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The Economist

Unilever: "We believe that we should mainstream sustainability"

Sustainability and ethics have become increasingly important to consumers - and agencies and brands are responding by committing to sustainable policies

Unilever: "We believe that we should mainstream sustainability"

Wake Up With The Economist saw adland's leading figures gathering to debate the issues of the day, and sustainability was one of the agenda-setting topics.

Whether they're responding to consumer demands or to pressure from within the organisation, it's increasingly clear that companies can no longer afford to ignore sustainability.

"We believe that we should mainstream sustainability," said Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever. He explained how the consumer brand has brought together its marketing and sustainability teams under one umbrella, the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. "The idea is to not have marketing in one corner trying to sell more stuff, and the sustainability team over here trying to save the world," he said.

Consumers are looking for a "higher purpose" to engage with brands, said Atilla Cansun, CMO of Merck Consumer Health: "It's not going to be enough to just try to sell something. It's not the what, it's not the how; it's going to be more and more about the why."

Consumer attitudes towards sustainable products have shifted, said Keith Weed: "About five years ago there were those environmentally-focused products that cost more and did the job worse; it's absolutely clear consumers will not have a trade-off. But for the same product at the same price, if you offer sustainable benefits as well, that will swing consumer choice."

As well as driving consumer engagement, sustainable policies are vital in creating an engaged workforce. "The other really strong benefit of sustainability for us is employee engagement," said Nina Bibby, consumer and marketing director at O2. "Our colleagues are proud of what we do for young people, for the environment."

John Rudaizky, global brand and external communications leader, EY, agreed. "We've done an  immersive experience that takes future graduates on this journey of how EY impact the world," he said. "It's quite incredible the work we do in Africa, the work we do with refugees and so forth, so it's an amazing immersive experience."

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