Climate Counts (Climatecounts.org) recently released its Scorecard for 2012-2013. This independent, non-profit organization congratulated Unilever for having topped its list of companies with a score of 91 (highest ever) for the second year in a row.
Climate Counts produces a scorecard, or list of companies’ impact on climate/sustainability. Companies are rated on their practices to reduce global warming. Scoring is from 0 to 100 (best). Climate uses 22 criteria to evaluate companies, which are broken-down into four categories. Please refer to its website for additional information. Note that the SRI website does not consider the Scorecard a comprehensive list for socially responsible investing screens as it‘s mostly limited to consumer brands and focuses on the “E” of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance).
Unilever is a huge consumer products company (€46.5Bn as of FY’11) of which typically focus on the “bottom line.” However, knowing that Unilever was the holding (parent) company of Ben & Jerry’s made me realize its high ranking wasn’t a fluke…
I was recently at a Socially Responsible conference at the Mohegan Sun and decided to sleep at a (haunted) B&B in Mystic, Connecticut in lieu of a soulless hotel–casino. After a late breakfast I arrived at the conference’s topic table session. These are tables led by individuals that aren’t giving presentations. I decided to join folks at a table called Common Good headed by a fellow named Terry Mollner.
After Mr. Mollner speculated my late arrival on a “late-night with a girlfriend” I thought he was a little flaky (though I was equally touched that he thought I was a young lad). When he started evangelizing what he called a “Common Good Movement” I felt like I just walked into a cult. However, I soon learned Mollner was not only the founder of Common Good, but a founder of Calvert Social Investment Funds, the Calvert Foundation and a board member of Ben & Jerry’s.
This would move enterprises away from their short-term self interest to longer term common good. Ex-Fed chairman Alan Greenspan was a strong believer in the capitalistic self interest motive. However, even he later revealed in Congressional testimony that self interest was no longer a valid assumption and that it did not prevent Banks from bringing the U.S. to the brink of Depression.
Ben & Jerry’s vs Unilever
If you want to learn the source of Unilever’s sustainability success, then you must hark back to its acquisition of Ben & Jerry’s. Back in 2000, there was a bidding war for the nostalgic ice-cream maker, with Mollner organizing his own bid (with a group of investors including founder Ben Cohen). As Mollner says, “we lost the battle but not the war.” In other words, while Unilever out-bid them, Mollner’s group was able to instill legal provisions allowing Ben & Jerry’s to:
- retain their own Board of Director’s
- choose their own Board on an ongoing basis, and
- maintain their “double-dip” mission of profits + social responsibility*
Ben & Jerry’s continues to operate independently to this day. In fact, during 10/2012, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it became the first wholly-owned subsidiary to become a Certified B Corp. Essentially, Ben & Jerry’s sole purpose is now not just to make money but to benefit society. The move was supported by Unilever, as consistent with Ben & Jerry’s mission and is also aligned with Unilever’s sustainability agenda. In 2010, Unilever committed to reducing the environmental impact of its products by 50% while doubling sales by 2020. In a BBC interview, ESG consultant Paula Widdowson said, “I think Ben & Jerry’s was a tipping point for Unilever – they learned a lot from the culture and learned that it made business sense.”
In a case of David vs Goliath, Ben & Jerry’s social mission has become embedded into Unilever, so much so that it’s now the #1 ranked company in Climate Counts’ Scorecard.
*Note: In all fairness, the Unilever presence hasn’t been all creamy for Ben & Jerry’s. All of their ice-cream flavors are no longer universally wholesome as some contain corn syrup and the company stopped saying their products are all natural.
Appendix: Climate Counts’ Scorecard Industry Leaders 2012-13:
Company Name: (Rating)
- Airlines: Lufthansa (77)
- Apparel/Accessories: Nike (89)
- Beer: Heineken (79)
- Banks: Bank of America (86)
- Consumer Shipping: UPS (89)
- Food Products: Unilever (91)
- Food Services: Starbucks (69)
- Home and Office: Herman Miller (66)
- Hotels: Marriott (70)
- Household Products: L’Oreal (87)
- Internet/Software: Google (64)
- Large Appliances: AB Electrolux (87)
- Media: News Corporation (67)
- Pharmaceuticals: Johnson & Johnson (82)
- Technology (formerly Electronics): IBM (86)
- Toys & Children’s Equipment: Hasbro (73)