In our Supply Chain Matters perceptions of this year’s ranking of the Gartner Top 25 Supply Chains, we noted how pleased it was that Unilever had finally made top-five recognition and how this global consumer goods provider actually garnered the highest score among the Gartner analyst community More than many consumer goods supply chains, Unilever has demonstrated agility in supporting expanded revenue growth tapping emerging global markets and agility in managing its extended value-chains.

The June 10th edition of Fortune provides more evidence of Unilever’s stature as a global supply chain leader.  The article paints a broad portrait of CEO Paul Polman, and specifically his charge that sustainability goals will not trump traditional goals such as shareholder return. Fortune declares that Unilever “has gone beyond big U.S. companies like GE, IBM, and Wal-Mart by putting sustainability at the core of its business.” Polman iterated to Fortune: “The essence of the plan is to put society and the challenges facing society in the middle of the business.

While some may be skeptical of these statements, the business results certainly speak for themselves. Since taking over as CEO, Unilever has increased revenues by 30 percent, made larger penetrations in emerging markets and is giving competitors such as Nestle and P&G a run the money.  The article points out that last year, despite the severe economic crisis impacting Europe along with rising commodity costs, Unilever posted record revenues and profits. Its revenues grew in every region while it was successful in reducing the costs.

Unilever translates its  passion for sustainability in many phases of its direct consumer marketing as well.  Fortune points to one examples of a campaign related to the Axe brand of grooming products that challenges young men to save more water by showering with a friend.  Last year the company rolled out a program to begin the rollout of new, climate-friendly ice cream freezers in the U.S.. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, along with other Unilever ice cream brands like Breyers, Good Humor and Klondike, are to be kept in freezers that use at least 10 percent less energy and replace harmful “F” gas coolants with hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants.

From a supply chain lens, the company is driving farmers and suppliers to be certified as sustainable or else risk losing Unilever’s business. Unilever’s plan includes 60 targets with targets related to chickens, cows, cocoa, use of paper harvested from manageable forests and consumption of water. Fortune points out that: “Unilever’s sustainable sourcing program is intended to ensure that the company will have access to affordable raw materials as logs as it needs them.”

Of little surprise, Fortune cites that the company is one of the five most-searched-for employers on Linked-In.

Full Disclosure: This author is impressed- I am a current Unilever stockholder.

Bob Ferrari