Unilever CEO Promotes R&D for Consumer Behavior Change

Science and innovation will be instrumental in helping people to change toward more sustainable lifestyles, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said in a speech introducing the Symposium on Behaviour Change for Better Health in Vlaardingen, Netherlands. Polman said that research and development has a major role to play in deepening companies' understanding of consumer behavior, and designing the solutions that encourage them to adopt more sustainable habits in both developed and developing and emerging markets.

Overcoming the challenge of consumer behavior change is a key focus for Unilever in its efforts to deliver the targets set in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which outlines the company's vision to double the size of its business while reducing its environmental impact and increasing its positive social impact. Under the plan, Unilever has committed to help a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being, halve the environmental footprint of its products across their entire value chain, and source 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably—all by 2020.

With consumers' use of Unilever products accounting for 68% of the company's carbon footprint, breakthrough science will act as “a critical catalyst and enabler of behavior change” to help Unilever meet its targets, according to Polman. “If we are going to halve our environmental impact and help a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being, we have to inspire consumers to choose more sustainable products and adopt more sustainable habits when they cook, clean and wash with our products,” he stated.

“We know that if our scientific understanding of behavior change is applied rigorously, behavior change is possible," Polman continued. "Superior products, new technologies and compelling ways of deploying behavior change programs are some of the ways we have learned to use science and innovation to inspire change amongst shoppers, individuals and even households. We see this in play every day—from the person at risk of cardiovascular disease who is using plant-based margarines to reduce their saturated fat intake to school children who want to share what they have learned about washing hands with soap with their family.

“Changing behavior is going to require further new approaches, and science and innovation will be critical in helping people to change towards a more sustainable, healthier lifestyle. We need to take on the challenge of applying the best of our scientific and technological advancements and using them to work towards a sustainable future. This is something that requires a long term-committed investment and widespread collaboration.”

Last year Unilever published its own model for effective behavior change, the Five Levers for Change. This offers a tool based on decades of research, observation and skill from inside and outside Unilever. The document emphasizes that to action change in behavior it is necessary to make it understood, easy, desirable, rewarding and habitual.

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