The role of purpose and sustainability

The role of purpose and sustainability

Environmentalism was once a fringe movement but not anymore. Over the last five to ten years, more and more people are waking up to the potential climate crisis, acting on their concerns and demanding action from the companies and brands they associate with.

For example, global research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2021, showed a 71% rise in the popularity of searches for sustainable goods over the past five years, with continuing growth during the pandemic.

‘In today's marketplace, strong brands cannot afford to be weak on sustainability.’

Added to this consumer pressure, institutional investors are increasingly making sustainability a key factor in their investment decisions and are holding companies to account. This means that in today’s marketplace, strong brands cannot afford to be weak on sustainability.

As consumers, investors and other stakeholders have changed their attitudes towards sustainability, companies have been looking again at their role in society.

Historically, a company’s reason for being was focused on financial goals and avoiding being distracted by social causes. While this narrow focus has driven progress, sparked technological innovation and helped to create the modern world, it has also struggled to tackle some critical and deep-rooted issues such as climate change, income inequality or how to replace jobs that will be lost to increasing automation and artificial intelligence. In response to these changes, progressive companies are reassessing their role and are seeking to define a broader purpose that provides a unique and positive impact on society.

The most effective corporate brands recognise that purpose and sustainability have distinct, though interrelated, roles in brand strategy and communications. Sustainability is now central to how all companies do business. Purpose is concerned with why a company does it. A company can conceivably achieve its sustainability goals by focusing on how it does business but fail to achieve its purpose if it is not clear on why it exists and what it does to improve the lives of the people it serves. But this comes second to purpose. As a result, a business’s purpose should be distinctive, enduring and inspiring – its sustainability approach should be timebound, specific and measurable.

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