To B or Not to B. Is That Really a Question?

Purpose is the pin-up of 2019, for better or for worse. First, the re-statement by 181 US CEOs (under the auspices of the business roundtable) that the paramount duty of business is not just to maximize shareholder value but is instead to maximize broader stakeholder value (with customers, employees, suppliers and communities all being prioritized above common shareholders) and then second, this recent study from Impact ROI reveals that purpose-centric companies see a 6% increase in share price, 20% increase in sales, 13% increase in productivity and even a 50% decrease in employee turnover —  proving in 9 short months that ‘doing good’ is in fact ‘good business’. 

Purpose, according to the Harvard Business Review, has also been the north star for a new contingent of companies who have spent 2019 successfully traversing the wasteland of corporate irrelevance and uncertainty. They’ve named these pioneers of purpose, the ‘social purpose immigrants’.

These businesses and brands have ‘made the call, mashed up marketing and responsibility and are steering monster legacy brands and budgets into purpose.’ With Nike taking on free speech, Levi’s addressing gun control issues, Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s getting out there into the community during #climatestrike and Beam Suntori’s Cruzan Rum setting out to rebuild the hurricane ravaged St Croix, ‘Purpose’ in the 2020’s promises to live up to its billing. Social innovation and sustainability will continue to make marketing more meaningful and brand activism, well, just plain sexy perhaps?

We are entering the era of a new standard of business practices and corporate social responsibility. We are entering the era of the Benefit Corporation (or B-corp for short).

 

At the time of writing this there were just 3,111 globally (and counting). We became a certified B-corp a few weeks ago  (just a day after the Guardian Newspaper did). The assessment is tough — and appropriately so. It demands the very highest levels of transparency, governance and accountability. We are a small social innovation and brand activation consultancy of just 8, so connecting all the dots and providing the documentation required was relatively straightforward, but in larger corporations like Danone (the largest), Patagonia or Ben & Jerry’s, the level of collaboration and commitment required to gather all the information together and then galvanize the entire organization behind it must have been a gargantuan effort. But they have and they did and so it rather begs the question, why haven’t you?

B-corps envision a global economy that uses business as a force for good. This economy is comprised of a new type of corporation – the B Corporation – which is purpose-driven and benefits all stakeholders, not just shareholders. B-Corps and leaders of this emerging economy believe that we must B the change we seek in the world; that all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered; that through products, practices and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all...and to do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations. In other words, if the engine of capitalism, fueled by social innovation and kept in check by the evermore conscious consumer, can help create scalable solutions to genuine market opportunities and deliver sustainable revenues – then business and brands can (and ostensibly should) become the most powerful instruments for change the world has ever seen. Right?

As Claudia Willvonseder, Chief Marketing Officer for Ikea says,

“The beauty of discovering and articulating your brand’s purpose is that it can be used as a unifying compass for business transformation and growth across the entire organization. It’s not the exclusive domain of one department, but rather unifies functions and gets everyone pulling in the same direction. Purpose can be seen as the new boss of the 21st Century.”

So surely if more businesses and brands can get their proverbial shit together, tap into the circular economy, reduce externalities and figure out how to stay net positive to nature and be good corporate citizens to boot, then surely that’s good news for everyone, isn’t it? Purpose can be transformed into profit, competition can create community and making money (while making a difference) can accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals — all while making the world a better place to be.

 

We started Grounded just over a year ago based on the belief that making money and making a difference shouldn’t be mutually exclusive and that by solving the world's biggest problems we could also unlock the world's biggest business opportunities. We set out to try and keep one foot in purpose and one foot in profit (hence the name Grounded, by the way) and work with brands, business, non-profits, foundations and social enterprise to harness the power of commercial innovation and creativity to transform purpose into profit and create value by doing good


We will do absolutely everything in our power to lead by example and help business, brands and social enterprise to thrive at the intersection of brand experience, commercial strategy and social impact. That’s our sweet-spot. Because that is the epicenter of innovation, transformation and change. So, c’mon, what are you waiting for? Lift your head above your quarterly revenue forecasts or stock projections and strive for something more. Become a B-corp. Join us and all the other B-corps who are setting a new standard by leading day in and day out as if the world depends on it. Because it does.

Author:

Phil White | Co-Founder & CSO.

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