Is Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan turning out to be just CSR in disguise?

Business writers have been having a hay-day covering the “big” story of this past week – the failed Kraft Heinz bid for Unilever. No question that in pure money terms this is indeed big news. If these two giants had managed to merge, we would have witnessed the biggest ever takeover by a foreign company of a UK company and a clear victory for a “certain way” of doing business.

However, the back-story is certainly more interesting, a little more complex and with consequences that could be far reaching. Just days after this very public collapse, pressure on Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, has seen UL commit to a far reaching review to show shareholders the very value spotted by its rival. Graeme Pitkethly, the UL CFO, said Kraft’s offer had highlighted the importance of achieving a balance between long-term sustainable value, which it had prioritized, and short-term delivery. UL’s investors may not support the slash-and-burn tactics that define Kraft-Heinz and more specifically the killer combination of Warren Buffet and Jorge Paulo Lehmann, but neither do they appear to be as seduced by the long-term strategies espoused by Polman and his team.

In an age when state protectionism (as the front cover of the January 2017 Economist states – “In Retreat – Global Companies in an era of protectionism”) combined with national deregulation threatens both social safety nets and the (small) environmental gains made over recent years the signals from Unilever are of real concern. Will the 2016 beauty queen of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index soon fall down the ranks, pulling others down with her and confirming the more cynical that Corporate Social Responsibility really is a glossy form of Business as Usual? Will business commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals continue to provide attractive graphics for annual sustainability reports leaving the non-business partners the heavy responsibility and practical task of ensuring a thriving future for our planet?

This bid is clearly a challenge to the progressive and enlightened. It is more important than ever that business leaders such as Paul Polman and Danone’s Emmanuel Faber maintain their vision of business as a force for good and the plethora of strategies and actions this implies. It is also more important than ever that investors recognise that that true value of business is reflected as much in value created for social networks and ecosystem services as the direct share value they tend to focus on.

In launching the New AnglesEarly Strategies international survey earlier this month, “Is CSR Changing Business”, we will try to ascertain, from the insider perspective of middle-management, the extent to which the CSR intent and efforts made over recent years have made an impact on business behaviours. We expect this to inform business strategies of the future in line with our common conviction that business can and must be a force for good.

(this post was originaly published in LinkedIn here)

Research “Is CSR Changing Business?” – latest news

We published our Press Release through CSRWire service see here:; and we continue to reach our personal contacts and pass the news to networks. Participation in our research is growing well. I cannot disclose findings yet, but below is some information on our progress.

Who are our respondents so far?

The research has already attracted participants from a wide range of companies. To mention some of their organizations: Allianz, Alstom, Arriva Group, Arup, at&t, Axa, Axway, Barilla, Bombardier, China Ting Group, Commerzbank AG, Conduent, Dentsu Aegis, Diageo, Genpact, HSBC, La-Z-Boy, Lagardère, Lowe’s, Merial, Mosanto, O2, Omya, Oxy, Pepsico, Philips Lightning, PwC, Royal Canin, Saint Gobain, Sealed Air Corporation, Smithfield, UTC Aerospace Systems and Vale. Participants respond in their names, not as representatives of their organizations – but this list witnesses the relevance of our questions.

A little less than half of the participants so far (48%) spend less than 25% of their working time on CSR issues: this will definitely inform our goal of understanding how CSR permeates organizations – as a reminder, the questionnaire is open to non-experts, and we look forward to receiving answers from sustainability non-specialists in particular.

Why do respondents fill the survey?

Responses will help find how to foster sustainability within business. The questionnaire is also a good way to nurture thinking, as you can see from the participants’ comments mentioned below. Last but not least, they will receive a personal copy of the research report free of charge in May, and they look forward to it.

Will we find if corporate social responsibility is now mainstream and non-financial value creation part of most decisions? Or will we find there is still a lot to do and be able to gather some good practices? What I am sure is that many (maybe most) senior and middle managers have sustainability in mind, but it is a big mountain to climb: they would appreciate insights on how to incorporate its challenges in their strategies and everyday business lives – so that BAU becomes SBAU.

Interested? If you are into the topic of sustainability or CSR, whatever your degree of expertise is, and if you are a senior or middle manager in an organization of more than 2000 employees, come join and fill the survey ! It takes 25 minutes to complete, and has 4 main sections: Decision-making Path and Processes, Human Rights & Ethics, Leadership of CSR, and CSR Impacts. It is open until March 19th.

Some respondents’ comments

As you may see from some of the nice comments received from participants after they responded, it seems we are on the right track to help companies’ progress in the sustainability area:

I was pleased to respond. Unfortunately I missed to respond the previous research and regretted it. I found the questions insightful and I hope this kind of research can help move things forward. (VP HR MEA)

I enjoyed the survey (Head of Sustainability Leadership)

Thank you for the survey invite. Happy to help you! (Global CSR Senior Manager)

Thanks for the invitation to participate – I just did. I found the questionnaire interesting and look forward to the results. (VP Corporate Responsibility)

Thanks for the note and completed the CSR survey. Interesting area of work… (GM EMEA)

Thanks for including me in this survey. Glad to contribute. (Head of Sustainability)

Interested? come join and fill the survey and/or share the news with your contacts – thank you !

(this post was originally published on LinkedIn here)

Do digital adopters endorse sustainable development?

These last years I worked mainly on digital transformation issues: researching how change happens, what resistance hinders progress, strategy pitfalls to avoid. I published on how middle management copes with this trend, I did consulting, coaching and speeches about it. I am now reverting to another leading-edge area in organizational change: corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability.

I just launched with partners at New Angles a new research entitled “Is CSR Changing Business?”.

Is this a split from what I was doing before? Not really, rather a return to my roots. I am an organizational change practitioner who takes a chance to work on her passions: digital transformation and sustainability. I do consider these issues related: to me, they are both about reinventing organizations.

Faith in a better organization

Those interested in digital transformation and those interested in corporate sustainability have something in common: they think organizations can be improved, and can be changed into something better.

In an ideal world, digital transformation allows collaboration, which fosters collective intelligence, which in turn makes the organization agile and innovative. In an ideal world, CSR & sustainability allow organizations to care about people and the environment, to focus on creating value other than just financial and to make the future more livable.

Transparency and ethics are intertwined concepts: digital transformation increases transparency, which is good for ethics, and vice versa. Both domains are also testing new business models: circular economy, collaborative economy. Last but not least, for both domains, thinking is holistic and global, not linear or hierarchical.

A continuous challenge

Those interested in digital transformation and those interested in corporate sustainability have something else in common: they are conscious of the hazards of a difficult economy. Their organizations may decide to protect short-term profit, and expose themselves to downstream depleting effects: loss of agility, and negative impacts on sustainability. “Consolidate achievements” is a watchword for both communities.

Another mantra is “rejuvenate motivation”, as efforts have already been heavy, and we are not yet in sight of the journey’s end. Digital transformation brings uncertainty in the future of some professions, and technology evolves at light speed. Transformation toward sustainability may question business basics. Because discoveries are made, innovation is needed and new markets must be invested in, we must constantly reinvent ourselves.

Is there a synergy between both domains?

Many organizations reached a milestone on sustainability, as they enabled reporting and complied with regulations. They wonder, “What’s next?” If they decide for pushing beyond legal requirements, how can they generate enough creativity and innovation, other than through relying on collaboration?

One of the questions of the survey “Is CSR Changing Business?” pertains to digital maturity, and I hope to find what kind of correlation, if any, exists between digital adoption stage and CSR maturity. Another work I am doing is to look for structured communities inside multinational corporations – communities of practice (CoP) on sustainability – and research how they are using digital tools and enterprise social network to ameliorate their actions toward sustainability.

I would happily read your comments – whether you are from the digital transformation community, or from the CSR and sustainability family, or having interest in both worlds like me -, do digital adopters endorse sustainable development?


(this post was originally published in LinkedIn here)

Data privacy

In accordance with the Data Protection Act of 6 January 1978, all the computer data concerning research participants are treated with the strictest confidentiality. The personal data collected during this research through the online questionnaire will only be used by the researcher Cecile Demailly, and only for the purpose of this current research; other research team members Jacob Mayne, Amanda Harding and Camden Brown, will work from an anonymized data file.

Personal Data will not be held for longer than required for the research, and hence will be deleted at the time of the report publication (both from SurveyMonkey platform we used for the questionnaire, and from spreadsheet held by Cécile Demailly).

You may exercise rights of access and rectification, with respect to the personal information filed, by sending a request in writing to