This year’s theme: “The Great Transformation – shaping new models”, is well chosen. It is clear that the world cannot go on as it currently is doing, using up limited resources as though they will be magically replaced. We’re all aware of the impact of rising commodity costs but at an individual level, the repercussions are so stark – a statue being stolen from a park in the UK to be sold as scrap metal or cooking stoves only being used a few days a month. We have now reached a global population of 7 billion, and experts say we will be at 9 billion by 2050. Citizens in the fast-growing BRIC countries, and throughout the rest of Asia, have rising expectations of their living standards. We have to find sustainable solutions.
This means that the world’s food, energy and water, to name just three examples, are going to come under tremendous pressure in the years to come. Irreversible harm may already have been done to our climate. That is why we are making some big commitments at Unilever to decouple our business growth from our impact on the planet. We are on a journey with our customers towards sustainable consumption, learning from each other, trying to develop products that customers choose to buy because they are of high quality, but also because they are much less resource-intensive.
Great brands, and great companies, have always walked ahead of consumers. They have a point of view. They don’t just respond to current needs – what consumers say they want now – but they anticipate what consumers will need, or might need in the future, and they shape markets accordingly.
As well as the debate on sustainability, I am looking forward to discussing “shared value” strategies with colleagues. This is, potentially, an inspiring way forward for business: using the disciplines of business to help fix social problems. Shared value represents a significant advance on simple corporate social responsibility initiatives, with which we are all familiar. It is real business for a good purpose.
Expectations are always high at the start of the Forum. It should be a fascinating few days.
Keith Weed is Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Unilever
Pictured: The plinth of the stolen Barbara Hepworth sculpture “Two Forms (Divided Circle)” is seen in Dulwich Park, southeast London, December 21, 2011. The bronze sculpture, which was insured for £500,000 ($776,000), was a popular attraction in the park. It is thought to have been cut from its base by thieves hoping to sell it for scrap metal. REUTERS/Laurel Wellman