With 14 brands with sales more than € 1billion a year and 400 brands in total, the leading Consumer Packaged Goods company, Unilever, has been known as one of the best marketing companies. The company’s big rollout of a new program in 2010 proves that Unilever wants to become more than just a Marketing company and it becomes more known for another concept – Sustainability. Unilever managed to implement the change in their business model through effective applications on their aligned operational model and create value for their customers.
Business Model – The Core Purpose
In 2010 Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman launched a new Business Model for Unilever, under the name Unilever Sustainable Living Plan:
The USLP is our key differentiator – how we will achieve sustainable growth by improving the health and well-being of more than a billion people, reducing the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products, and enhancing the livelihoods of millions of people across our value chain. 
By utilizing the already developed levers of the company, Unilever became very successful in the first 5 years of the launch of the new program.
Operating Model – Building the Levers
Brands – Product Range and Mission
Unilever has 400 brands worldwide (in more than 190 countries) that are in Food, Refreshments, Home and Personal Care categories. 10 years ago the company used to have more than 1,600 brands and this changed with their new strategy “One Unilever”. By delisting the unprofitable and not promising brands and combining them into common umbrella brands, Unilever managed to make the company more efficient and save about € 4 billion in costs.
Most of the brands of Unilever have to deliver more than meeting the needs of the consumer. Aligned with the core value of the brand, they also bear a social mission purpose. This includes Lifebuoy’s drive to promote hygiene, Dove’s campaign for real beauty, and Domestos’ mission to help people gain improved access to toilets. The implementation of the USLP plan had to be through the brands. The CMO of the company Keith Weed explains it as: “You can’t have marketing in one corner ‘selling more stuff’ and sustainability in another trying to save the world, bring them together because they are two sides of the same coin. Let’s try and do marketing in such a way that we are addressing real social challenges. That way we’ll create a business that is much more vibrant than red bottle versus blue bottle.”
In addition to the communication strategy the products of Unilever have been evolving within the framework of USLP. One example of that is Compressed Deodorants, which are half the size but lasts as long as the big ones. By this change, they were able to use less packaging and less gas on the inside. The impact on the environment is remarkable. With the aim to reach 1 million people switch to compressed deodorants, Unilever claims to save 696 tonnes of CO2.
People – Creating a Community
Unilever’s consumers and its employees are the biggest assets of the company along with its brands. Each employee is an advocate of the company and the company gives extra importance to employee satisfaction. This dedication reflects itself with different programs like Unilever Future Leaders Program throughout different levels of the employees.
Unilever also adapted to the changing consumer perception that evolved from ‘my world’ (personal), to ‘our world’ (local), to ‘the world’ (global). Several different programs have been launched in the aspiration to engage with the people and create a community that have the shared mission to make sustainable living commonplace. The Unilever Foundry helps startups to drive innovation in sustainable business. Unilever brightFuture is a platform that brings people together who believe that it’s possible to build a world where everyone lives well and lives sustainably. Through this community, people can share their stories, projects and share their support for others.
Operations – Efficiency and Efficacy
Unilever’s functions have been redesigned through this process as well. The most significant ones are sustainable sourcing and marketing.
The company works together with the suppliers to meet the requirement for the sustainability goals. By working as a business partner, Unilever shares the tools and expertise to achieve these goals. Every year, Unilever organizes Partner to Win awards where they celebrate the partners who made a significant contribution to grow their business in a sustainable way.
Unilever used to have local business units where brands were managed independently. However, the company moved to global from local operating model. By splitting Brand management into Brand Building and Brand Development, Unilever managed to centralize its marketing assets and leverage the expertise and knowledge across countries.
With Unilever’s strong alignment with its Business Model and Operating Model and by putting sustainability in core and every corner of the business, the company has managed to implement a long term vision.