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Former Unilever CEO Paul Polman talks sustainability at Ealing’s University of West London

The former CEO of global consumer goods company Unilever Paul Polman and who is now a climate and equality campaigner has given a public lecture of his best selling book Net Positive, How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More than They Take at Ealing’s University of West London (UWL).

As well as UWL students, the free event saw local residents, businesses and sustainability professionals attend to discover more about what Mr Polman had to say.

As CEO of Unilever from 2009 to 2019, he was instrumental in guiding the company and its social impact through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Mr Polman was one of the key people of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (USDGs), which are 7 world development goals created in 2015 with the aim of delivering “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”.

In delivering his lecture, he started by saying: “It’s apt that Queen singer Freddie Mercury attended the University when it was called Ealing College because my talk today, like one of his songs, is all about being ‘under pressure’.”

He added: “We are still at the point in history where we are creating problems at a faster pace than we are applying solutions. This world is around 4.5 billion years old, and it is estimated that it has another 4.5 billion years to go. Some people may think, ‘Don’t worry because you won’t be here.’ But we are at a mid-life crisis. If we scale this time frame to 45 years, human beings have only been here for 4 hours. The industrial revolution only started one minute ago. Yet in that one minute we lost 50 per cent of the world’s forests. In the last 50 years we have lost 68 per cent of the world’s species. And as I speak about two million more are being made extinct. It is incomprehensible what we are doing.”

Looking to the future, he said: “We need leaders. We need a different kind of leadership from the past. We can solve a lot of problems with a higher level of thinking.”

Commenting on the lecture, UWL vice-chancellor and president Professor Peter John CBE said: “It was a pleasure to welcome Paul Polman to UWL. We all learnt so much from such an authentic changemaker and business leader. Here at UWL we are committed to embedding sustainability in our curriculum as well as creating leaders with a greater level of expertise on such an essential subject.”

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