Why sustainability should be part of your purpose
Increasingly, the most successful businesses are driven by a purpose, putting sustainability at the heart of that purpose, and enjoying multiple benefits. Here’s why.
Purpose has long been important for the world’s biggest companies. The ‘fit for purpose’ report looks at brands that have hardwired their purpose into their communications, performance, and behaviours. It states that to be truly effective, purpose “should highlight what is uniquely special about an organisation. Ideally this should be a combination of what they’re good at, what they’re passionate about and what the world needs.”
In 2007, Marks & Spencer launched its “Plan A” sustainability strategy, placing environmental and social issues at the heart of the business and along its entire global supply chain. Effectively, sustainability became a central part of the retailer’s purpose.
Plan A started to pay back quickly: in 2010-11, the strategy delivered net financial benefits worth £70m. M&S reinvested this into sustainability work, along with massive quantifiable environmental and social achievements.
Indeed, the plan gained so much traction that M&S launched a new version in 2017 with even more ambitious goals: Plan A 2025.
As M&S sustainability manager Jo Daniels has explained, one of the key lessons learnt is that “Implementing sustainability requires leadership. It requires a company to understand its key priorities, its customers’ expectations and how delivering on those will create value for the business, particularly with customers.
“From a brand perspective, this can be hard to quantify and short-term demands can hinder a long-term approach to building a brand, so this may be why some SMEs struggle.”
One way to overcome this struggle is to build sustainability into the heart of your business – to make it part of your purpose. That way, sustainability isn’t ‘desirable’ or ‘nice to have’, but at the core of your business.
Sustainability can be challenging to sell into your finance team, but there’s growing evidence that a clear sense of purpose can help businesses of all sizes. You don’t need to be M&S or Unilever to benefit.
In the Lake District, two walking and climbing enthusiasts have set up a company making sustainable travel bags. They called it Millican, after a maverick called Millican Dalton who left London and moved to the Lakes in the early 1900s.
The two entrepreneurs have ‘baked’ sustainability into their business, describing themselves as follows: “We are always ready to learn, forever curious and sensitive to a changing world. We challenge ourselves and expectations by doing transparent business, making sustainable decisions for planet and people, and reducing our impact wherever possible.”
Decade of Change
Another business that places sustainability at the heart of its operations is Gatwick Airport. Thanks to its Decade of Change programme combining ambitious environmental and community-focused targets, Gatwick has achieved carbon neutral status and is a member of RE100 – a global collaboration of businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity.
A key factor underpinning Gatwick’s achievement of carbon neutral status is the airport’s decision, in 2013, to start purchasing renewable electricity.
Rachel Thompson, sustainability manager at Gatwick Airport said, “Some of our early actions, including the purchase of renewable electricity from Haven Power since 2013, have been important to staying on track with our goals for 2020.”
“We were early,” continues the sustainability manager. “We believe that Gatwick was among the first airports in the world to go for 100% certified renewable electricity.”
Businesses are more aware than ever about environmental impacts and sustainability targets, and how these can influence reputation and financial performance. As a result, an increasing number of organisations, across all sectors, are looking deeper into the benefits that a sustainable purpose can offer.
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