Unilever marketer on sustainability claims in advertising: Do first and then talk about it

Aseem Puri

Aseem Puri talks at Hub Forum in Singapore this morning

A senior Unilever marketer said today that the company recognises its role as a contributor to the haze in Southeast Asia, and warned brands against making green claims before they had got their own houses in order.

After making a presentation that proposed the importance of brand purpose, Aseem Puri, Singapore-based CMO of Unilever International, was asked how the FMCG giant could claim that so many of its brands were doing the world good in their marketing when their products contained palm oil sourced from devastated rainforest land in Indonesia and Malaysia.

“You cannot talk about it, and then do something about it. You have to do first, and then talk about it,” he said at the Hub Forum in Singapore this morning.

“We have recognised that this is an issue. We are also one of the largest tea producers in a world, and tea plantations sometimes encroach on forest land. We’ve partnered with the Rainforest Alliance and we’ve committed to move 100% of sourcing of palm oil and tea to 100% sustainable sources within the next five years [by 2020]. We’re already 60% of the way there.”

“Across the entire ecosystem, we’ve said that our business goal for 2020 is to double the turnover and half the environmental footprint, of water, energy and waste,” he said, highlighting that some Unilever factories were already running on zero emissions and zero waste. “They’re completely recycling water and energy at these plants. Not everywhere yet. But it’s a process. It’s started.”

“We are very conscious of the fact that you have to transform the entire organisation; the way you make products, the way you source them and the way you sell them. Everything has to be completely changed and that’s a process underway.

“And I’m happy to say that at least in the consumer good space Unilever is way ahead of everybody. But is it perfect? No. There is still room for improvement,” he said.

Magnum Singapore tweetLast year, during the worst of the haze, Unilever ice cream brand Magnum tweeted from its Singapore account “To haze-free days ahead” as part of its ongoing topical social media campaign. The tweet drew a mixed response, with some pointing out the irony.

One tweeted: “Only when you stop using Haze-causing palm oil in your products.” Another posted: “It is heartless and shows no sense of haze crisis! shame on you.”

Rupert England, a regional creative director based in Singapore, wrote: “A product containing palm oil using the haze to advertise. What sort of sick joke is this?! An epic fail by Unilever.”


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