Michele Fonseca

Brands and businesses creating a positive impact for all the right reasons 

Watching TV over the weekend, I was struck by how many ads were not so much about the product but about the brand’s commitment to the environment. From supermarkets to car companies to beer, the focus was squarely on a cleaner, better future. 

There’s no question businesses today are responding to community sentiment and to customers who expect more from their car and beer producers than well, cars and beer. 

What we’ve seen over the past two years is the rise and rise of social movements led by communities. And for much of the corporate world that’s meant playing catch up, big time. 

From Black Lives Matter and the spotlight it cast on diversity and inclusion, to Me Too and the broader conversation it cracked open about gender equality, to the global Climate Emergency which forced the focus from Net Zero motherhood statements to Net Zero action, the pattern is clear. The fundamental shifts playing out in society today have not been sparked by governments or corporations, they’ve been driven by ordinary people pushing for change and demanding action when for too long, there’s been none. 

What’s even more distinct is that this push has often been driven by young people, who have unambiguous expectations about the commitments, behaviours and impacts they want to see from businesses and brands. Their message is clear – it’s not enough to run a business well and to “do no harm” in the process. Young people care deeply about purpose and they’re putting their money and loyalty behind producers, suppliers and brands whose purpose goes beyond commercial success to intentionally making a positive impact on the world around them. 

This Cone/Porter Novelli surveyfound that 91% of Millennials (born 1980–1994) surveyed, would switch from a product they typically buy, to a new product from a purpose-driven company.  

Doing good, the evidence suggests, is also good for business. 

So where do I start? 

There’s a lot of talk swirling around about ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) and how to perform well in these three areas. 

The problem with the ESG space however is that there are few standardised definitions or benchmarks to guide you, in terms of environmental performance, in the social space  and for good governance.  

Some companies link their efforts to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – a suite of 17 goals underpinned by 169 actions which define global sustainable development priorities and aspirations. For bigger businesses with specialists dedicated to ESG performance, that makes sense. 

For everyone else though, where do you start in what can be a complex space? 

Take on too much too quickly and you’ll run the risk of doing it in a way that’s too ambitious to sustain or that overstates your commitments or your progress. All these scenarios can create serious credibility problems for you. 

So, to get going with some simple steps, here are three questions to ask yourself, to help clarify where your focus should be: 

  • In terms of the positive impact our business already makes, what do we do well naturally? Whatever that is, keep doing more of it! And remember that while the focus for ESG tends to be on the E and climate action, there’s also an S and a G. So, if you’re a business which already attracts employees from culturally diverse backgrounds, then keep building on that while also expanding your efforts into other parts of the ESG space. 
  • What can we do that aligns with our business strategy? Delivering a positive impact in a way that makes perfect sense for your business, will give you a much better chance of success. It’s a no-brainer for instance, for a business which sells bottled water to have a strong focus on the ethical sourcing, recycling and reuse of its products. For good examples of how to connect impact to strategy, read more about how e-commerce platform Shopify purchases carbon offsets for every Black Friday sale (Shopify Is Eliminating the Climate Impact of Shipments Over BFCM (2022) or how outdoor clothing company Patagonia directs its self-imposed 1% Earth tax to a range of environmental not-for-profits 1% for the Planet – Patagonia. 
  • What are our own teams passionate about? Taking an “inside out” approach will help you to deliver positive impact in a way which rings true internally and which your employees can get behind. It’s a good way to build internal engagement and to wholeheartedly deliver the impact your teams want, rather than what the outside world expects of you. 

Over time, ideally what you’re doing is less about ESG compliance and more about being a business that does good. If you’ve got your business purpose right in the first place, then making a positive impact shouldn’t be too big a stretch.  

Michele Fonseca, Principal Consultant, Training & Capability Bastion Reputation 

This article was first published by B&T on 13 July 2022. Click here to read on B&T.