Sustainability as a Force for Business Success

Ugo Aliogo writes on a global approach to integrate solutions to sustainable development into business operations and in addressing social issues which is being adopted by Unilever Nigeria

With about seven billion people living in the world, natural resources have come under tremendous strain globally. Rising temperatures, water scarcity, double burden of nutrition and increasing gaps between the poor and the rich are some of the challenges facing the world.

Some corporate organisations have come to understand that companies must be a part of the solution to these issues. They have realised that these issues do not only affect our communities but also challenges the commercial sustainability of the business.
One of such companies is Unilever, a purpose-driven company, whose purpose is simple, to make sustainable living commonplace.

As part of a globally driven approach to integrate solutions to sustainable development into business operations, a number of Unilever Nigeria’s brands have adopted social missions, in which the brands help to address social issues. Unilever Nigeria then partners NGOs or governments to ensure these missions have scale.

In line with Unilever’s commitment to sustainable living, the company is spearheading efforts to help reduce the prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia in Nigeria, especially among women and adolescent girls through Knorr Force for Good programme.
Globally, anaemia is said to affect almost a quarter of the world’s population; that is 1.62 billion people.

In Nigeria, almost one in two women of reproductive age and 75 per cent of children under five years suffer from anaemia. Fifty per cent of these cases are caused by a lack of iron in the body, which is often diet-related.

Some of the early symptoms of anaemia are fatigue and decreased ability to work; and people with anaemia are also associated with an increased risk of mortality and cognitive loss in those who survive.

Knorr Force for Good initiative includes visiting schools, especially in rural areas where cases of anaemia are prevalent. The programme educates adolescent girls and their mothers on the importance of cooking more iron-rich nutritious meals through the Knorr Green Food Steps. Through this initiative, the company hopes to help decrease the prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia in Nigeria.

By the end of 2016, the Knorr Force for Good programme reached 75,000 households (including mothers and daughters) through a four-week behavioral change programme.
A scientific study with the University of Ibadan had indicated that 41 per cent of respondents from the states visited – Nasarawa, Benue, Kaduna, Abuja and Kogi, had started adding green leafy vegetables and iron fortified cubes to their stew.

By end of 2017 the Force for Good programme had reached 20 million direct and indirect contacts. One State where the programme has been particularly successful is Kaduna, where Unilever Nigeria has partnered the State Government to empower women and teenage girls through Knorr Force for Good programme and the Women’s Empowerment scheme, Shakti. Partnerships like this are vital in helping Unilever Nigeria achieve reach and impact.

The programme is just one of the many interventions that underline Unilever’s commitment to ensure that “business must be part of the solution”.

The brand social missions are integral to Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, the company’s blueprint for a truly sustainable business, launched in 2010. They are helping to drive the vision to decouple growth from environmental impact while also increasing the company’s positive social impact.

There are three clear goals for Unilever’s vision for sustainability: “Improving Health and well-being for more than 1 billion: By 2020 we will help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being; Enhancing Livelihood for Millions: By 2020 we will enhance the livelihoods of millions of people as we grow our business; Decoupling growth from our environment footprints.”

Improving Health
The programme is one initiative helping people take action to improve their health and well-being.
Others include the Pepsodent Brush Day and Night Oral health campaign through which Unilever seeks to tackle poor oral hygiene and tooth decay and improve oral health amongst Nigerians.

Since inception of the Oral Health Schools Programme, Unilever has directly reached over 2.5 million pupils in 4,500 Government primary schools with products (Pepsodent toothpaste and toothbrushes), free educational materials and brand instruction ambassadors.

With the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Health the firm further commits to promoting oral hygiene by educating 10 million Nigerian pupils by 2020. Another important example of how corporates can partner governments to bring their programmes and most importantly their impact to scale.

Enhancing Livelihood for Millions
With the high unemployment rate continuing to grow, Unilever Nigeria’s ambition is to use its business model to create 1 million job opportunities for Nigerian women and youth. The aim is to empower women and youth and ultimately help address unemployment and poverty trends in Nigeria.

Gbemiga registers, trains, and provides women in rural communities with capital to begin trading Unilever products to households and small stores within their communities. Working in partnership with non-profit organisations such as the Growing Business Foundation, they have already reached 2,000 women across 10 States.

These women also undertake basic book keeping trainings and workshops on nutrition.
Unilever Nigeria also, recently launched its Customer Development Motorbikes Project as a means of promoting entrepreneurship by operationalising third party sub-distributors across Nigeria with two-wheeler bikes.
This initiative and the Lipton Push-Cart programme is expected to create more jobs along the company’s supply chain in the months ahead.

Reducing Environmental Impact
Unilever Nigeria aims to cultivate habits that reduce the environmental footprint of its customers; for example, by encouraging the recycling of all packaging and looking at ways to reduce consumers’ energy and water consumption.
Unilever also looks at its own supply chain and waste generated from the company’s factory sites is reused or recycled.

There are systems in place to measure real time consumption of utilities such as water, steam, energy and power, enabling the effective monitoring of resources used per unit, (ensuring reduction) to keep these within acceptable limits.

In line with the company’s commitment to continue to decouple growth from its environmental footprint, in 2016, it awarded a grant to Nigerian recycling company (that manages the collection and recycling of waste) to extend its waste recovery program to more communities in Lagos and Ogun State.

Undoubtedly, going into the future, businesses that address the direct concerns of citizens, the needs of the environment and the communities they live, work and sell into; will prosper over the long term as well as contribute to Africa’s economic growth. In doing what it does, Unilever continues to demonstrate that sustainability can be a true force for good.

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