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Today, Xuan Hoa primary school in northern Vinh Phuc province’s Phuc Yen town is quite different from other days. Among hundreds of pupils playing in the playground, there are many people with orange-coloured T-shirts who are zealously painting the school’s fences, collecting rubbish and teaching pupils how to wash their hands in a correct way. Many are also white-washing the trees’ feets to prevent pestilient insects.
“We are proud to bring happiness to the school and pupils,” said Peter Ter Kulve, executive vice president of Unilever’s Southeast Asia and Australasia Region. “Pupils are buds for future development and they need to have a clean learning environment.”
He said Unilever’s activity at this school was one of many activities of the group’s Community Day , which was part of the company’s Sustainable Living Plan.
Unilever has many other community-oriented activities. Led by Ter Kulve, Unilever’s members have also visited other schools and households in the town and the nearby Minh Tri commune in Hanoi’s Soc Son district. Here, Ter Kulve presented gifts to local farmers.
Efforts for community
Some 250 of the top regional executives from Unilever, one of the world’s leading fast moving consumer goods corporations, converged in Hanoi late last week to help boost living standards in communities in some provinces including Bac Ninh, Vinh Phuc and Hanoi.
The executives, coming from across South East Asia and Australasia, spent the day visiting local markets, consumers and working in primary schools on a range of initiatives, such as upgrading toilets in schools, teaching children good hygienic behaviours to prevent diseases such as hand washing with soap, teeth brushing and cleaning key community spaces. The Unilever personnel also spent time educating small scale traders about how to better serve their customers.
This community outreach programme is the latest in a line of sustainability initiatives led by Unilever in Vietnam. In October last year, the company set a record by collecting the largest number of Vietnamese handprint pledges to support “A free disease Vietnam”. The effort was part of the “Hand washing with soap for a healthier Vietnam” run in partnership between Unilever Vietnam Foundation, the Ministry of Health and Unicef to celebrate the Global Handwashing Day in Vietnam.
Ter Kulve said sustainability was central to the success of the company in Vietnam and around the world. “Under the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we’ve committed to doubling the size of our business, whilst halving our environmental impact and increasing our social impact. Today is one way we can demonstrate our leadership in sustainable growth, by both spending the day here doing the right thing and also by holding our annual leadership conference here in Vietnam, a country that has huge potential and fantastic communities and a great future.”
“Unilever Vietnam is committed to growing sustainably in Vietnam, and aim to do well by doing good,” echoed Unilever Vietnam chairman JV Raman. “We will continue to serve the people of Vietnam the products that will improve the quality of their lives.”
Core of business development
Raman noted that the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan was at the core of the company’s business model.
The plan is a ground-breaking company-wide action one spanning Unilever’s entire supply chain and aiming to result in three significant outcomes by 2020. They include doubling Unilever’s growth, while halving the environmental impact of its products, sourcing 100 per cent of Unilever agricultural raw materials sustainably and helping one billion people take action to improve their health and well-being.
“We are living in a fast-changing world and facing lots of challenges, which will have a major impact on our lives, our children’s lives, the lives of our consumers and our business,” Raman said.
He said by 2020, there would be another billion people on the planet. While this opened up opportunities for Unilever’s brands to meet changing consumer needs, it also meant people would be faced with even more acute challenges on health, hygiene and nutrition, on drinking water and sustainable resources, on climate change and better livelihoods.
Those challenges required businesses to operate differently to respond to the challenges in the context of diminishing natural resources, and require businesses and governments to work more closely together.
“At Unilever, we have recognised that growth at any cost is not viable. We must find a new way of doing business that decouples growth from environmental impacts, while increasing the positive social impact of our brands,” Raman said.
In the context of diminishing resources, businesses had a very important role to play. If enterprises were not sustainable, they could not succeed in the future, he said.
“It’s very clear because we cannot borrow the resources of future generations to spend it today. That was the genesis when we launched Unilever Sustainable Living Plan here more than a year ago. In other words, growing sustainably is not a choice anymore, but a business imperative,” he said.
Ter Kulve stressed: “We are very excited about the plan journey. Not only Xuan Hoa primary school, but also many other ones from many localities nationwide are closely with us in implementing this programme. We look forward to working more closely with the Vietnamese government, with our customers and partners, with our consumers and with our employees for the common goal of making Vietnamese lives better.”