Reinventing growth in Europe: Time for business unusual

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Jan Zijderveld [Unilever]

Jan Zijderveld [Unilever]

Completing and enforcing the Single Market should be a high priority for the new European Commission as a key driver of innovation and sustainable growth, writes Jan Zijderveld.

Jan Zijderveld is President of Unilever Europe.

There are ample opportunities for business to grow in Europe, provided we reinvent the way we do business. We are operating in unfamiliar territory – the world is undergoing huge change and faces many challenges. It’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

For companies to be successful in the long term in this volatile, complex world with finite resources, there is only one viable way forward – new business models that are both sustainable and generate returns. It is, therefore, our vision to double the size of the company, whilst reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact.

The new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has made it clear that creating jobs and growth will be at the centre of his agenda. But creating jobs and growth in Europe cannot be done through a “business as usual” approach.

Innovating for sustainable growth

The business case for sustainability is clear; consumers demand it, it drives innovation, it helps us cut costs, and it reduces our business risk in this new landscape, future-proofing our supply chains, so we can continue to serve our consumers’ every day needs for the next 130 years too and beyond.

This is where innovation comes in. Europe has a strong history of innovation and building great brands, but it needs to start rebuilding an environment where this can be done bigger, better and faster. The Single Market reduces complexity in the supply chain, freeing up resources for innovations, reducing packaging waste and minimizing trucks on the road. Ultimately, less complexity in the supply chain means better value and more transparency for the consumer.

Continuous improvement of our brands and products is required to respond to the changing needs of a changing consumer. The recent product launch of compressed deodorants helps save 25% in aluminium packaging. If a million people use them, this saves enough aluminum to build 20,000 bicycles and reduces significant waste of a finite resource. If member states were setting their own eco-design standards, we would not be able to reach this scale. Landing these innovations across Europe is vital to make the business case for investment.

This is why a functioning Single Market is key, as it provides us with a single passport to the largest market in the world.

Partnering for growth

But none of our ambitions would be possible without partnerships. For example, Unilever’s commitment to 100% sustainable sourcing of its agricultural raw materials by 2020 can only be brought about through long term relationships with farmers and suppliers across the EU.

Again, the Single Market is important in supporting Unilever to fulfill this commitment. At the end of 2013, 48% of our agricultural raw materials was sustainably sourced. As businesses step up and take responsibility, there is still a critical role to play for authorities, including the European Commission, to create the right policy frameworks for sustainable economic growth and to give the right signals and incentives.

So, completing and enforcing the Single Market should be a high priority for the new European Commission, as a key driver of innovation and sustainable growth. For example, as a member of the High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain, we have identified hurdles to the free flow of goods – this could be a good place to start in the Commission’s five year legislature.

Unlock Europe’s growth potential

It’s an exciting moment for business and politicians to follow a new path that generates growth and ensures it is sustainable, and then multiplies those benefits through the scale that the Single Market gives us all in Europe.

The new European Commission has the chance to charter this course away from “business as usual”, which can no longer be successful, and be bold, forward-thinking and create the right conditions for a competitive Europe, supporting companies as they navigate these changes and opportunities.

Together we can unlock Europe’s potential for growth again. Let’s go for Business Unusual!

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