Rooted in purpose

Connecting the sustainability strategy to the “why”

How can a company’s CSR strategy have impact? When developing a sustainability strategy, it’s important to make sure it’s aligned with, and not separate from, existing business strategy.  A company can effectively do this by focusing on their true purpose and allowing that purpose to guide not only what they stand for, but for every single thing they do and how they do it.  Purpose, then, can be considered a company’s roots, the foundation upon which all else is built – including sustainability strategy.

When evaluating whether a company’s sustainability strategy is in tune with their reason for being in business, look at their mission, vision, purpose and values statements.  Since the definitions of these terms can be somewhat confusing and these statements are often used interchangeably, let’s agree on the meaning of them in this article.  Mission is simple: It is what a company does.  The vision is an ideal future state of being that the business strives for.  Values are the connective tissue holding things together, underpinning everything and ultimately driving culture.  A company’s purpose (as EY defines it) is the North Star, an

“aspirational reason for being that is grounded in humanity and inspires a call to action”

It should never have to change.  It should be the organization’s single, underlying objective that unifies all stakeholders.  It should embody its ultimate role in the broader economic, societal and environmental context for 100 or more years.

When leveraged effectively, these core pieces of a brand guide decision-making, influence culture and provide a filter for all communications.  These days, consumers, employees, and the broader community place increasing importance on doing business with organizations that share their values.  That’s why it’s becoming even more important that mission, vision, values, and purpose statements are more than just buzzwords gathering dust in some forgotten corner of the website.

Once a company understands their why – their purpose – then they can start thinking from the inside out, which is what inspired companies to do.  Simon Sinek clearly explains this concept in his TED talk.  Sustainability strategies that aren’t effectively aligned with broader mission, vision, and purpose statements are missing out on the opportunity to reinforce underlying values, speak in one voice, and build trust.  Sustainability professionals who struggle to make the business case for their work often miss this simple but critical step and end up developing strategies that are separate from, rather than embedded in, existing business strategies.

Strong purpose is needed so everything else can grow from it:

  • long-term business strategy
  • short-term goals
  • innovation
  • activation plans
  • marketing
  • sales strategy
  • the way new talent is recruited
  • how to do business in an ethical way

Connecting the sustainability strategy to the ‘why’ of the business will ensure CSR goals, efforts and actions are embedded in the core  of the business, and in turn, the sustainability strategy will reinforce the company’s core values, communicate in one clear voice, increase trust and help work towards the business’s purpose.  Finally, the CSR strategy can have the impact it was always meant to have.