When you have just graduated in energy engineering and jump in employment for the first time, chances are high you’re not really looking for a job but for an adventure…
That was the case for me, at least. I wanted to be facing energy puzzles, turn them around, lucidly spot the issue and eventually come up with just the right solution to make things more efficient, reduce energy waste, save power and make the world a better place.
It sounded quite ambitious to me, too. But amazingly, that’s exactly what I got when, 18 months ago, I set foot as an intern in Unilever’s Home Care Factory in Northern Italy.
Unilever has also an ambitious project: the Sustainable Living Plan, which aims to make the company’s supply chain carbon free by 2030. So my first task there, as a fresh graduate, was to analyse the energy consumption of the factory, understand it, and find a way to reduce it – exactly the adventure had been dreaming of.
Julia is Head of Unilever’s Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC) and has spanned a career within Unilever since 1998. With an academic background in biochemistry and a PhD in toxicology, she has also played a key role in shaping the R&D UFLP and so read about her career so far, tips for being successful on the scheme and maintaining that vital work-life balance: Read more “Senior leader interview: Julia Fentem, Vice President SEAC”→
As some of you may be approaching selection board interview time, I thought it would be a great opportunity to revive a previous blog and make sure you’re fully prepared for the final stage in the UFLP and internship selection process. Read more “Guide to Selection Board Success”→
Hello, I am Tara and I am on a Business and Technology Management (BTM) Industrial Placement. Doing a degree in Sustainable Development and Politics at the University of Edinburgh you may be wondering how I ended up in Business and IT function. Well truthfully, it was not solely the function that attracted me to the scheme; it was also my pure fascination and appreciation for the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan that drew me in. That being said, I will leave my personal story for a later date because as I am based in Port Sunlight, the birthplace of Unilever, I feel it is only appropriate to dedicate my inaugural post to our founder, Lord Lever-Hulme himself.
William Lever, the son of a humble grocer, was a visionary and progressivist whose legacy not only radiates through Unilever today, but can be seen throughout corporate and union strategies worldwide. From an economic perspective, his initial success was born out of Sunlight Soap – the first ever individually wrapped soap bars. Who knew, a commodity we take for granted today was considered so revolutionary just over a century ago? However, although his economic legacy rests in a company whose revenues topped £48 billion last year; what makes me (and many others) proud to be a Unilever employee is the social legacy he leaves behind.
After Sunlight soap took off, and his factory in Warrington was running at full capacity, Lever began looking for a new premises. The plot of land he chose was ideal: near a potential source of labour in neighbouring Birkenhead, with road, rail and water access, and located just off the banks of the Mersey River. Port Sunlight had found its home. However, Port Sunlight was never to be just a factory. Being a great believer in the idea that healthy labourers were more productive he pioneered the concept of employee welfare. Within a couple of years he had built an entire village of 900 homes to house employees from across his business. At a time of vast industrial revolution, where disparities and poverty were vast, Port Sunlight was considered utopian in comparison to average living standards. With a hospital, fire station, manicured gardens, leisure facilities, and schools, workers never needed to leave. In their village, where they both lived and worked, they were guaranteed a decent standard of living and better quality of life.
The village and original factory site remain almost identical to the time of their construction. Port Sunlight has been declared a Conservation Area since 1978 and has strict upkeep regulations in order to retain the character of the village. Work ethic within Unilever also remains central to Lever’s vision with a high emphasis on employee wellbeing and welfare. Simply walking through the village is a living reminder of Lever’s efforts to build the company we know and love today. If anything it makes me proud to work for a company who is founded on its progressivist thinking whilst staying true to its historical legacy. And to be reminded of that every morning is a pure joy.
If Lord Lever were to enter 21st century Port Sunlight, aside from the various mod-cons, I like to think he would be walking into an office not much different than the one he created in the late 1800s. Now that is a legacy to be proud of.
I was watching Mad Men the other day (only Season 1- I’m trying to catch up!) and something struck me. A beatnik challenged the infamous Don Draper – “Toothpaste doesn’t solve anything,”.
Unilever’s toothpaste brands aren’t that prominent in the UK, but I’m sure you will have come across them if you’ve travelled much – Mentadent, Pepsodent, Signal, Close-Up, Prodent, Zendium, and Zhonghua (I’m sure I’ve missed a few local gems too!). Our toothpaste solves something. In 2010, we set ourselves a target to encourage children & their parents to brush day and night – aiming to change the behaviour of 50 million people by 2020, as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
We’re currently on track to reach this target, with a massive 49 million people reached to date, with the “Brush Day and Night” campaign running front and centre (a website I worked on in my 2nd placement!). Flouride toothpaste strengthens tooth enamel, and reduces the ability of plaque to produce acid (NHS). In the UK, where much of our water is fluoridated, we take its benefits for granted. But in countries such as Indonesia, Cote D’Ivoire and even France – this is not the case, and using a flouride toothpaste significantly reduces tooth decay – and indeed, providing affordable flouride toothpaste in developing countries is a WHO target. There have been studies that connect poor oral health with increased incidence of heart attacks & strokes, and gum disease has been shown to have an effect on cognitive dysfunction – which is connected with Alzheimer’s Disease.
So – toothpaste actually helps to solve health and hygiene issues across the globe. And the fact that we’re seeing increased sales because of it only demonstrates that our business model works. By making sustainable living commonplace, we’re not only ensuring that our brands have a future, but also millions of people across the globe.
Check out this clip on YouTube to see how we’ve made the Brush Day & Night campaign work around the world – I think this shows it both in France & Indonesia.
It feels like only yesterday we were jetting off to the the Unilever UK & Ireland Sustainable Business Challenge in London, yet here we are, packing our bags for a long flight East. Though I wish we could say we’re escaping Ireland’s infamously miserable weather, weather reports are saying there’s thunderstorms roaring in Singapore as we speak. Luck of the Irish, huh?
Anyway, I should probably introduce our team:
We collectively call ourselves Team EcoApp because of our initial pitch, which combined sustainability principles with new media. All three of us were born and raised in Dublin and study in the same university (UCD), though in very different faculties.
Marketing maven Fiona did her undergrad in commerce and is now studying for a Masters in MSc in HR management. Catherine is doing her 4th year law (BCL) with politics and is an absolute whizz at presentations. That leaves me, James, the all round team geek doing an MSc in computer science.
Without letting the cat out of the bag, I can tell you that we’re very excited about showing our two ideas to the panel. We’re thinking disruptive ideas while trying to keep ourselves grounded in reality.
Speaking of being realistic, we found a lucky charm in London right before the competition, and we’re bringing it with us.
The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is about more than just environmental sustainability, a point which was really brought home to me last week. I am currently working in the global Dove team, and two weeks ago, I was invited to a session to learn about the Dove Self Esteem Fund. There I learnt some things that truly shocked me. 60% of girls have not done an activity they otherwise wished to do, because of the way they looked. This included 25% who had not gone to a party or social event, and most shockingly for me, 15% who had not visited a doctor when they needed to. In an effort to try and improve this, the Dove Self Esteem Fund has committed as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan to deliver hour-long sessions building body confidence and self esteem to 15 million girls by 2015.
That’s how I ended up in front of a class of 30, year seven girls in London, giving an hour long talk on self-esteem. To be honest, I had been dreading it. Public speaking and presentations are not my forte at the best of times, and despite all of the practice I’ve had and training on the Unilever Future Leaders Programme (UFLP), the idea of talking to children was very scary!
However the slides I was given were wonderful. They were a brilliant mixture of serious points, humour and things the children could relate to. There were a few interesting moments. When asked to pick a celebrity who showed true beauty, half the class chose Zayn Malik. I had no idea who he was until told by the class.
Despite my ignorance about current boy bands, the session went very well. I really hope some of what we said helped the girls in the class and that in some way it goes to counteract some of the terrible statistics I mentioned earlier. It was fantastic to really feel how we are living the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and to see how far it can reach.
If you want to find out more about the Dove Self Esteem Fund please click here.
If this has given you an idea of how Unilever can reach the targets in our Sustainable Living Plan then why not enter our Sustainable Business Challenge?