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Client work

2012 Update: Some recent and ongoing projects at Volans can be found here, while a small glimpse of our client projects can be had here.

Older Content: A brief look back through the lens of my/our work with one of the scores of companies I/we have developed partmnerships with over the decades.

UnileverOver time, the focus of my work has morphed a number of times—a trend that is perhaps particularly noticeable in the assorted work I have done for (or around) Unilever over the years. In the 1970s, I often wrote about the company in the ENDS Report and Biotechnology Bulletin, both of which I co-founded and edited—for five years in the case of the ENDS Report and for 15 with Biotechnology Bulletin. Then, in the late 1980s, I worked with the Chairman of Lever Switzerland, trying to get the giant laundry products supertanker to wake up to a new set of issues. (I remember being in Rudi Bircher’s office as a large warehouse burned down in full view and asking him about some detergent products stacked in the corner. They were, he said with a wry smile, “My ‘Body Shop’ range,” just in case the market demanded it.)

Then Julia and I wrote The Green Consumer Guide, which had a good deal to say on a number of the product categories Unilever was involved in. But, as a result of the growing competition between companies in these markets, we ended up switching to Procter & Gamble—a relationship that lasted for over a decade. In recent years, I was involved in a Ben & Jerry’s board meeting about the prospect of a sale to Unilever. I was initially written into the draft contract of sale as a guarantor of the Ben & Jerry values, but this was struck out by either the SEC or NYSE as illegal! More recently, I have been part of a SustainAbility team working for Unilever on some of the issues surrounding genetically modified food products. In 2008, SustainAbility worked with Hindustan Lever, a stepping stone towards setting up our first emerging economies office India later in the year.

So that’s the history. But the element of my work in the Unilever sphere which perhaps most powerfully signals my emerging priorities and interests is my membership of the Advisory Board of Physic Ventures, a venture capital outfit based in San Francisco that is largely funded by Unilever and focuses on health, wellbeing and sustainable lifestyles.

As this brief narrative perhaps indicates, my project work has increasingly shifted to focus on social and environmental entrepreneurs—and those who fund them. Our work in this area has been immeasurably helped forward by a 3-year, $1 million grant from the Skoll Foundation and by my increasingly close working with Pamela Hartigan and her team at the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Hopefully things will now take a big leap forward with the evolution of Volans Ventures.


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