It was more than ten years ago that Unilever introduced its Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) and demonstrated that corporate profit and sustainability can go hand in hand. During those years, the need for action became a public priority and sustainable living a hot topic for organizations and individuals alike. Pioneering as ever, Unilever is currently designing a ‘Future of the Workplace’, in which sustainable mobility plays a key part.
Charlotte Potman, HR specialist for employee and industrial relations, and her colleague Laura Knoop, HR business partner, have both worked at Unilever for years and were closely involved in developing the company’s new sustainable mobility plan.
One of the most significant things to have changed this past year is office work cultures. As working from home became the norm, a huge shift took place in our mindset about where we work. At Unilever, mobility plans until recently revolved around a five-day working week at a single location. Its new plan, by contrast, is based on four pillars. The four pillars entail: sustainability, employee experience, future of work(place), and simplicity. “Underpinning it all is Unilever’s purpose: ‘Making sustainable living commonplace’. We need to create a sustainable mobility community. We need that to make sustainable living into a commonplace thing. A sustainable mobility policy will advance sustainable behaviour in our workforce”, Laura explains. One ambition is to get to one green mobility scheme. Its Weena location has adopted a mobility scheme promoting public transport use. Unilever’s new office on Hofplein, however, seems to have made less of an effort. But that’s about to change.
Future of the Workplace
In spite of all the uncertainty in the world right now, Unilever is hard at work to explore and map the ‘Future of the Workplace’ and develop a suitable mobility model that’s flexible and not tethered to specific journeys and mobility patterns. According to Charlotte, “The results of various surveys we’ve done with our staff, discussion groups and meetings with our central works council, indicate that people would welcome a flexible mobility plan. On the other hand, we’ve also noticed they aren’t yet consciously thinking about alternative options to travel to and from work. For us, it’s important to get people on board with this plan and, if needed, advise them on journey options.” This is further supported by the ‘Employee Experience’,
which is also about flexibility and catering to individual needs that may vary from one day to the next. In essence, this mobility plan leaves the role and meaning of ‘flexibility’ open for everyone to define it as suits them best.
The incentives and mobility reimbursements Unilever offers employees at its Weena office have boosted uptake of this option. Now, with Unilever having traded its De Brug location for Hofplein, the team are hopeful mobility behaviour will shift in a more sustainable direction here, too, according to Charlotte. “Our new model is about rewarding sustainable mobility, by updating the traditional bike scheme where you can also purchase an e-bike in exchange for vacation days. Many of our employees are making use of that arrangement. Basically, we’re trying to make mobility easier and more accessible while also giving people an added incentive.” The fourth and final pillar is ‘Simplicity’. To achieve this, all non-car leasers will be offered one and the same scheme they may taylor to their own requirements. It has to be simple for employees to use and easy for the organization to implement, Laura sums up. The fact that all providers are facilitated via a single app, is in the interests of simplicity, too.
Currently, Unilever is working hard to anchor all these elements in the plan’s four pillars. Charlotte: “It’s such an interesting issue and we can’t wait to see the results. The central works council hasn’t shied away from experimenting and giving its recommendations on this. Ultimately, we hope the experience and ease of use will spark a positive vibe in our people. Then we can all contribute toward a sustainable future!”