Building Sustainable Businesses – A Net Positive Future: Paul Polman, Former CEO, Unilever

New Delhi : “We have very limited time to transition to a stable, clean and inclusive economy. This requires us to scale up and speed up well beyond the technical and industrial revolution. It won’t be easy but there are no alternatives,” said Mr Paul Polman, Business Leader & Former CEO, Unilever while addressing delegates at the Annual Convention and 95th Annual General Meeting of FICCI.

“The cost of inaction is significantly outstripping the cost of action. In case of climate change- the price of inaction would be USD 178 trillion extra cost by 2070. Were we to take action to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees- we will create an economic opportunity of USD 43 trillion. However, bigger challenges provide enormous opportunities to businesses to lead the transition,” added Mr Polman.

“Industry must now support and drive the change. The companies must lead the change and businesses that take an active part will be rewarded. The opportunities now are even bigger- aided by accelerated technological change, market signals, and changing regulatory frameworks,” said Mr Polman

“The forces of change are starting to converge- governments are setting more serious targets and policies in place, investors are de-carbonizing their portfolios, industries are signing up to science-based targets, CEOs are forming coalitions to deal with the pressing challenges. While the momentum is building up, we need to make sure that we move fast enough,” he added.

He further said that the world is encouraged by India’s leadership at G20. “The Indian government has pushed for stronger international commitments to phase down fossil fuels at COP27 in Egypt and its efforts are well noted. Sustainability must remain the focus,” stated Mr Paul Polman.

“Within India, remarkable changes are happening that are creating lessons for others- digitization, de-carbonization, regenerative aquaculture. However, challenges persist- poverty and inequality and no nation is immune to geopolitical shifts. Nonetheless, Indian economy is relatively stable with good growth projections, management of COVID-19 crisis, investments in infrastructure, growing middle class – all these are keeping India on the path to success,” added Mr Polman

Welcoming Mr Polman, Mr Sanjiv Mehta, President, FICCI, said that Mr Polman is a voice of leadership and commitment for sustainable development. He has demonstrated that business can profit through purpose by marrying a long-term multi-stakeholder model and excellent financial performance. Mr Polman is working with several organizations to renew our economy and regenerate our planet.

Mr Mehta added, “Growth and goodness can go hand in hand and businesses must play a key part in building a better, more sustainable and more equitable world as they will be the first ones to suffer from the consequences of societies that are dysfunctional. We are in the midst of intensifying the planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss- a crisis that threatens human health, equality and peace and threatens the operations of businesses- big and small. Therefore, sustainability at every level is in the best interest of businesses. The pandemic has pushed businesses to re-imagine the future- a purposeful, powerful and sustainable one.”

It is high time for leaders to ask themselves if they care about the world’s problems – and if they do, how far are they willing to push their companies to help solve them, he noted.

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