We all aspire to. On the 4th of April, Make a Difference Day invited six companies with a green agenda to try and convince students they have, or are moving towards, sustainable business models.
A tricky subject, already during the opening speeches two worldviews collided. Ronald Waardenburg, former VP CSR at Ahold, bluntly sums up the research on consumers with the saying we are social rebels in surveys, but economic conservatives in the store. End of the day he says, the consumer will do nothing for sustainability, even worse, we will hamper progress by preferring the minimum price over a fair price.
In contrast, Anniek Mauser, Head of Sustainability at Unilever Benelux, believes in grass roots change, as the aggregate of minor shifts in attitude can amount to a significant improvement overall. She too, however, asserts that “the consumer is clueless.” A product life cycle analysis of 70% of Unilever’s products, carried out in 14 countries, reveiled that 68% of pollution comes from the way we use the products. For shower products and detergents this is up to 95%, with the US consistently outperforming Europe – in a negative way.
Both views imply that companies have a major responsibility in moving towards sustainability and in educating consumers. Young talent from the six participating companies offered practical and realistic insight into the range and impact of their work. Özlem Özcan and Harm-Jan Pietersen, both from Ahold’s Corporate Responsibility Team, stress that their mission is an uphill battle. But even in their company, where the bottom line is paramount, the internal resistance to sustainable innovations is decreasing. Perhaps Anniek Mauser is right, and changing the way all consumers view the world, even when they are on their job as Finance or Operations Managers, will help turn the titanic around.
Everyone agreed on the fact that we only have one planet to live on, that its resources are limited, and that it takes passionate and ambitious individuals to work as change agents for a greener future. Make a Difference Day was busy with eager students, mostly from RSM Erasmus.