Business Chief Legend: Paul Polman
Anyone worth their sustainability salt knows the impact Paul Polman made at Unilever. CEO of the consumer goods giant for a decade (2009-2019) and the first outsider to lead the Dutch-Anglo company since its founding in 1929, Polman developed an ambitious plan, to separate the company’s growth from its overall environmental footprint, and to increase its positive social impact. It was a risk, but one that ultimately paid off.
Unilever’s pioneering and now-famed decade-old Sustainable Living Plan not only helped the company reach 1.3bn people through its health and hygiene programmes, but also delivered consistent top and bottom-line growth, both positioning Unilever as a sustainability leader and demonstrating that a long-term, multi-stakeholder model can exist alongside excellent financial performance. In fact, under Polman’s decade-long leadership, Unilever was one of the best performing companies in its sector.
This delivery of – and commitment to – long-term, sustainable capitalism isn’t something Polman left at Unilever’s door, however. Both, while he was leading the charge at the company and since departing, Polman has practiced what he’s preached, and since his retirement from Unilever in 2019, continues to preach what he has practiced.
Because Polman not only pulled off Unilever’s pioneering plan, proving ‘corporate can be clean’ to the wider business world, but he played a significant role in developing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and established the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, whose flagship report mapped the economic prize for firms that align with the goals
And such significant ‘responsible business’ achievements have resulted in a significant number of awards, not least France’s prestigious Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur for his role in the historic 2015 Paris Agreement, a British Knighthood, and 13 honorary degrees.
Since his retirement from Unilever in 2019, Polman has dedicated himself to advocating the Goals he helped develop with the co-founding of Imagine – a social venture that aims at galvanising industry leaders around the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
So, when he’s not working with organisations to help them realise business as a force for good or rallying business leaders into purposeful action, he’s actively mentoring young leaders (as Chair and Counsellor of One Young World), and putting his money where his mouth is, both as an active philanthropist to a number of causes and a charity founder (Kilimanjaro Blind Trust).
And with the pandemic having “put us back probably 20-30 years on the sustainable development goals” as Polman recently told CNBC, with whom he co-founded the ESG Council in April, Polman is even more fired up in convincing business leaders to accelerate their corporate responsibility efforts. Kudos to that.
G7 Summit guide: What it is and what leaders hope to achieve
Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you’ll have seen the term ‘G7’ plastered all over the Internet this week. We’re going to give you the skinny on exactly what the G7 is and what its purpose on this planet is ─ and whether it’s a good or a bad collaboration.
Who are the G7?
The Group of Seven, or ‘G7’, may sound like a collective of pirate lords from a certain Disney smash-hit, but in reality, it’s a group of the world’s seven largest “advanced” economies ─ the powerhouses of the world, if you like.
The merry band comprises:
- The United Kingdom
- The United States
Historically, Russia was a member of the then-called ‘G8’ but found itself excluded after their ever-so-slightly illegal takeover of Crimea back in 2014.
Since 1977, the European Union has also been involved in some capacity with the G7 Summit. The Union is not recognised as an official member, but gradually, as with all Europe-linked affairs, the Union has integrated itself into the conversation and is now included in all political discussions on the annual summit agenda.
When was the ‘G’ formed?
Back in 1975, when the world was reeling from its very first oil shock and the subsequent financial fallout that came with it, the heads of state and government from six of the leading industrial countries had a face-to-face meeting at the Chateau de Rambouillet to discuss the global economy, its trajectory, and what they could do to address the economic turmoil that reared its ugly head throughout the 70s.
Why does the G7 exist?
At this very first summit ─ the ‘G6’ summit ─, the leaders adopted a 15-point communiqué, the Declaration of Rambouillet, and agreed to continuously meet once a year moving forward to address the problems of the day, with a rotating Presidency. One year later, Canada was welcomed into the fold, and the ‘G6’ became seven and has remained so ever since ─ Russia’s inclusion and exclusion not counted.
The group, as previously mentioned, was born in the looming shadow of a financial crisis, but its purpose is more significant than just economics. When leaders from the group meet, they discuss and exchange ideas on a broad range of issues, including injustice around the world, geopolitical matters, security, and sustainability.
It’s worth noting that, while the G7 may be made up of mighty nations, the bloc is an informal one. So, although it is considered an important annual event, declarations made during the summit are not legally binding. That said, they are still very influential and worth taking note of because it indicates the ambitions and outlines the initiatives of these particularly prominent leading nations.
Where is the 2021 G7 summit?
This year, the summit will be held in the United Kingdom deep in the southwest of England, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosting his contemporaries in the quaint Cornish resort of Carbis Bay near St Ives in Cornwall.
What will be discussed this year?
After almost two years of remote communication, this will be the first in-person G7 summit since the novel Coronavirus first took hold of the globe, and Britain wants “leaders to seize the opportunity to build back better from coronavirus, uniting to make the future fairer, greener, and more prosperous.”
The three-day summit, running from Friday to Sunday, will see the seven leaders discussing a whole host of shared challenges, ranging from the pandemic and vaccine development and distribution to the ongoing global fight against climate change through the implementation of sustainable norms and values.
According to the UK government, the attendees will also be taking a look at “ensuring that people everywhere can benefit from open trade, technological change, and scientific discovery.”