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Helping our people drive sustainable growth

To achieve real change we need to create a movement for sustainable growth within Unilever.

We seek out new ways to engage our people on sustainability and to harness their passion to achieve our goals. We focus on learning and development to build capability, knowledge and leadership to help them fulfil their potential. Our work on Sustainable Living brands helps our business build brands with purpose and we promote sustainable innovation through tools and scorecards.

73% of Unilever employees worldwide agree that their job contributes to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) and drives sustainable growth.

Purpose-driven leadership development

“Leadership will be critical in the delivery of Unilever’s purpose and in our performance over the coming years. Our leadership programmes will nurture the purpose-driven and values-led leaders Unilever, and our world, need today.”

Tim Munden, Chief Learning Officer

Our leadership programmes develop our senior leaders to be purpose-driven individuals. Our UL2020 programme, for example, helps develop leaders with the insight and imagination to anticipate the challenges and opportunities of 2020 and beyond. Leaders work on Purpose to Impact initiatives (PIIs), developing practical solutions to socio-economic problems that generate profit and growth and help us advance on our USLP goals.

The programme is guided by global experts and focus areas have included reducing food waste, empowering women and reducing deaths from mosquito-borne diseases. It has been completed by our most senior leaders and is now being rolled out to over 400 Vice Presidents across the business.

Our recently refreshed General Manager (GM) programme helps equip our GMs with the mind-set to develop innovative, sustainable and inclusive business models to achieve responsible growth. GMs play a key role in creating the right conditions for delivering the USLP.

As a values-led and purpose-driven organisation we have been using our Unilever Leadership Development Programme (ULDP) as the vehicle to help our executives to discover their purpose and to use this to guide them in their decisions and careers.

During 2016 we ran a number of pilots across the UKI, Indonesia and the Nordics to see if we could support lower levels of management to have the same experience of discovering the power of purpose.

“The results so far have been fantastic – with attendees at each workshop enthusing about the clarity of direction and “breath of fresh air” provided through focusing on culture and purpose.”

Richard Sharp, Nordics HR Director

Learning and engagement on sustainability

We integrate sustainability into existing training and create bespoke courses to develop employees’ capabilities and understanding of how sustainability applies to their role. ‘Bringing Sustainability to Life’ is one of the six key Business Skills addressed in our learning programmes.

For example, new brand managers complete a week-long sustainable marketing challenge during their Foundation course and over 13,000 people have completed a USLP e-learning module. In 2016, we developed a series of short animations to help new joiners understand the USLP from their first day in Unilever.

Our Learning Hub, which hosts all our learning content in one place, enables employees to access training whenever and wherever they need it. We are starting to give colleagues in our acquired businesses and joint ventures access to the Hub, enabling us to reach a wider audience.

Our Sustainable Business and Communications (SB&C) function supports Unilever’s sustainable growth ambitions. Our SB&C Academy helps equip them with the knowledge, insights and capabilities they need to do this well. It includes courses and coaching on themes such effective partnerships as well as learning sessions on topics such as the circular economy and carbon reduction.

Our employee sustainability champions in key functions, divisions and countries help engage employees on sustainability, support our leadership teams to identify local priorities and review progress quarterly against our targets. We link progress on sustainable business goals to remuneration for a growing number of managers, including our CEO and several members of the Unilever Leadership Executive.

Developing our Sustainable Living brands

Our Sustainable Living brands inspire employees take action on sustainability at a brand level. These brands combine a strong purpose delivering a social or environmental benefit, with products contributing to at least one of our USLP goals.

In 2015 we had 12 Sustainable Living brands which grew 30% faster than the rest of the business and delivered nearly half our growth.

In 2016 the number of Sustainable Living brands in our top 40 brands rose to 18, and they again grew faster than the rest of the business - this time by 50%. Combined, they delivered more than 60% of Unilever’s growth in 2016. Our six biggest brands are Sustainable Living brands – household favourites such as Knorr, Dove, Dirt is Good (our laundry brands, which have different names in different markets), Lipton, Rexona and Hellmann’s. See Embedding sustainability for more.

Our Sustainable Business team supports our top 40 brands on integrating sustainability through workshops, ‘how to toolkits’ and best practice guidance. External partnerships bring the latest thinking into the business to help and inspire our brands. For example, our partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation encourages innovation around the Circular Economy.

Encouraging sustainable innovation

Our Chief R&D Officer and R&D teams have a target to increase the contribution to business growth and innovation made by sustainable living products, those that improve health, well-being or nutrition, reduce environmental impacts or use sustainably sourced ingredients.

Product teams use our Eco Design tool to assess choices of ingredients, formulation and packaging against USLP targets in areas such as Health & Hygiene, Nutrition, GHG emissions, Waste, Water and Sustainable sourcing and see whether the mix is the same, better or worse against a comparison product. Results from the tool are linked to our Innovation Project Management (IPM) system for review by senior leaders.

Product sustainability is tracked through category scorecards which are reviewed quarterly by our Global Division Leadership Teams (GDLT). These show overall performance against USLP targets for that category and the sustainability performance of the 10 highest value projects and which projects are delivering the most impact.

Our biggest innovation projects are managed through the GDLTs with each project having to secure approval before progressing. The project’s sustainability performance is reviewed alongside results for consumer testing, business case and supply chain viability in determining whether or not a project is approved.


Creating an employee movement

brightFuture - creating an employee movement for sustainable growth

brightFuture is our employee engagement programme across all our markets that brings our purpose to life for our employees. It’s about demonstrating how everything we do as a business and as individuals, can deliver sustainable growth.

Throughout the year we create opportunities for our people to experience what sustainable growth looks like in practice through our brands. As a result, they’re our story tellers; talking to friends and family about how we’re creating a brighter future and building advocates inside and outside the organisation.

Here are some examples of how our employees contributed in 2016:

Dove Day – Over 3,000 employees ran Dove self-esteem workshops in schools in 37 countries, helping more than 30,000 young people worldwide.

“Dove Day is a great opportunity to live and experience the USLP first-hand. It is a very gratifying experience to see that with a small action you can help some children to improve their self-esteem.” - Sandra, Brand Manager, Unilever Spain

Global Handwashing Day – Over 5,000 employees visited schools to teach children the healthy habit of washing their hands with soap.

World Food Day – Our employees went out to their local communities setting up soup kitchens, volunteering in foodbanks, packing food parcels for those less fortunate helping donate over 85,000 meals in addition to the 1 million donated by our Knorr brand.

It’s opportunities like these that make our employees feel they play a part and contribute to our purpose of making sustainable living commonplace.

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We're always looking to connect with those who share an interest in a sustainable future.


Get in touch with Unilever PLC and specialist teams in our headquarters, or find contacts around the world.

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