The building blocks of Unilever Taiwan's sustainability implementation

Jennifer Yu, senior manager for Sustainable Business and Communications, Unilever in Taiwan and HK

COVID-19 is a wake-up call for a new era of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) activism. Both the coronavirus and the carbon atom are invisible, but their effects are not. They have different impacts around the world but they both hurt it in unexpected and significant ways.

Unilever launched the Compass strategy in 2021 which builds on the past ten years of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), starting from 2010.

The Compass Strategy focuses on three areas: improve the health of the planet, improve people’s health, confidence, and wellbeing, and contribute to a fairer, and more socially inclusive world to transform its business across the value chain, underpinned by 15 multi-year priorities that cover the full spectrum of its business and the wider ecosystem.

Jennifer Yu, senior manager for Sustainable Business and Communications of Unilever in Taiwan, and Hong Kong said, “We knew embedding sustainability into business would be challenging. But the outcome is transforming lives sustainably. Many teammates have awakened to their calling, which ignited the sudden spark of inspiration within the internal team. I think that success on this project is well deserved.”

Why sustainability is important in this era

Yu’s interpretations of sustainability are that firstly, regulatory agencies and government policies have played a key role in shaping the development of sustainability.

Secondly, she saw the bright side of businesses. They are more likely to invest in sustainability now than ever before due to the increased attention.

Thirdly, she also envisioned the ideal of collective effort within the business world.

Which came first: The chicken or the egg?

Some interpret ESG as simply a list of different factors that businesses can affect, while others define it as the factors which can affect businesses. DIGITIMES Asia asked, “Which one is it, and does that matter?”

“I think they’re mutually inclusive, not an infinite regress,” Yu answered.

Mutually inclusive events; Credit: DIGITIMES Asia

Mutually inclusive events; Credit: DIGITIMES Asia

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), at its heart, are calling for action in partnership with the global community. Yu believed that the causes that businesses desire to work on are mostly listed in the SDGs.

She explained, “Company A may have had an intention to develop diversity and inclusion within its company in the past, but the timing was not right.”

“Another scenario, Company B does not understand diversity and inclusion, but when it notices the SDG recommendation, it decides to commence action on the matter.”

The “egg and chicken” concept doesn’t describe both scenarios, but instead, is mutually inclusive of the events, she concluded.

Three factors to consider when proposing a sustainability initiative

“What are the factors that you consider when you successfully communicate the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives?” DIGITIMES Asia then asked.

Three factors to consider when proposing a sustainability initiative; Credit: DIGITIMES Asia

Three factors to consider when proposing a sustainability initiative; Credit: DIGITIMES Asia

Step 1: Relate your initiative to the company’s core business

Yu answered, “Linking your initiative to the core business is the most crucial step.”

“A proper strategy needs to be developed on the basis of the core business, or even the entire value chain. Then, you can understand what you can do for every stakeholder,” she added.

Step 2: Vision is the picture of the future

Once you have set your goal, it’s important to create a vision of how that goal will move the company forward.

“A proposed initiative is not merely a report and we do not blindly follow the steps,” Yu said. “We achieve the overall vision of the proposed initiative that brings values to your company.”

Step 3: Leadership commitment is vital

“I think that a top-down approach is necessary when it comes to the sustainability implementation,” Yu commented.

The growing impacts of sustainability implementations on companies are driving the need for more manpower.

Unilever, which incorporates sustainability into its corporate philosophy, has its managing director in Taiwan wearing two hats at the same time.

In other words, Unilever Taiwan’s managing director is also the company’s sustainability director.

“If a top-down approach is adopted, it will serve as a momentum and motivate others to keep it going,” she continued.

How to successfully monitor sustainability indicators

Communicating openly about the progress of your actions in sustainable development is an essential step when implementing change. It’s also an insightful one that gives more evidence in favor of your action.

According to Yu, the characteristics of a sustainability action plan include practicality, timeliness, and measurable performance indicators. It must also be based on certain principles.

Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) has a range of 50 to 70 key performance indicators (KPIs). Most stated KPIs are in a timely manner. For example, what are the achievable goals in 2023, 2030, and 2035? The measuring unit may be in percentages, a comparable benchmark-based percentage, and more.

Each indicator is reflecting on how successfully you have been implementing specific sustainable targets. DIGITIMES Asia asked, “How do you measure subjective concepts?”

“Diversity and inclusion are subjective concepts. But we still have to figure out a way to measure them. For example, if you wanted to measure the diversity of your company, you could look at the number of women in management positions and see if there is enough room for advancement,” she answered.

In short, establishing a standard of how measurable items are defined and what they represent before assessing them.

Two ways to raise employee awareness about sustainability

Awareness comes with attitudes. Employees need to be aware of the issues that affect their attitudes and there are many resources available to help inform them.

For the past 10 years, Unilever Taiwan had gained some insights on raising awareness. One of Yu’s cornerstone ideas is outlined in the following:

Step 1: Internal communication is an ongoing process

Internal communication is a list of processes or tools that are responsible for effective communication and collaboration among employees within an organization.

Through open and transparent communication, employees will understand the company’s mission statement, which is crucial to aligning everyone with the company’s values. A lack of clarity in this area has been proven to lead to organizational silos.

“To raise awareness among our employees, I have been sharing the same message more than 100 times. However, human brains need repetition to be able to recall memories. Thus, ongoing communication is significant even though the same exact message is shared over and over again,” Yu said.

Step 2: Celebrate your success

Unilever has a culture of sharing successful stories among peers to celebrate their milestones together.

The company is always trying to motivate its employees. They feel that this task is important, not to mention the positive impact it will have on their work.

Unilever Taiwan, for instance, has successfully developed post-consumer-resin (PCR) packaging and a range of other sustainable materials. In addition to holding an event launch to celebrate its success, externally, it also conducted interviews with the project personnel and revealed some behind-the-scenes stories that most companies probably would have preferred to keep low-key.

“It’s great to hear some of the behind-the-scenes stories, no matter happy, sad, exhausted, all brought back to life,” Yu added. “The interview article was then published in our Meta Page, introducing them to our audiences.”

This demonstrated how Unilever Taiwan recognized the contributions of its employees and celebrated them.

Conclusion

For those still struggling with the new era of sustainability, Yu encouraged treating it as an investment rather than a cost as a more positive approach. More specifically, investment has a longer-term payoff, while beating up on the bottom line can prove tedious and wasteful.

“If you’re feeling lonely on the sustainability journey, try to reach out to your peers. We’re all in this together,” she said. “And for those who are neither incompetent in skills nor in a financial challenge, don’t get overwhelmed by it. It’s just a timing issue.”

Oftentimes, companies focus on how they can implement their sustainability goals and make their company a more environmentally conscious one.

Sometimes, however, they forget that the people who work hard to make these changes happen should also be taken care of.

Joy Ho, Unilever's Managing Director in Taiwan; Credit: Unilever

Joy Ho, Unilever’s managing director in Taiwan; Credit: Unilever

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