Paul Polman has been announced as one of the winners of the UN’s highest environmental accolade for leading the private sector toward sustainability, both in his role as Unilever CEO and as a tireless advocate for more sustainable business models.
Mr. Polman, who receives the award in the Entrepreneurial Vision category, is being recognized for his bold leadership, which demonstrates that the transition to a low-carbon economy is an opportunity to be seized, not a risk to be managed.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “With his ambitious vision and personal commitment to sustainability, Mr Polman has established a reputation for leading by example. As Unilever CEO, he is demonstrating the need for long-term corporate thinking that accounts for social and environmental concerns. In addition, his leadership on UN and other sustainability boards is directly influencing a sustainability shift in the corporate world beyond his own company.
“Mr. Polman’s contribution to sustainability through partnerships and collaborative action embodies Goal 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals, and exemplifies the type of cooperation needed for their realization. He has been an untiring advocate in both professional and personal capacity to make the world of business commit to being part of the solution to the manifold challenges of sustainable development.”
As CEO of Unilever, Mr. Polman has introduced a plan to halve the environmental footprint of the manufacture and use of the company’s products by 2020. Under his leadership, Unilever has already achieved zero waste to landfill across its entire global factory network, reduced the amount of CO₂ from energy and water in manufacturing by 37 per cent and 32 per cent since 2008 and are sourcing more than half of agricultural raw materials sustainably.
Mr. Polman said, “I’m deeply honoured to accept this award. As the United Nations prepares to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals and agree a global climate deal, it is more important than ever that businesses take active leadership to show that growth and sustainability are not in conflict.
“Quite the opposite – in our experience sustainability drives growth. We have reached a tipping point for change in 2015, a once in a lifetime opportunity to end poverty and tackle climate change. But to make a real difference we need everyone on board – business, governments and NGOs. Now is the time to make this a fairer, more prosperous, more sustainable world.”
The long-term perspective shown by Mr. Polman as Unilever CEO is mirrored in his work as chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development – an alliance of more than 200 businesses worldwide committed to creating a sustainable future for business, society and the environment.
The CEO’s imprint can also be felt in the UN Global Compact – the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, set up by the UN in 2000 – where he sits on the Board. Under the Global Compact, more than 8,000 member companies have chosen to follow ten guiding principles, including those on human rights and the environment.
In his role as co-chair of the Global Consumer Goods Forum Sustainability Committee, Mr. Polman and Unilever has led the work that resulted in the Forum’s commitment to net-zero deforestation by 2020.
Mr. Polman is also a member of the Commission on the New Climate Economy, chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón. The Commission aims to help governments, businesses and society make better-informed decisions on how to achieve economic prosperity and development while also addressing climate change.
After pushing successfully for moves towards greater sustainability for all businesses, Mr. Polman was asked by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to be part of the UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. There, the CEO worked with fellow panel members to come up with key recommendations on the new Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr. Polman’s work helped ensure that draft SDG goal number 17 aims to ‘strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development’. The panel’s report recommends that all companies worth more than $100m comply and report on social and environmental criteria for example.
About Champions of the Earth
The annual Champions of the Earth prize is awarded to outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment.
Since being founded eleven years ago, the awards have recognized 67 laureates – ranging from leaders of nations to grassroots activists – in the categories of policy, science, business and civil society.
This year’s edition aims to support the new Sustainable Development Goals by illustrating – through the examples of the laureates – that the transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient, inclusive and sustainable economic models is not just possible, but already in progress.
Mr. Polman joins H.E. Sheik Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh (Policy Leadership); the National Geographic Society (Science and Innovation); Brazilian cosmetics firm Natura (Entrepreneurial Vision); and South Africa’s Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit (Inspiration and Action). The awards will be handed out at a Gala Ceremony at the close of the Sustainable Development Goals summit, on September 27.