Interview Transcript

What is the biggest challenge in persuading leaders of brands or of different divisions, that they should really be putting sustainability first over, say, profitability, or just even on par with both of those variables?

I think it’s important to do a disclaimer here. We need to clarify that sustainability has nothing to do with the planet. Of course, in first place, we talk about the planet, we talk about saving the planet. But the planet is more than three billion years old and, independently, how we move forward, how we run the planet, the planet is fine, thanks.

What is really at risk, is humanity; the way that we live on the planet. It’s the life that is at risk, not the planet. Because of that, I talk about consumption and the way that we deal with consumption every single day. Working in fast moving consumer goods companies, I understand that consumption is part of our way of living. We need to consume. We need to eat; we need to drink. We need to buy clothes, to live in communities. We need to travel, we need to study, we need the internet. Consumption is part of our way of living. If we do not consume well, this is the chain that can promote more or less sustainability, in living on the planet.

Consumption is a very important part of the chain that can change the way that we propose this new behaviour, on the way that the communities and the brands and the consumption are accessed. My learning, over this period, and my challenge, is to convince and to establish the conversation with brands, that the most important way, for people in urban - or sometimes not particularly urban - communities, is that the brands are very important to establish lifestyle. We live in groups. We have our groups of synergy. We like to talk within certain kinds of groups. These groups have a lot of similarities that are based on communication and that are based on the things that we buy, the things that we consume.

What is the challenge that you have, in really communicating the importance of sustainability, whereas the brand manager is balancing the growth in the business and consumption and meeting sustainability demands?

It changes a lot, in terms of importance of the brand to the company. I always see the opportunity coming from the spaces on both sides of the balance. When the brand is very strong and very big and it’s very important for the company, sometimes, the marketing team can make some small changes, where there is a big brand that can take the risk, with a very small part, with a new consumer, to get into a new niche. For example, in foods, how to position a brand variant with no salt or no sugar or which is plant-based, but only from part of a big brand.

On the other side, we have the brands that are not doing well and they need to take a risk to start a new approach with the consumer. It can happen within a variant of the product, where they need to refresh their positioning in their approach to the consumers. For example, in Vietnam, Unilever worked on a fabric conditioner, rinsing product, called Comfort, to reduce use from two boxes a quarter, to one box a quarter, to rinse the clothes. It started to make doing laundry easier and faster for the consumer. They made it easier for the consumer, the brand started to reduce the need for doing laundry, the time to do laundry, due to the efficiency of the product, for the consumer; it depends on some variations.

It’s interesting how you said the bigger the brands are more than likely to change their strategy, to really put sustainability first, or test with new consumers, because the smaller brands have to grow first and have to still really concentrate on building the brand with consumers.

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