‘Consumers are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to sustainability’ says Unilever’s Keith Weed

Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed said it is closing the ‘say-do’ gap when it comes to consumers buying sustainable products, with its sustainable brands growing 30% faster than the rest of the business in 2015.


Weed said that the strong performance of its sustainable brands is down to them “offering something that consumers want”. Additionally, sustainability is helping to deliver more growth and lower costs, as well as less risk and more trust.

He told Marketing Week: “Our research is clearly showing us that consumers want to buy more sustainably, and many of them already are. This is important because there has always been something of a say-do gap when talking about buying sustainable products, but we see increasingly now that this is closing.”

Yesterday (19 May) Unilever revealed that in 2015 its sustainable living brands delivered nearly half of Unilever’s growth and grew 30% faster than the rest of the business.

According to the FMCG giant, its sustainable living brands grew even faster than they did in 2014, and included Unilever’s five biggest brands – Knorr, Dove, Dirt is Good, Lipton and Hellmann’s.

READ MORE: Unilever claims sustainability drives sales as it readies new brand purpose campaigns

“We have always been clear that the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is driven by an economic case, not simply a moral obligation to ‘do the right thing’, and the growth of our Sustainable Living brands are evidence of the success of this strategy,” Weed added.

The company also confirmed that it is on track to meet the majority of the targets within its ‘Sustainable Living Plan’, the company’s blueprint for achieving its vision to grow the business, whilst decoupling environmental footprint from growth and increasing its positive social impact.

Since the launch of the plan, Unilever has enabled around 600,000 smallholder farmers and 1.8 million small-scale retailers to access training and support. In its own operations, the company has reduced CO2 emissions by 39% per tonne of production; water by 37% per tonne of production; and waste sent to disposal by 97% per tonne of production.

Taking the next steps

Weed revealed that while Unilever currently has 12 sustainable brands, it hopes to add more to its portfolio.

“More of our brands are on the journey now, working to ensure they have both a purpose and products that qualify them. All our brands are on a journey, and of course any lessons we can share across the portfolio are welcome,” Weed commented.

Weed acknowledges, however, that in order to meet its goals it has to increase “collective action”, with consumers playing an important role in understanding how they can live more sustainably.

He explained: “We have found it easiest to make changes closest to our own operations, where we are in control. The next step is for us to drive more change and make more progress further down the value chain and to work with consumers to reduce the environmental impact associated with the use and disposal of our products.

“Many of the issues we’re working on are moving very fast, and it’s become even more urgent to act. We need to ensure that we’re acting where it matters most and where we can have the greatest impact.”

Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever

“And we know there are challenges ahead – for example, how we can assess our impact when it comes to areas that are more difficult to measure like livelihoods and human rights.”