However, such complacency would be very badly misplaced. Sustainability is not just a matter of sticking around, although long-term business success is part of it. Nor is it simply about taking care of the environment.
Sustainability is about taking a 360 degree view of your business ­ manufacturing, marketing, supply chain,human resources, the lot ­ and evaluating its long term future.
The government's recent announcement of a Food Industry Sustainability strategy offers an opportunity to build good practice and we will want to contribute to this.
For a company like Unilever, the challenge of implementing sustainable practices is immense, but it has to be done. The business case in some areas is very practical ­ a sustainable supply chain in fish, tomatoes, peas, tea and so on is integral to the future success of our business.
Already we have pilot projects in a dozen countries, including the UK, intended to increase the sustainability of our raw materials supply chain. Along with the WWF, we were instrumental in the creation of the Marine Stewardship Council, which designed a system of certifying fisheries for sustainability. This has resulted in an on-pack logo which consumers can easily understand and therefore make informed choices.
Supply chain sustainability is relatively easy to understand, even if improving it is difficult in practice. Sustainability in respect of marketing and consumers is a much more difficult issue. Take healthy eating. Now that the first legal cases against McDonald's in the US have failed, the fast-food industry has heaved a large sigh of relief. The tobacco industry probably did the same after winning the first ever cancer case. Big mistake.
Sustainability has serious implications for food processors, retailers and indeed caterers. We generally agree that there is no such thing as a good food or a bad food, just good diets and bad diets. To encourage consumers to adopt healthy balanced diets and lifestyles, we need to provide people with informed choices through clear labelling and other communication tools.
Corporate reputations will be increasingly damaged by the lack of openness and transparency when talking about the origins and nutritional content of food. Worse still are the mixed messages from a variety of sources which leads to consumer confusion and a general mistrust of the food industry.
Unilever's subsidiaries Unilever Bestfoods and Birds Eye have begun by reviewing their product range to reduce salt levels. This is the kind of issue on which the industry must take a lead, rather than appear to be pressurised into action by regulators ­ or the courts.
But we must not be too defensive in the face of aggressive regulation. It is clear that consumers generally do not believe that the man in Whitehall knows best'. Our industry understands consumers and their food needs far better than any bureaucrat, however well-intentioned. It is this connection with the consumer that can help with government thinking and so lead to a more integrated strategy which can deliver for everyone. We no longer accept that an ordinary meal should take hours to prepare by a housewife cooking for the nuclear family who will all sit down together. Life is no longer like that. And we believe that processed food is an essential part of this change in modern lifestyles.
Our regulators need to recognise this change and seek to work in partnership with the industry to make sure their advice fits how people really behave. This partnership should lead to a wide acknowledgement that properly developed processed foods can provide good nutrition for the new lifestyles we see all around us. If regulators get to grips with that, producers will see clear market opportunities and increasingly provide meals which meet the needs of all.
If we can get the industry and regulators working together to improve nutrition and diet among the broad population, that will be a very powerful alliance ­ an alliance, one might say, that offers true sustainable progress.
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