Unilever, which owns brands such as Magnum, has been able to engage in difficult conversations on sustainability © Getty Images
Unilever, which owns brands such as Magnum, has been able to engage in difficult conversations on sustainability © Getty Images

How sustainability can help build supply chain resilience

Unilever has topped a survey as the most recognised sustainability leader, as firms are advised to focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) to “sustain growth and the ability to withstand shocks”.

In a survey conducted by market research firm GlobeScan and thinktank SustainAbility, consumer goods giant Unilever was identified as the most recognised sustainability leader, followed by Patagonia and Ikea. 

As part of the survey, over 700 sustainability professionals in 71 countries were asked to name companies they see as being leaders in integrating sustainability into their business strategy.

Luke Smitham, senior consultant at Kumi Consulting, told SM part of Unilever and Patagonia's success in reaching sustainability goals is developing a vision that they stick to. 

“Unilever has had a vision for so long, but they stick to it. It is not perfect because the sector they are in is very difficult.

“The brands that are part of Unilever have a lot of independence. Ben and Jerry's has always been allowed to be Ben and Jerry's and do their own thing and stick to their vision, while Unilever's central visions have been so strong as to push brands that are maybe not quite there to be better over time."

Smitham added that even when there had been supply chain issues, Unilever and Patagonia had demonstrated their ability to engage in difficult conversations.

The survey also highlighted the importance of ESG, with 38% of respondents citing it as the most urgent action to help private sector firms build resilience post-Covid. 

The UN’s Environment Programme also backed the idea of putting sustainability at the heart of the world’s economic recovery. 

“This economic jump-start cannot and must not be done at the expense of the environment. It is imperative for all countries [...] to not only meet their current commitments – on plastic pollution, climate and land degradation – but to increase and stretch these,” it said.

At a time when 60% of firms have lowered investment in sustainability initiatives, Smitham added, it is crucial for procurement teams to work alongside sustainability teams to build resilience. 

“It's not about necessarily spending more, but it's thinking about what are you buying and what you are putting money into. One of the problems with sustainability in particular is that it is not seen as a value add, but actually a sustainability team can have intimate knowledge of the supply chain, more than procurement teams,” he said.

“Companies that put ESG resilience at the forefront tend to last longer and have more sustained growth and the ability to withstand shocks. That can happen through developing a supply chain that you understand, trust and build partnerships with.

“You could be in a recession and there's a massive scandal or there's an environmental issue that has to be fixed. If you have built that resilience at the forefront, through building partnerships and engaging on environmental and social issues, you aren't as likely to face the backlash.”

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