Sustainability: Good for the Planet, for Business, and for Scouting

At first glance, Knorr soup, Dove soap, Lipton tea, Hellman’s mayonnaise, and Dirt is Good laundry products seem to have little in common. But they share three important characteristics: They are part of Unilever’s Sustainable Living portfolio, they are the company’s biggest products, and they (along with Unilever’s other sustainable brands) delivered nearly half the company’s growth in 2015. In fact, they grew 30 percent faster than the rest of the business.

Why are those product lines doing so well? Because consumers increasingly see sustainability as an essential feature of the products they buy, not as a nice-to-have option. As Unilever CEO Paul Polman has said, “Business can play a leadership role in disrupting markets in support of sustainable living—and they will be rewarded by consumers who are also seeking responsibility and meaning as well as high-quality products at the right price. There is no trade-off between business and sustainability; it is creating real value for Unilever.”

Sustainability is also creating real value for other companies, and it could create a whole lot more. Unilever recently surveyed 20,000 adults in the U.K., the United States, Brazil, India, and Turkey and concluded that there’s a $1 trillion market opportunity for brands that make their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing. More than one in five people surveyed said they would actively choose sustainable brands over the competition, and seventy-eight percent of U.S. consumers said they feel better when they buy sustainable products. (Interestingly, consumers in the developing world were even more likely than Americans to say buying sustainable products makes them feel better. One likely reason: they’ve seen firsthand the negative impacts of unsustainable business practices.)

Companies across many sectors are waking up to the importance of sustainability. Fast-casual restaurant chain Panera Bread boasts that all its food is “clean” (made without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors). Levi’s promotes its Waste<Less line of products, which are made of 20 percent post-consumer waste. Furniture chain IKEA has touted its decision to phase out incandescent light bulbs in favor of energy-efficient LED bulbs.

Boy Scout councils across the country have similar stories to tell; they have built green service centers, retrofitted old camp dining halls, created community gardens, and reduced water usage. And of course sustainability is baked into the Scouting program, from the Outdoor Code to the World Conservation Award to the Sustainability merit badge. What is perhaps is missing is a realization that promoting Scouting’s focus on sustainability could help attract additional families to the program, families for whom sustainability is an essential feature, not just a nice-to-have option.