Maryam Telmesani: Chief Sustainability Officer, ADG
The Sustainability Council had a very special guest speaker this quarter: the sustainability champion, Paul Polman. As most are aware, Mr. Polman is the former CEO of Unilever, responsible for not only transforming the company into a shining example of responsible sustainable business, but also gave shareholders a 300 % return well outperforming the industry. Today, Unilever has 155,000 employees across 190 countries and 3 billion people use their products on a daily basis. Today, Mr. Polman is continuing his invaluable and important work with Imagine, working with industry collectives to drive the broader systems changes needed to create more sustainability-minded businesses.
During his hour long talk and Q&A session with the audience, he reiterated the need for sustainable practices in the private sector to be holistic, comprehensive and thoroughly embedded into the corporate culture and all decision making processes. This resonated deeply with our council members and wider audience, who are well on their way to making this the case for all of our Group companies, in line with His Excellency’s vision.
When asked about companies that remain hesitant to put ESG issues at the core of their operations, Mr. Polman said “these companies have to shape up or ship out…. Many companies have value statements, but if values and behaviours do not align you do not get the right culture. And, there is good external pressure by the world force companies to go the ESG way.” He added that “More often now, companies understand that profit should not come from creating the world’s problems but from solving the world’s problems.”
While listening to Mr. Polman describe his mission and vision for a future that is more just, equitable and sustainable for generations to come, the inspiration amongst the audience was palpable. In setting the example he has for the world of sustainability, he has become a beacon of light that shows just what can happen when an organization puts purpose at it’s core. By putting a sense of humanity above all that we do, and by applying courageous leadership, which we at ADG are lucky to already have, we too can make a positive impact on our societies and communities for the better. There is no longer room in the world we live in to be passive; we must all be active participants in playing our role, at an individual and organizational level, to ensure we leave the world in a better state for our children, and for their children. Inaction is not an option.
Perhaps most relevant to us is the direct message that Mr. Polman had to all of our business unit’s CEO’s when he said that there is no alternative when it comes to pushing a sustainability agenda, than to lead from the front. He elaborated that “If you do not put sustainability at the core and do not live it and show that leadership, the organization will not believe you as sincere.” Mr. Polman continued “So, the fact of the leader is the most important one, in fact, in Unilever I replaced some people just because they did not get it, or they did not want to get it, and then they became a cancer for the transformation and put the whole company at risk. We all must step up, even if it is out of our comfort zone, even if it is not something I know or am personally interested in, we all have an obligation to our planet to get educated.” As we at ADG and all our group companies make this most important shift to truly embed and have sustainability be at the core of all decisions we make, there was perhaps no better person to take inspiration from. We must always remind ourselves that in the long run, putting sustainable practices at the forefront is better… and if it’s not enough motivation that it’s better for our livelihoods and the state of our planet… it is also, provenly, better for business.