July 15, 2022
Written by
Rich Edwards

Webinar key takeaways: Purpose-led partnerships with Unilever

In the latest Decade of our Lives webinar, Alexandra Tarmo, Head of Partnership and Social Procurement at Unilever, explained to told our global audience how the company is placing partnerships at the heart of a more sustainable future.

A powerful voice for sustainability  

As one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, Unilever’s voice is a powerful one. So, it’s little wonder that our global audience was listening intently to every word Tarmo uttered during a presentation that outlined the steps the company is taking to create an ecosystem of partners capable of delivering a more sustainable future. It’s a set of beliefs that are very much in line with our own here at Vizibl, and one which is already delivering results on the ground for a firm synonymous with innovation.  

“Sustainability isn’t something we do because it’s good to do it, we do it because it’s good business and it’s recognised as the right direction for the company to move in to grow,” says Tarmo. “Our mission in business operations continues to be: Deliver Today, Transform Tomorrow.”

A restructure with one eye on that future  

Sustainability has been at the heart of Unilever’s ethos for some time, but the company has never been one to stand still and rest on its laurels. Its Partner with Purpose programme – which succeeds Unilever’s hugely successful Partner to Win programme, which was initially launched in 2010 –is a recognition of the need to evolve to tackle the challenges that are present today and look set to increase in the future.  

A key element of Unilever’s approach is the need and desire to harness technology – and make that tech integral to the company’s supply chain strategy.  

“Supply chain and technology have always been very interconnected,” she says. “Now they’ve been moved into one business group... We believe this is a huge benefit to the way we run the business and also for our partners and suppliers because there is clearly a huge link between the two. We see that in sustainable sourcing – we see how technology is enabling us to drive better results. We see that also in all the resilience and service programmes. We need to leverage that technology for the supply chain.”  

The company’s strapline for the next stage of its evolution – From Best Practice to Next Practice - neatly sums up Unilever’s ambition.

A mutually beneficial approach  

Fundamental to its strategy is the company’s belief that any partnership should be mutually beneficial and what’s good for Unilever, isn’t just good for their partners but also for the planet.  

“The goal was clear – we want to build a new partner ecosystem that creates an opportunity for all,” says Tarmo. “We have already brought real innovation to market. We want to deliver mutual growth while doing good for people and the planet. We cannot have one without the other. It’s about how we deliver consumer engagement and how we work with partners to deliver sustainable innovation. It’s also about how we drive our commitment to the planet and people.”

From a Unilever perspective, it’s about building an organisation that can select those partners successful, regardless of their size and location, while at the same time segmenting their own operations to be able to respond to changes in consumer needs in as agile a way as possible. Clearly partnering with start-ups is a key enabler to allowing that to happen.

“It’s about how we collaborate and how we create capabilities internally and externally on this mindset and the way we work together,” she says. “And more importantly, how we connect and how we share our data as much as possible in real-time and with full transparency.”  

How it's working in practice  

When it comes to providing examples of how Unilever is delivering on its promise, the company isn’t short of examples. Its new Coral Optimal Colour laundry liquid – produced in Germany - is a perfect illustration.  

“It’s a cleaning agent which is made from carbon from CO2 emissions which are captured by our partner, LanzaTech, which is a start-up, and India Glycols, which is one of the integrators helping us to produce this cleaning agent,” says Tarmo. “It’s completely biodegradable and plant-based."  

“Partnering with Lanzatech, who were a new partner for us, and also India Glycol in a multi-party agreement, as well as bringing in another partner on the packaging side.”  

Tarmo also used the example of a 'soap with a lump' to serve as a reminder for women to regularly check their breasts for any potential signs of breast cancer. She also talked about the company’s revolutionary new Magnum ice cream, which was launched in a tube made of completely recyclable plastic.  

Partnerships matter

In a competitive marketplace, it’s not unusual for companies to keep others at arm's length, and see most things as a threat rather than an opportunity. The 100+ Accelerator flies in the face of traditional thinking, and is bringing together some of the biggest corporates on the planet in a bid to find answers to the challenges facing, not just Unilever, but pretty much every company in the world.  

“We need to find more and more solutions and we need to find a new way of doing it,” she says. “It’s all about finding innovation and then accelerating change. We joined (the 100+ Accelerator) alongside the likes of Coca-Cola and Colgate-Palmolive. We joined that programme because we believe we really need to partner to find solutions to tackle some of the big sustainability issues and challenges. We all face the same, on plastic, water, agriculture, energy, and carbon. We joined that group to find, develop, and scale using start-up solutions.”

It’s the sort of venture that gives real hope for the future. A future that Unilever, hand-in-hand with its partners, including Vizibl, is doing all it can to help shape.  

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