What Paul Polman did next: Former Unilever CEO to lead new sustainability foundation

Michael Holder
clock • 2 min read

Paul Polman confirms plans for new organisation called Imagine which will focus on combating climate change and poverty

Paul Polman has revealed his first major initiative since stepping down as CEO of consumer goods giant Unilever, announcing plans late last week for a new sustainability foundation called Imagine.

The 62-year-old Dutchman, who is credited with driving Unilever's influential sustainability efforts during his near-decade stint as CEO, is investing an unspecified amount of his own money in the venture, according to Bloomberg.

Building on Polman's well-documented social and environmental focus, Imagine will aim to combat climate change and global poverty, working with companies to step up action towards achieving the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he explained in an email to friends and colleagues last week.

"The imperative to eradicate poverty and inequality and stem runaway climate change has never been more acute," he wrote, according to Bloomberg reports. He also argued that despite an escalating environmental crisis "we still miss the collective sense of urgency to move at scale and speed".

Polman added that he sees the private sector is "the main engine for change", but that "even a company like Unilever can only do so much" and "we have a fight against the clock here".

Polman will lead the foundation alongside its co-founders businesswoman Valerie Keller and Jeff Seabright, Unilever's chief sustainability officer.

Further details about the precise nature of the new organisation have yet to be revealed. Imagine's website merely states "coming soon" on the landing page.

Confirming the news on Twitter on Friday, Polman quoted some of the lyrics from John Lennon's best-selling 1971 hit 'Imagine'.

Polman has long been vocal about the risk climate change presents for the business community, famously revealing in 2015 that climate impacts were already costing Unilever €300m a year.

He officially retired from his executive position at Unilever at the start of the year, but only left the company last week after completing a six-month handover to the firm's new CEO Alan Jope.

Jope has already signalled his intention to ensure Unilever maintains its focus on environmental issues, recently warning trade bodies that represent the multinational that they must support efforts to deliver a net zero emission economy.

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