Project Sunlight

Today marks Universal Children’s Day, the perfect moment to launch Project Sunlight for our client, Unilever. This is a major step forward in the Sustainable Living Plan announced by CEO Paul Polman three years ago, in which he committed the company to double its revenues without raising its consumption of natural resources.

I understood the challenge facing Unilever when Keith Weed, chief marketing officer, last January at Davos said that the company had “done the easy part by working on the supply side in reformulating its products, to opt for concentrates, to evolve the packaging to lighter grade plastic. Now we have to do the other two-thirds, to change consumer behavior.”

A short glimpse into the Edelman household shows the magnitude of the challenge. My wife, a hard-edged environmentalist, takes 10 to 15 minute showers because she is convinced this is what it takes to do her hair justice and to get clean. I try to make up for this by shaving with cold water and showering in three to four minutes (I have a timer, which is an old fashioned hour glass in plastic form).

The essential communications insight is that behavior change comes when you make participation easy to understand, desirable and rewarding. That is why a three-step program of SEE (watch a film to the right from award-winning director Errol Morris that sets out Unilever’s point of view about its belief in a brighter future), ACT (if you agree this is the time to build a brighter future, share the film and start a conversation with family and friends using #brightfuture, i.e., a wish for a child in your life) and JOIN (going to the Project Sunlight website and clicking “I’m In” and by becoming a champion of sustainable living at work and in your local community).

I saw the film last week in the UK — its use of real people watching and reacting to events is cinema vérité at its very best. We have done previews across the launch markets with expectant couples to spark the conversation in social media starting this week. We will also be releasing results of a global study from Edelman Berland proving that children are key to motivating adults to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and a powerful influence on parents changing their behavior.

The company will also be making a donation to help two million children through its ongoing partnerships, providing school meals through the World Food Programme; supporting Save the Children to provide clean, safe drinking water; and improved hygiene through UNICEF. Project Sunlight will initially launch in five countries, including Brazil, India, Indonesia, the UK and the U.S. before expanding globally in 2014.

The Manifesto (right) provides context and rationale for the initiative. It states:

“If you think that a brighter future is possible, you’ve come to the right place.
…We believe in a world where no child goes to bed hungry.
Where every home has enough water to drink, wash and clean.
Where preventable diseases are prevented.
And where every child lives past their fifth birthday.
We believe we can all live well.
Without stealing from future generations…”

An important point is the connection to brands, which are the face to the consumer. Lifebuoy soap is used in hand-washing campaigns in schools in Africa, Asia and Latin America to ward off diarrhea and pneumonia. Persil and OMO are perfecting cold water wash. Magnum and Knorr are using sustainably grown crops that improve the livelihood of farmers in developing nations. Unilever’s program validates the results from our brandshare study we released in October, the results of which found that consumers want to do business with companies that listen and learn and lead.

I want to commend Marc Mathieu, who has led this project for Unilever, for his courage and stewardship of the agencies. We have had a wonderful relationship with Ogilvy, the ad agency, which delivered the film and the Manifesto. This is how a global team should work, each bringing its unique skills to the client’s best advantage.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.