Ideas + Insights
April 4, 2022
This is ‘The Future’ that climate scientists warned us would feature catastrophic weather events, wars over resources, and political unrest. Biologists have long agreed that we are currently experiencing the planet’s sixth extinction crisis (the fifth was the dinosaurs), and that we are rapidly approaching a point of no return for irreversible climate damage. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Report released in February this year confirmed that climate change is happening at a faster rate than ever, making it imperative that we act now.
As a community of conscious business owners, we are becoming increasingly aware of the role we play in contributing to the climate crisis. We produce products and services that add, alter and take things away from nature. From the energy to power our laptops, to the fertiliser used on traditionally grown cotton crops, our impact on people and planet is far and wide. The truth though, is that we will always need food, shelter and clothing, and so the question arises as to how we do that in a more sustainable way.
As business owners we are uniquely placed to shape a brighter future. We’re smart, nimble, and can respond quickly to crises. We have a sharp eye for future planning and can swiftly select the best course of action to minimise risk and maximise positive return. Traditionally, that ‘return’ has focused on profit, but now we’re playing a new game, with a new set of rules. As future-thinking businesses we now need to refine our metrics of success and cast our net of positive return to consider people, planet and profit. We need to be considering the health and wellbeing of our employees, minimising our impact on the environment, and being a force for good in our local and global communities. While this might make the mind boggle, the good news is that it’s also good for business.
If we look to the changing consumer landscape, Gen Z now makes up 40% of our global consumers, and they’re a very conscious bunch. In fact, in a recent survey by IBM it was reported that nine in every ten Gen Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues.
On the flip side, it has also been revealed that more than two-thirds of consumers worldwide say they would switch, avoid, or boycott brands based on their stance on controversial issues. With social media callouts and brand scrutiny at an all-time high, businesses simply can’t get away with failing to consider the impact of their actions. What is clear is that being good in business is now good for business.
You don’t have to look far for evidence of purpose-led brands leading the way to a better future. Local legends Who Gives a Crap (WGAC) set out with the mission to ensure everyone has access to clean water and a toilet within their lifetime. Less than 10 years ago, their annual donation was only $2,500. Then the pandemic hit and this was really good for their business. With the national shortage on toilet paper WGAC saw sales go through the roof. To date, they’ve donated over $10 million to their water sanitation projects around the globe, creating real change for real people in developing countries.
Pre-pandemic, Patagonia have long led the charge as business being used as a force for good. Founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, Patagonia has made it their mission to produce the best product, cause minimal harm and use business as a force for good. As a company they said ‘no’ to traditional cotton farming methods and since 1996, have sourced 100% of their virgin cotton from organic cotton farms. And they’re not quiet about their environmental efforts. One of their most daring campaigns ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ saw them take out a full-page ad in the New York Times to actively discourage people from buying more stuff, and instead, to care for and repair the clothing items they already owned. Most recently they updated their mission statement to be ‘We’re in business to save our home planet’ and are now funding films, ambassadors, awareness campaigns and regenerative farming to actively and positively influence the future.
Fuelling hope is the significant rise in companies joining the movement of using business as a force for good. Leading the charge is B Lab, who’s certification B Corporation holds businesses to the highest environmental and social standards. The number of companies applying for B Corp certification is growing rapidly and there are now 4,600 Certified B Corporations spanning more than 150 industries. This core motivation within this community is to use business to drive a brighter future. Business size is irrelevant – individual designers and photographers are becoming certified right through to multi-national companies such as Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, TOM Organic, and Stone & Wood.
These are impressive results, and for those well on their way to a more sustainable company we commend you. This is an ‘all in’ time for our people and planet, to radically shift the trajectory of our future. For those of you just at the beginning, here’s where to start.
CLEARLY DEFINE YOUR IMPACT STATEMENT
As a business owner you’ve likely nailed your Mission Statement that clearly outlines what you do and who you do it for. Your Impact Statement takes this one step further by discussing the benefits both your customers and the community will see from your company’s actions. A clearly defined Impact Statement will provide a true north for your business, so that your staff, suppliers and community can get onboard. In the age of values-aligned brands, this sits at the beating heart of your business.
DELVE DEEP INTO YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN
Change begins at home. If you’re a service-based business, start by reviewing your energy provider, reducing your waste, and putting policies in place that are inclusive of a diversity of suppliers. Product-based businesses need to deeply investigate their supply chain and understand exactly where each component of their products are being sourced and made. Going one step further, they need to ensure a screening process is in place for all suppliers, and choose those that have their own sustainability practices and commitments in order. Across the board, businesses must seek to minimise their impact, forge more environmentally conscious ways of operating, and be purposefully inclusive of minority groups.
ENGAGE YOUR PEOPLE
Both the employees and consumers of tomorrow are looking for value-alignment in the brands they buy from and work with. Change happens from the inside out, so rally your troops and embed your message into every part of your brand, and then take this out to your community. Take a stand on the issues that matter to you and you’ll be surprised at how quickly like-minded folk will jump onboard and become your biggest fans.
Business really does have the power to shape a brighter future. The steps may start small, but will amplify over time and attract the right people both within and around your business. Margaret Mead said it best… “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Pru Chapman knows good business. As the founder of Owners Collective she has helped over 15,000 founders launch, leverage, and lead their businesses. She’s passionate about using business as a force for good and her most recent project One Wild Ride showcases forward-thinking founders who place people and planet on equal footing with profit and projections. She has both interviewed and worked with leading purpose-driven brands including Patagonia, Thankyou, Who Gives A Crap, Koala, TOM Organic, Xero, Sendle, Afends and many more.
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