Businesses not moving fast enough on climate change initiatives: former Unilever CEO


While lauding the efforts taken by the governments and businesses alike, he said that “we’re still not moving fast enough”. In his opinion, it’s in businesses‘ clear interest, to make sure that they accelerate their efforts in fighting climate change.

“More governments are waking up to the climate emergency and setting serious targets and putting policies in place. More investors are actually decarbonizing their portfolio and driving money towards this green conversion. More industries have signed up to science-based targets, and more coalitions are forming where CEOs are coming together to deal with the tougher challenges like the Mission Possible coalition, or The First Movers coalition, where industries like shipping, aviation, cement, get together to decarbonize their business models,” Polman said addressing industry body Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry or FICCI’s 95th AGM virtually on Friday.

Polman, along with sustainable business guru Andrew Winston, authored the book Net Positive that urges companies to give more than they take and tackle a broad range of social issues from climate change to diversity and inclusion while also driving profitable growth for their business.

Meanwhile, Polman acknowledged the progress made by industries and governments over the last five years.

Increasingly companies around the world are being forced to look at their business models from a different lens. This includes being more aware of rising income and gender inequalities at the workplaces, apart from being acutely aware of the impact their industries have on the planet.

Polman said that companies who increasingly give back to the society thrive; they are also attractive employers. Consumers, too, want to buy from such companies.

“It’s not enough anymore in my opinion to run a company that is a little bit less bad, or does a little bit less harm through conventional corporate social responsibility. At a time when we already have significantly overshot our planetary boundaries, living well beyond our means or simply being less bad, won’t cut it anymore,” he said.

Globally, inequality and extremism are on the rise, all while trust is in decline, Polman said. The period of geopolitical calm is over, he added, adding that the threat from the pandemic, climate change, and geopolitical tensions still persists.

“On many issues, I have to say in many places across the world unfortunately, our politics is stuck. The shape and pattern of international trade are also changing rapidly. The effect of it all is uncertainty and upheaval which threatens our common values, and I believe, our shared future,” he added.

However, talking about the India story Polman said it is a story of growth and opportunity.

“We also are encouraged by India’s leadership increasingly at the world stage, including the leadership that you’re assuming now with the responsibility of the G20 presidency. I always say that with size comes responsibility. Your government is pushing for more ambitious international commitments to phase down fossil fuel at the COP in Egypt, and although we might not have succeeded in this, your efforts were well noted. So were recent statements from your Prime Minister calling for an end to Russian aggression in the UK. And indeed, also the reassurance that you gave that environmental and sustainable focus will be the priority, both for you at home, as well as abroad,” he added.

However, Polman also pointed to challenges that nations like India face—especially when they have the task of lifting millions out of poverty.

“Just like any big economy, you have your challenges, not least in eradicating poverty and bringing security and dignity to all parts of the Indian society. And of course, we all know that nothing can be taken for granted. No nation is immune to the tectonic shifts that are taking place in geopolitics or in the global economy, or in the changing atmosphere in which we operate. But still, the relative stability in your economy, the growth projections, in spite of everything going on, the management of covid-19, the investments in infrastructure, your growing middle class, continuous steps to make it easier for foreigners to invest, all things that I think will continue to keep you on a path of success, and all things that are not happening by chance,” he added.

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