Is responsible growth the only way forward for business?



Harish Manwani, Chief Operating Officer of Unilever, believes businesses must become more responsible if they are going to thrive in tomorrow’s world. In an impassioned speech, he argues that today’s “3G” model focusing on consistent, competitive and profitable growth needs a new dimension – responsible growth.

Responsible growth, he explains, means companies serving the communities that sustain them. They need to create social as well as economic value through a defined purpose, which for Unilever is “to make sustainable living commonplace, and to change the lives of one billion people by 2020.”

In one example, Harish talks of his first boss at Unilever. Back in 1976, this manager told him that his job was not just selling soup and soap, but changing lives instead. He then goes on to describe how “five million children don’t reach the age of five because of simple infections that can be prevented by an act of washing their hands with soap” and highlights Unilever’s program on hygiene and health that now touches half a billion people.

It is unclear whether Harish is arguing that businesses of tomorrow should add responsible growth to their growth model as the only way to thrive and remain profitable or as an ethical imperative. Would shareholders be happy to measure the value of what they are delivering in a different way, measuring not only economic value but social value as well?

Either way, do you see a future where businesses, particularly corporates, feel the need to be more responsible for the communities that sustain them? Or is it only consumer demand for more responsible products that will drive them in that direction?

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