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Crowdsourcing Sustainable Solutions: Unilever Launches Foundry IDEAS Platform

Image credit: Unilever Foundry

Unilever unveiled a new initiative at the Cannes Lions festival on Friday that aims to put fresh momentum behind its Sustainable Living Plan with public input. The Foundry IDEAS platform will act as a hub for consumers and entrepreneurs to work together to tackle sustainability challenges.

Similar to the original Unilever Foundry platform, which enables startups to partner with the company, Foundry IDEAS provides a place for individuals to create and collaborate on solutions to “grand challenges” relating to sustainability. Unilever says it will regularly upload challenges to the Foundry IDEAS site where its community can submit ideas or add to other people’s responses.

Three ideas are currently open for entries relating to sanitation, hygiene and nutrition. The best ideas will be piloted or implemented, a reward Unilever hopes will incentivize participation.

"We’re five years into our 10-year Unilever Sustainable Living Plan to make our operations and brands more sustainable,” said Sue Garrard, SVP of sustainable business development and communications at Unilever. “We have made huge strides in our factories and with our suppliers.  The next stage is to find people with new and innovative ideas so that together we can help transform the way we live our daily lives, for us all to become more sustainable.”

“Because business as usual isn’t going to work anymore, we’re looking to shift to a more open and collaborative business model,” says Karen Hamilton, VP of Sustainable Business at Unilever, in a video describing the new initiative. “Even if you’re not an entrepreneur but you have an idea, share it on the platform, get people to collaborate and build it into a better idea, and have the chance to win big prizes and make a big impact at the same time.”

A recognized sustainability leader, Unilever is making progress on its Sustainable Living Plan, which aims to double the company’s size while reducing its environmental impact by 2020. Over 55 percent of its agricultural raw materials are now reportedly sustainably sourced, more than halfway to its 100 percent 2020 target. The company also reports it is nearly 40 percent of the way to reaching its goal of improving the health and wellbeing of over one billion people by 2020; it has trained 800,000 smallholder farmers since 2010 and provided 238,000 women with access to training, support and skills.

The breadth of Unilever’s sustainability initiatives is apparently paying off; the CPG giant announced last month that its ‘sustainable living brands,’ including Dove, LifeBuoy, Ben & Jerry’s and Comfort, are growing twice as fast as its other brands.

Unilever isn’t the only multinational corporation engaging citizens to help develop solutions to ongoing global sustainability challenges — in January, chemical giant BASF launched its Creator Space tour with the goal of doing just that. Since then, the tour has traveled to places including Mumbai, to address water and nutrition challenges; Ludwigshafen, Germany, to discuss smart energy and mobility; and Chicago, to brainstorm sustainable food solutions.


Brynn is an Insight Development Associate and a principal writer for Sustainable Brands.

[Read more about Brynn McNally]