Businesses with purpose
Business purpose: these 13 companies with purpose thrive in today’s economy.
More and more companies seem to be able to use the power of purpose to reach their goals. Purpose, in our definition, is where your core skills & expertise as a business or individual make positive societal impact. Although all companies that transform purpose into action make a positive contribution, not all of them are created equal.
In this article we dive into 13 examples of purposeful companies.
All too often, all purposeful companies are treated the same. But there are major differences between them. In general, we distinguish two types of purposeful companies:
1. Businesses with purpose embedded in their core from their founding date
Most of the companies that really harness the power of purpose have been built from the ground up. Purpose is embedded in their DNA. They’ve been living and breathing their purpose from day one. Nine famous examples are:
- Patagonia Yvon Chouinard’s company’s purpose being “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.”
- Tesla (And frankly all of Elon Musk’s companies) Founded to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
- Tony’s Chocolonely A Dutch company with the purpose of making all chocolate in the world 100% slave free. Now market leader in the Netherlands.
- The Ocean Cleanup On a mission to clean up 90% of the world’s ocean plastic.
- Two thirds One example among MANY new clothing brands.
- Ecosia A search engine that plants a tree for every search.
- The Vegetarian Butcher Founded by a ninth-generation pig farmer, now acquired by Unilever.
- Greyston Bakery Founded by a zen-buddhist to help people facing barriers to employment.
- The Plastic Bank Whose mission it is “to stop Ocean Plastic by gathering a billion people together to monetize waste while improving lives.”
These are the companies that make the news, and are usually portrayed in an extremely positive way.
2. Companies that are making steps in their transformation to become more purposeful
Purpose has become a hot topic of discussion in the boardroom of established brands as well. Big consultancy firms and business news outlets are picking up on the topic. They are being propelled by a new era of activism, long term goal setting, and global awareness.
We’re happy to see that companies in the first purpose category (like the nine companies above) are showing success at increasing rates. But at the same time, many business leaders in the second category face the challenge of implementing purpose in their profit-driven companies. They have to evolve beyond the mindset that resulted from Milton Friedman’s economic paradigm. Friedman’s outlook on the economy dictates that the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. In other words: businesses have to prioritise profit over purpose.
Four examples of businesses in a purpose transformation journey
These are four of the forward thinking companies and business leaders that are making this transition by embedding purpose in their organisations:
- Unilever One of the largest consumer goods companies. Former CEO Paul Polman successfully launched Unilever into a new era of purpose-led business. His successor, Alan Jope, remains true to Polman’s business ethic, and continues to puch Unilever’s purpose ‘to make sustainable living commonplace’.
- Adidas This brand has recently been focusing heavily on sustainable innovations. Their goal is to completely replace virgin polyester with recycled polyester in their production process by 2024. To this end they are currently testing their 100% recyclable shoe ‘Futurecraft’. With this shoe they are not only aiming to use recyclable materials, they’re also building a circulair value chain by collecting worn-out shoes and building a completely new recycling process from the ground up.
- DSM This company uses its science-based innovations to create brighter lives for all in the fields of Nutrition, Health & Sustainable Living. DSM’s CEO Feike Sijbesma has some amazing speeches on how he sees (his) business as a catalyst for positive change. This one, for example.
- IKEA For about ten years, Ikea has seriously stepped up their sustainable game. The world’s largest furniture group is focused on six themes: climate & energy, wood, cotton, water, waste and food. They will produce more energy than they consume by 2020, and have very recently committed to invest an additional 200 million euros to turn ‘climate positive’.
Why don’t all companies lead with purpose?
These examples clearly outline how purpose can be embedded in an existing company. However, a surprisingly low amount of companies seem to be able to actually transform their purpose into action. 78% of executives believe their businesses are failing to deliver on social purpose pledges and 14% of CEOs don’t even know where to start or how to make more impact with their business.
Also, in trying to make a change, a lot of businesses face skepticism.Stakeholders, although eager to contribute to society, have been drilled to prioritise profit for years. Pushing an impact-first strategy feels like a complete transformation.
So, embedding purpose in an organisation can be a challenging task. Despite this fact, the purpose economy is accelerating. With the right approach and enough support from the core and the top of an organisation, purpose can be transformed into action!
Make purpose work for your business
In this blog series, we’ll explore the depths of purpose. What are the benefits for your business, how do you define a corporate purpose, and how can you turn that purpose into a business success? Read on and become a purpose expert yourself!
- Corporate purpose: the what, the why, and the how
- Purpose, mission, vision, what’s the difference?
- The three core benefits of purpose for business (coming soon)
- How to define your corporate purpose (coming soon)
- 13 businesses with purpose
- How to use authenticity to create a successful purpose (coming soon)
- Employee purpose – How to activate it in your business
- The current state of purpose marketing