Paul Polman is a sustainability titan who has been at the helm of Unilever for almost a
decade. Polman has made the economic argument and the business case for ecological responsibility and social justice. He believes that businesses must contribute to the betterment of society. Polman has been an advocate of gender equality and his achievements at
Unilever are at least in part due to the fact that he has surrounded
himself with capable women.
Polman is widely regarded as a leading figure in sustainability. He has earned a number of accolades including the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal for outstanding service to the environment and the UN’s Champion for Global Change Award.
Polman knows that capitalism must evolve and he leads by example. Polman has repeatedly stated that responsible business practices are compatible with economic growth. He believes business leaders can be a
critical part of efforts to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems. This
includes both environmental degradation and climate change.
In a Fortune magazine feature titled “Unilever CEO Paul Polman’s Plan to Save the World,” the Fortune 500 CEO said: “The real purpose of business has always been to come up with solutions that are relevant to society, to make society better.” Polman is a longtime
advocate of carbon pricing schemes to reduce corporate emissions. He has championed sustainable development and he has stressed the importance of investments from both the public and the private sector. He has also
sounded the alarm about issues like over-consumption of resources and
On June 25th 2015, Polman was one of the people who contributed to a publication called NEXT Sustainable Business. In addition to Polman this collaborative venture by the United Nations Global Compact and DNV
GL included several sustainability leaders. It calls on companies to integrate 10 Principles into corporate values, strategies, policies and procedures.
Polman is not afraid to stand up for important values. He applauded Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck
Pharmaceutical when the latter quit the president’s American
Manufacturing Council. After the Merck CEO blasted Trump for his
equivocation on the Neo-Nazi’s that marched in Charlottesville, Polman
praised Frazier’s, “strong leadership to stand up for the moral values
that made this country what it is”.
Polman also criticized Trump for withdrawing from the Paris agreement and he suggested the move may have accelerated climate action. As reported by Energy Manager Today, Polman said that Trump has, “done us a favor.”
He went on to explain that, “we’re moving faster now than we otherwise might
Part of Polman’s tremendous success at Unilever can be ascribed to the team of women that he works with.
“Women’s leadership cannot be a ‘nice-to-have’ for business. Companies
that continue to have male-dominated leadership will miss out on
business opportunities unlocked by gender-balanced teams,” Polman said. He lamented the fact that women are not better represented in senior corporate leadership and he boasted about the team of highly capable women he works with. “We at Unilever understand the importance
of gender-balanced leadership and investments across our value chains.
Women’s leadership makes good business sense,” he said.
Women hold senior leadership positions at Unilever. This includes Vice President of Sustainability Karen Hamilton
and CSO Gail Klintworth, both have been an integral part of Unilever’s
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