This week in Say More, PS talks with Paul Polman, a former CEO of Unilever, the chair of the UN Global Compact for the Secretary-General, and the author of Net Positive: How Courageous Corporations Thrive by Giving More Than They Take.
Project Syndicate: At our recent New Summits event, you delivered the opening remarks of session two, focused on what it will take to get the private sector to go green – or, as you put it, to move from becoming “less bad” to being genuinely socially responsible. One imperative you highlighted was “radical collaboration,” including among competitors. What kind of initiatives or frameworks would be most effective here? Are there successful models in operation today that should be replicated?
Paul Polman: Yes, we are seeing the competitive space rapidly being redefined, with the large-scale collaboration that produced COVID-19 vaccines in record time as just one example. We are also seeing more transformative partnerships, with business, government, and civil society working together to drive positive systemic change. This kind of collaboration is vital to address the complex and interrelated challenges our societies face, including climate change, biodiversity loss, public health, economic growth, job creation, and more. To succeed, we need everyone at the table.
Civil society and business must pull in the same direction, thereby de-risking higher ambition from politicians. This dynamic was on display early on in the pandemic – for example, when business leaders called for state bailouts to come with green strings attached. This gave politicians greater confidence to implement more stringent sustainability conditions.
We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Polman's picks:
by Colin Mayer
Mayer provides a simple and engaging explanation of why purpose-driven business models deliver more for all stakeholders of a company, ultimately benefiting its shareholders.
by Hubert Joly
The former BestBuy CEO brings the purpose-driven approach to life, by describing the principles-based transformation he oversaw at the once-struggling company.
by Ping Fu
Ping shares a powerful personal story of resilience and courage, which takes her from Mao’s China all the way to the White House.