet

Unilever brings together behaviour change experts at new Vlaardingen symposium…

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Unilever brings together behaviour change experts at new Vlaardingen symposium.

Science and innovation will be instrumental in helping people to change towards more sustainable lifestyles, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said in a speech today.

Introducing the Symposium on Behaviour Change for Better Health in Vlaardingen, the Netherlands, Polman said that Research & Development has a major role to play in deepening companies’ understanding of consumer behaviour, and designing the solutions which encourage them to adopt more sustainable habits – in both developed and developing & emerging markets.

Overcoming the challenge of consumer behaviour change is a key focus for Unilever in its efforts to deliver the targets set in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which outlines the company’s vision to double the size of its business while reducing its environmental impact and increasing its positive social impact.

Under the plan, Unilever has committed to help a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being, halve the environmental footprint of its products across their entire value chain, and source 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably – all by 2020.

With consumers’ use of Unilever products accounting for 68 per cent of the company’s carbon footprint, breakthrough science will act as “a critical catalyst and enabler of behaviour change” to help Unilever meet its targets.

“If we are going to halve our environmental impact and help a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being, we have to inspire consumers to choose more sustainable products and adopt more sustainable habits when they cook, clean and wash with our products,” said Polman.

“We know that if our scientific understanding of behaviour change is applied rigorously, behaviour change is possible. Superior products, new technologies and compelling ways of deploying behaviour change programmes are some of the ways we have learnt to use science and innovation to inspire change amongst shoppers, individuals and even households.

“We see this in play everyday – from the person at risk of cardiovascular disease who is using plant based margarines to reduce their saturated fat intake to school children who want to share what they have learnt about washing hands with soap with their family.”

“Changing behaviour is going to require further new approaches, and science and innovation will be critical in helping people to change towards a more sustainable, healthier lifestyle. We need to take on the challenge of applying the best of our scientific and technological advancements and using them to work towards a sustainable future. This is something that requires a long term-committed investment and widespread collaboration.”

In April 2012, Unilever reported on its first year of progress towards achieving its USLP targets. Whilst there has been good progress in some areas, such as in sustainable sourcing where 24% of Unilever’s total agricultural raw materials are now sustainably sourced, the targets which require consumer behaviour change are areas where progress has been difficult.

Last year Unilever published its own model for effective behaviour change, the Five Levers for Change. This offers a practical tool based on decades of research, observation and skill from inside and outside Unilever. The document emphasises that to action change in behaviour it is necessary to make it understood, easy, desirable, rewarding, and habitual.

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