Unilever Finds a Way to Shampoo Its Electricity

Photographer: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg

Unilever Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman.  Close

Unilever Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman. 

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Photographer: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg

Unilever Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman. 

Unilever, the consumer products giant that makes things to clean our ears, skin and teeth, will now do the same for its own electricity. The company announced yesterday it would work with NRG Energy to build renewable power generation at its U.S. offices, plants and distribution centers, which produce 16 percent of Unilever's revenue.

It's not uncommon these days for companies to build their own solar or wind arrays. Google, Apple and even The Grid's publisher, Bloomberg LP, are building their own power sources to earn tax credits and align their operations with sustainability goals.

"Companies with a purpose grow faster," said Kees Kruythoff, the president of Unilever North America.

Given Unilever's bullishness in sustainability, the only surprising thing about the announcement is that it hasn't come before. CEO Paul Polman is probably the most commonly cited example of an executive who has entwined financial metrics with off-balance-sheet goals to ease poverty and reduce environmental impacts. Dumping fossil fuels is a logical next step, even if the bandwagon is already pretty crowded.

David Crane, NRG's president, said that companies producing their own renewable electricity are redefining expectations for corporate sustainability work.

"What constitutes proper behavior evolves over time," he said. "For most corporations a commitment to sustainability is still showing up in the back pages of their annual report."

More by Ehren Goossens (@ehreng on Twitter):

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