The moment business leaders begin to reframe sustainability from a problem to an opportunity, they unlock a new flow of ideas. Still, at this stage, companies often engage in sustainability-driven innovation in one corner of the business, while the majority of their operations are stuck in business-as-usual. Take, for example, the growth of hybrid and electric vehicles. But the majority of their operations are still moving in the wrong direction, with more combustion-engine cars sold every year. Greater potential lies ahead.
At this stage, a company begins to link sustainability to more than just one element of its core business. Unilever and Nike are prime examples of organizations that have made good progress on building a culture around sustainable innovation. Many agreed it was how much the commitment to sustainability served to uplift employee morale. By becoming more sustainable, Unilever made employees feel part of a larger story and increased their engagement with the company overall.
The limitation at this level is its purpose: The purpose of the business is still traditional — making a profit — though it now has added elements in terms of the triple bottom line. Stage five is the purpose-led organization.
For these companies, positive social change and environmental impact are the primary focus. Though these companies remain profitable, they transform the core business in ways that magnify positive impact. A purpose-driven car company, for example, would go beyond building electric vehicles and look to transform the entire mobility space in favor of sustainability.
Our Journey to Corporate Journey: An Amazing Story
A purpose-driven health care organization might shift from curative to preventive interventions. In short, you want to refocus your core business in ways that make it a force for good, not destruction. Stage five is about realigning the purpose of your business with the well-being of society. A good example is Cipla , the Indian pharmaceutical company. Another example of stage-five engagement is the Sustainable Food Lab , which links more than 50 organizations in a collaboration to bring sustainable food to the mainstream.
As capitalism transitions from externality-blind to externality-aware, and as the largest asset managers of the world increasingly pay attention to these signals, it will be more and more critical for CEOs and executive leaders to make sure their companies move forward on this journey. Companies like Cipla used to be a remarkable exception to the rule, but in the future, they may well serve as role models for other purpose-driven companies. The class I teach at MIT called u.
Let’s Get Social
Cultivating the self with mindfulness practices and intentional stillness should be an obvious starting point. Then, convene a team of colleagues who might share a similar aspiration to move forward. Go to places of the most potential — places that can teach you most in regards to what you intend to do — and then return with two or three ideas that you can explore by doing. This article was originally published by Conscious Company Media.
B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab. Sign in.
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