How to Save the World: Leadership, Purpose and Stakeholder Capitalism

Paul Polman, Co-founder of IMAGINE and former CEO of Unilever, discusses the pandemic, stakeholder capitalism and leadership.

Jason Mitchell discusses the circular economy and going carbon negative with Pia Heidenmark Cook, Chief Sustainability Officer of INGKA Group (IKEA).
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John Kornerup Bang says how the shipping industry – essential to global trade, yet produces 3% of emissions – could get to neutral.
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How can companies become effective forces for good? Former Unilever CEO Paul Polman joins Jason Mitchell on this podcast episode of ‘A Sustainable Future’ to discuss his new foundation Imagine and its mission to help businesses fight inequality and climate change.

In this far-reaching conversation, Paul talks through how the multi-stakeholder model is driving a rethink of traditional shareholder-centrism and why strong leadership is vital not only in steering through the current crisis, but also long-term sustainability issues like climate change.

Highlights from the episode:

7.12: The long-term impacts of the pandemic on business: “The relationship between governments and markets will have to change.”

16.15: On his time at Unilever: “Ultimately, it’s why we’re here, to serve society. … I figured if we could define our business model as a positive contributor to the planet, addressing these issues, then we not only will have the validity to be around for the long term, there is an enormous financial opportunity.”

20.00: Why ESG is now so important: “For the first time in the history of mankind, more CEOs are leaving because they are underperforming on the E, or on the S and the G.”

36.05: The role businesses have in partnership with governments in dealing with long-term sustainability challenges, such as climate change: “Never have we been so forewarned, and never have we been so fore-armed.”

51.06: What investors get wrong about true sustainability: “For too long, the finance market has been detached from the ‘real’ economy, which made it harder for them to be a part of the solution. Too often I heard ’asset managers are not interested’ or ‘I don’t have the data’. It’s important that the finance sector speaks up and takes a real leadership role to drive these changes.”

Want to hear more about how companies are embedding sustainability principles into their business models? You might like these episodes:

  • IKEA, Climate Commitment and the Power of 100%
  • Maersk on How the International Shipping Industry Goes Carbon Neutral

Recording date: 09.09.2020


Paul Polman

Paul Polman is Co-founder and Chair of IMAGINE, a social venture which mobilises business leaders around tackling climate change and global inequality. Paul is the Honorary Chair of the International Chamber of Commerce, Chair of The B Team and Saïd Business School and Vice-Chair of the UN Global Compact. A leading proponent that business should be a force for good, he has been described by the Financial Times as "a standout CEO of the past decade”. As CEO of Unilever between 2009 and 2019, he demonstrated that a long-term, multi-stakeholder model goes hand-in-hand with excellent financial performance. Paul was a member of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel, which developed the Sustainable Development Goals (‘SDG’). As an active SDG Advocate, he continues to work with global organisations and across industry to push the 2030 development agenda.

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