Profit vs. purpose: why we shouldn’t have to choose

These days, a growing number of companies seem to be shouting about how they’re using their power as a force for good instead of evil. Suddenly it’s all about who’s the most ‘purpose-driven business’ – quite a change from the old days where brands were purely focused on getting the best product or service to market, and profiting accordingly. This ethical revolution has seen the birth of phrases like ‘Conscious Capitalism’ – and while terms like these might make your skin crawl, they’re increasingly hard to ignore.


Although the concept of ‘purpose-driven business’ might seem an oxymoron, you’d be lucky to find an industry that hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon. From financial services to property development and telecommunications, corporates of all shapes and sizes are joining the movement to become more ‘conscious’ – and for many, it’s far from a token gesture. Some businesses are creating entire departments to focus purely on corporate responsibility, while others are creating a bunch of new ethical roles (like Energy Efficiency Auditors or Environmental Engineers). Some have even made ‘purpose’ fundamental to their products, showing that social enterprise is more than just a nice idea.


All this virtue does make us wonder though – what’s the motive? Is it actually authentic and genuine, or is it just a new ploy to attract more customers and generate profit? And what’s even caused this shift? Is it a global-warming guilt trip? Is it because we can’t rely on governments to do the right thing? Or is it because we’re finally becoming a more caring society? Whatever the motivation, no-one can deny it’s a step in the right direction for humanity. And (perhaps surprisingly) it’s proving to be good for business too – with socially responsible companies (like the ones we’ll get onto below) showing how ethical operations can actually help drive commercial success.


One factor that’s almost certainly having an influence is the role of millennials, both in the workforce and as consumers. Recently, Business Insider published an article claiming that “Millennials are more connected and aware of global issues than ever, which is changing the way they approach investing their wealth.” The same article also stated that according to a recent report, “millennials as a generation will likely be worth $US24 trillion by 2020. That figure is one-and-a-half times US gross domestic product.” Basically, young people don’t just prefer businesses to be ethically-minded, they expect it – and if your company wants a piece of the millennial pie, you’d better keep up!


We decided it was time to put the spotlight on some of the companies doing a great job in this space (some of which you might not know about). The thing that’s worth noticing about these companies is that they haven’t just tacked social responsibility onto the end of what they’re doing – they’ve embedded it into their strategy, so it’s also complementing their business objectives. Hopefully these stories will inspire others to build purpose into their business plans too.


Heineken’s long-term sustainability program ‘Brewing a Better World’ is a great example of purpose-driven business done right – because as well as having a massive impact on the planet, it has saved them a staggering $84 million in just six years. How? Simply by reducing the amount of water they use at their breweries by 23%. But Heineken didn’t stop there – they also went on to minimise their CO2 emissions by 30%, and transitioned to using more solar and wind powered brewing equipment, and greener cooling agents in their breweries. Now, they’re focusing on cultivating better relationships with local communities and are committed to investing in initiatives that protect both people and the planet.


This tech giant is determined to solve climate change with its ‘AI for Earth’ program and just last year committed to invest another $50 million in this initiative. Through this program, Microsoft is providing a bunch of cloud-based tools and AI services to organisations who are focused on tackling the urgent issue of climate change. Microsoft believes that by observing global changes in our environmental systems, AI could play a major part in helping solve our climate crisis. It’s a great example of how a company is playing to its strengths to utilise specialist knowledge, expertise and data as a force for good.


Ben & Jerry’s
They might be one of many businesses around the globe supporting same sex marriage, but Ben & Jerry’s dedication to the cause goes way back. In 1989 this ice-cream brand was the first major employer in Vermont to offer health insurance to same-sex employee couples, something that was super rare back then! Today, their passion for the LGBT community hasn’t wavered and they’ve invested big bucks globally to promote awareness around this issue. They didn’t just add a banner to their website or whip up a petition either, they actually renamed their products (‘Choc Chip Cookie Dough’ became ‘I Dough, I Dough’), arranged public demonstrations worldwide, banned double scoops of the same flavour until marriage equality in Australia was achieved, and gave customers the opportunity to petition parliament while they waited in line.


We’re stoked to say Mirvac, which is paving the way for innovative CSR in Australia, is also one of our clients. Mirvac’s sustainability strategy ‘This Changes Everything’ includes a number of world-leading initiatives but our favourite is probably the ‘House With No Bills’. This industry-first has seen them undertake a year-long study with a ‘typical’ family living rent-free in a Mirvac property that’s been purpose-built to run without incurring any bills. Can you imagine how much money this could save us?! CEO, Susan Hurwitz says, “By the end of the year we want to know definitively how to make a house that runs with no bills.” If they’re able to crack the formula for building bill-free homes, it’ll not only be a massive win for Australians, but for climate change too.


Bendigo & Adelaide Bank
This goes to show how a smaller player can still have a huge impact (plus win tons of awards). Last year Bendigo & Adelaide Banks won ‘Best Bank for CSR’ in the Asiamoney Awards for their community bank model. This model supports small communities to run their own branches as franchisees, and offers access to the bank’s infrastructure and expertise. On top of this, the bank also reinvests a portion of their revenue into communities to drive long-term growth. So far, they’ve invested more than $165 million of profit into local communities and creating local employment opportunities and ensuring future sustainability and growth.


Sadly, Australia is still very much trailing behind the rest of the world when it comes to corporate social change, with a global KPMG survey revealing our 100 biggest local entities by revenue are below the world average. If you’re working for a company that’s not stepping up, why not take the initiative and drive some change within your workplace? Remember, there are lots of ways to do this – it doesn’t have to be monetary donation. Many businesses choose to donate time or services instead (at Words By Nuance, we have pledged to provide $25K worth of services to our key charity partner Hear For You, in 2018). You could inspire your team to take part in a charity event to raise money for a cause you’re all passionate about, or organise a company volunteering day. Even the suppliers you choose to work with can help you make sure your impact is positive (think recycled paper and packaging, fair trade coffee, local food suppliers, etc.).


There are also some undeniable business benefits of becoming more socially responsible (enough to persuade the most bottom-line-driven business owner!). Not only can being more socially responsible help you attract new clients and set your company apart from the rest of the pack, a recent report by Project ROI has shown a year-round CSR program can reduce a company’s turn-over rate by a whopping 50% – while also increasing employee engagement by 7.5%! Just think of all the time and money you could save on recruitment ... and we shouldn’t need to point out that happy campers also make more productive workers.


So, (we hope) now you can see that far from detracting from your business, becoming more ethical should actually help you become an industry leader, achieve your KPIs and attract the best talent. Really, the way we see it – it’s a no-brainer.