At the beginning of 2009, on one of his first days as head of Unilever, Paul Polman informed the financial world that he would no longer be giving earnings forecasts to the firm’s investors. He likes to say that he felt empowered to do this right away because “the day they hire you, they are not going to fire you.”1

Well aware of the mixed reactions this bold move would create among potential investors, he explained that his priority was now the creation of long-term value. And he thought that the only possible path to achieve this was to put social purpose at the heart of his enterprise.

A Force for Good

Polman is the very example of the chief executive convinced of the soundness of shared value creation. No one has been more determined than he has been in putting into place what has become an extremely comprehensive CSR program—perhaps the most far-reaching to have ever been undertaken by a large corporation. He has always believed in the idea that looking after the least fortunate and protecting the planet were equal parts business opportunity and moral obligation. For him, it’s impossible to build a strong, sustainable business in a world of increasing inequality, poverty, and climate change.

His program is called the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. It is multifaceted, and founded on three overarching objectives: to improve the health and well-being of over one billion people, to halve the impact his company ...

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