Sustainability with a Purpose
The power of purpose
Sustainability is a buzzword difficult to avoid these days. The term not only abounds in corporate meeting rooms, but has found its way into different spaces such as supermarket aisles and children's schoolyards. As companies struggle to understand the term and adapt its principles in a relevant way, all too often it becomes easier said than done.
Although many companies sincerely pursue the path to sustainability, many fail to transform sustainability into a way of thinking, living and developing their business. The companies that are successful are those that have understood the key role of their employees and the need to involve them in this great transformation.
Any real attempt to implement a new business initiative such as Sustainability must involve the entire workforce in an honest and meaningful way, otherwise the effort will surely fail. Employees will not join, even in popular initiatives such as sustainability, just under the Board's directives. A Northwestern University study titled The Power of Purpose: How Organizations are Making Work More Meaningful establishes a connection between employees and organizations where individuals become part of something greater than themselves through shared meaning and affective commitment or emotional attachment (Alexander, 2015). Individuals attach to issues with personal meaning or purpose and want to be part of a larger collective effort. Sustainability falls perfectly into this narrative and corporate leadership must identify this phenomenon and act accordingly by leveraging and aligning individual purpose-driven emotions with corporate strategy.
A collaborative analytics business report by Harvard Business Review and EY said that companies with a shared purpose would be more successful in transformation efforts. However, the same report mentions that "most companies have yet to incorporate meaning into their organizations. shared purpose that would allow them to see these benefits." (Harvard Business Review, 2015).
The UN Global Compact, the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world, intelligently creates the link between businesses and grand purpose by "making global goals local business" (UN Global Compact, 2019). Through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN Global Compact breaks down a big super-problem like climate change into smaller, easier-to-understand pieces that companies can tackle decisively at their own pace and with the means available.
If we want to avoid traveling the path of least resistance and instead embark on relevant and meaningful destinations when it comes to Sustainability, we need to take a look inside our organization. What is relevant to your stakeholders? Or what is the same, what is material for your organization? Identifying materiality and a focused strategy are critical to the successful implementation of sustainability initiatives that are both relevant and meaningful to your organization.
For this reason, the sharing of the purpose cannot take place top down, but requires an active effort to involve and listen to the voice of all the members of the community. Expectations, experiences, emotions, passion and aspirations are the lifeblood of transformation: if nourished by a shared and broad purpose, they become the real engine of change.
A clear strategy, strong leadership and a shared purpose are the keys for a real and lasting transformation.
This is why our organization has decided to involve all employees in a survey aimed at understanding the meaning that each person gives to sustainability, the different visions.
We need to develop our personal language, our own syntax of sustainability,to spread and implement our strategy through many ambassadors who, passionately, believe in this narration of the future.
Alexander, A. (2015, December). Northwestern University. The Power of Purpose: How Organizations are Making Work More Meaningful:
Harvard Business Review. (2015). The Business Case for Purpose.
Malnight, T. W., Buche, I., & Dhanaraj, C. (2019, October). Put Purpose at the Core of Your Strategy.
UN Global Compact. (2019). Making Global Goals Local Business.