Please state your (social) purpose

In a discussion centred on ‘purpose’, representatives from the likes of Unilever, M&S and Interface concluded that every corporation should be driven by an overarching social purpose that transcends the operations of corporate social responsibility.

“It’s time to redefine the economics of purpose,” said one representative. “We must adjust our purpose to serve in a sustainable, fair way that answers the challenges presented by our communities and our environment,” said another.

As some of the richest people on Earth venture high up a snowy mountain for the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, a handful of sustainability professionals stuck on the flatlands below gathered for an ‘innovation breakfast’ in London, to re-evaluate what it is they’re actually all doing.

This shift is already beginning to take shape among the private sector, with companies this week innovating for a greater good and new reports citing “the Paris effect” as a catalyst for a crucial shift in the attitudes of global industrial firms towards climate change.

It’s also reassuring to see sustainable business so high on the agenda in Davos. But with private jets and helicopters continuing to ferry delegates to decadent dinners and opulent parties throughout the week, one can’t help but view it all with a pinch of scepticism and wonder if some of our economic elites have forgotten – or ever had – a social purpose.

Discovering your own organisation’s social purpose, influencing behaviours and then translating your sustainability story to both internal and external stakeholders are among the key themes of edie’s inaugural Sustainability Skills event next week, which should make for a discussion of Davos proportions.

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