Peter Haring - Discover Director Foods

The most important piece of advice my mother gave me was: “What people think about you is extra” (“Wat de mensen denken hebben ze toe”). In other words, you should never be afraid to share your views with other people, however strange those views may seem. This advice has always helped me in my career. In particular, it’s inspired me to take a lead on sustainability – both in the work I do at Unilever as Foods Discover Director and also in my personal life.

How my role helps to create a more sustainable business

Careers at Unilever

Sustainability is about ensuring future generations are able to live in the same way we have. At Unilever, we are working towards achieving this goal in a huge variety of ways.

A key area I have been focusing on with my team is the development of new processing technologies to help minimize waste. We are also looking at how we can reduce the amount of energy needed to produce our products, for example by using lower temperatures in the production process.

One such project is our Cool Blending technology, which crystallizes hard (or saturated) fats in a unique way, creating better crystal structures than with conventional technology. This innovation has simplified the margarine-making process, enabling us to blend healthy oils with greater energy efficiency.

It also enables us to reduce the amount of fat we use in our margarine by almost a quarter – without having to compromise on texture or taste. When you consider that oils and fats are the biggest contributor to greenhouses gases in the manufacture of spreads, this represents a significant achievement of which I am particularly proud.

Why Unilever encourages me to speak out

As well as allowing me to initiate and drive projects that impact directly on sustainability, my role at Unilever also gives me the opportunity to speak publicly on the subject and to encourage other businesses to follow our lead.

For example, I currently represent Unilever on a Dutch employers’ organization that is focused on biodiversity, economy and ecology. I am also a board member of BioSolar Cells, a large research project that aims to make better use of solar energy by improving the system by which plants, algae and some bacteria capture energy from sunlight.

In these forums, and through the lectures I give on sustainability to students on The European Master in Food Studies and corporate venturing groups in the Netherlands, I am able to share and promote the progress we have made at Unilever and to argue the case that sustainability and profitability need not be conflicting issues.

This has a twofold benefit for our business. First, it increases awareness of Unilever and informs people and organizations of our ground-breaking work on sustainability. Second, it contributes to our purpose of making sustainable living commonplace, which includes trying to change the broader systems of which we are part. This is being recognised, with the British Chamber of Commerce awarding Unilever the Sustainable Business Award for 2016.

Reducing my own personal carbon footprint

My commitment to living sustainably applies not just to my work but to my personal life as well. Making the necessary changes is easier than you think. I have reduced my carbon footprint considerably in recent years by following these three simple steps.

What you can do

The first step to change is to become aware of the issue and what you can do about it. To start with, why not take one of the many tests available online that help you understand more about your ecological footprint and what you could do to reduce it.

This is about making small, incremental changes that reduce your carbon footprint over time. It’s also important to have a positive mindset. When I switched to public transport, I did not dwell on the inconvenience but focused instead on the opportunities it would give me to read and exercise on my way to and from work.

In the longer term, you may start to take more drastic measures to help you live more sustainably. I now live in a positive energy house, which even produces enough surplus electricity for me to power my electric car. While these sort of steps may appear abnormal to some people (Wat de mensen denken hebben ze toe!), to others they may provide inspiration.

One thing that has made my personal journey towards sustainability easier is that my objectives and my employer’s are so closely aligned. The sense of purpose I feel working for a company like Unilever inspires me to have a positive impact on sustainability – in my own life, in the business and in society at large.

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