How to engage with a broken society?

  • by Tom Lewis – Reynier
  • Nov 18, 2016
  • 0 comments

November’s Crowd Forum fell on the evening of the US election, where ‘broken society’ has become the central narrative. During the night of social business reflections, two main question emerged – is the society actually broken, and what’s the role of business in its cause and solutions?

 

I think that business gives itself a hard time about society being broken. And I think it’s also a bit presumptuous to think it is responsible for it, too. Because that implies that it’s alone in having to come up with the solution – and I think that’s too much for any one sector or player to think up. The private sector may have resource but it’s never going to ‘fix’ a ‘broken’ society. By itself at least.

 

I see the cause as well as the agency for the solution lying more widely. We’re all part of society; communities, the voluntary sector, government, philanthropic funders, the private sector, local government. We’re all responsible. And we’re all responsible for the solution, too – and we all have the opportunity and capability to come together to find that.

 

That doesn’t mean we need to abandon our mission and aims. A business must aim for profit – that’s the purpose. That’s not ‘bad’ –it just needs to be tempered with some ‘good’ as well. And for a charity it’s about doing ‘good’ but we should also do it ‘well’ – too many of us are guilty of not operating efficiently or collaborating and that’s just as damaging as not doing ‘good’ in the first place.

 

We need to shift the language and the mind set in both the private and the not for profit sectors if we’re going to imagine radical new approaches to fixing a broken society. Business could do well to move from ‘what’s our purpose’ and ‘how do I give something back’ to ‘what are we capable of’ and ‘how do we do good business’. The challenge for the social sector is to coordinate what it does better, communicate and deliver effectively, and explore sustainable funding models.

 

But above all I think we should observe that the boundaries between the sectors are blurring. Institutions in each sector are thinking imaginatively about the role they do (and can) play. Catch22 calls itself a ‘social business’. Businesses are thinking about their social purpose. Government is outsourcing services. Grant funders are investing in the sustainability of communities. ‘Digital’ is changing all the rules about who has access to whom and perceived wisdoms about business models.

 

We should continue on this journey, move beyond the traditional perceptions we have about where our boundaries lie (certainly if we are serious about doing good into the future). Therein will lie the partnerships and joint ventures and corporate social responsibility programmes of the future that will fix society. Solutions that bring the private, public and social sectors together.

 

Let’s just hope we can all get there fast enough!

 

Tom Lewis – Reynier is director of communications at Catch22 (@Catch22Tom). 

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Achieving the SDGs and the alchemy of partnerships with purpose

If you are wondering how your business, social enterprise or charity can best play its part in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), you are not alone. Many of us are wondering the same thing…

 

The Goals were agreed by 193 UN member states in September 2015. Their founding document, Transforming our World – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, makes clear that while delivery of the Goals is the responsibility of governments to lead on, multi-stakeholder partnerships – including those between business and civil society – will also be essential if we are to achieve them. The Goals are, in effect, a comprehensive sustainability to-do list, with something in there for everyone. As such, they’re a huge opportunity for our planet. But how to get involved?

 

Down the years I’ve found that if you want to make something happen, but aren’t quite sure what to do, it’s amazing what you can achieve if you just make a start. And for me, partnerships are the way to go.

 

For example, as a purpose-led entrepreneurial charity, Bioregional brings creativity, expertise and commitment to finding ways that we can all live well within our planet’s natural limits. We call this One Planet Living.

 

But of course, we can’t do this alone. As we develop new projects and initiatives we find others who bring their own expertise, resources and perspectives. Together these all add up to something none of us would have been able to achieve on our own. Clearer plans, partnerships and action on the ground naturally emerge.

 

In the process, I’ve learned a lot about the best conditions for creating that special alchemy of partnerships with purpose-led organisations. So here are my top four tips for nurturing great outcomes to achieve the SDGs:

 

Engage at a formative stage. The SDGs turned out as well as they did because governments created the space to engage with civil society, business and expert mission-driven organisations not as an afterthought, but right from the start – and then throughout the process.

 

Governments were able to draw on an incredible well of enthusiasm and expertise just by making the space for it and by giving due respect to us all. We were invited to attend every meeting, provide feedback, present our own figures, suggest different text, and organise events. We were also able to champion the issues that are closest to our hearts, and where our expertise lies. The key issue for Bioregional was the concept of sustainable consumption and production, which is now Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. 

 

Inevitably, some political ‘fudges’ had to be made – for example, we weren’t able to get the concept of ‘natural limits’ acknowledged. But the Goals do include the myriad of sustainable development issues in a very complete way thanks to the inclusive approach taken to developing them.

 

I also saw this approach play out well in the way that both the London 2012 Olympic bid and the government’s Eco-Town plans and projects were developed.

 

Be ready to be challenged on your core business. If you really want your business to be part of transforming our world, then it needs to be core to the business. This means taking a step back and a hard look at the purpose of the business. Is it part of that 2030 vision that the Sustainable Development Goals embodies, or is it in some way driving us in the other direction?

 

The sweet spot is where sustainability and business models align, and there’s a sense of real common purpose. Take B&Q, for example. At the start of our nine-year partnership with the home improvement retailer, we looked at how it could help its customers live a sustainable life, considering a customer’s average ecological footprint. This highlighted that the patio heaters had to go, but there was a real opportunity to promote energy-saving products and helping people growing their own veg. Both of these turned out to be best-selling product ranges, but this wouldn’t have happened so comprehensively without B&Q’s readiness to listen and be challenged. 

 

Likewise, on the London 2012 Olympics, following through on the bid’s sustainability strategy, which was developed and written by Bioregional and the bid company, London 2012. An analysis of the consumption- based carbon footprint by purpose-led organisation Best Foot Forward showed that it was the construction and fit-out of the events which would have the biggest carbon impact – not everyone flying in, as you might expect. This flowed through into strategies for reducing the volume of construction materials and take-back arrangements for venue fit-out items like seating and air conditioning. This saved hundreds of millions of pounds as well as cutting the carbon footprint.

 

Only settle for genuine partnerships. While companies that are really pushing the boundaries of business can rightly take credit for their achievements, purpose-led organisations play a critical role, bringing their unique commitment, passion and expertise to the mix. This demonstrates the received wisdom that for partnerships to work each partner needs to bring something to the party; each partner needs to have a clear role – and most importantly, all partners need to respect each other. You know the real magic is happening when you experience the camaraderie and fun that can result from successful partnerships.

 

Get started by getting together. So what next? Bioregional and a few other mission-led organisations saw there was a need for UK-based organisations to meet and explore how to take action on the SDGs. Since January 2015 we have been involved in establishing UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD). Our aim is to create one of those formative spaces for the magic of partnerships to deliver on the vision of the SDGs in the UK.

 

So whether it’s in this forum or any other, let’s all take the time to start talking to potential partners about how we can transform our world together. Let’s get started.

 

Sue Riddlestone OBE is CEO and co-founder at Bioregional. 

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Rick Ridgeway: ‘There is no business on a dead planet’

Patagonia’s VP of Public Engagement, 67, adventurer, environmentalist, on business purpose and corporate growth. 

 

Rick is one of the world’s foremost mountaineers.  With three companions he was the first American to summit K2, considered the hardest of the world’s high-altitude mountain to climb. Rick also participated in the first big wall climb in Antarctica.  

 

We want to use our company as an agent for environmental and social justice protection. Our mission is to make the best product with no unnecessary harm. The 3rd part of that mission is to use our business success to implement solutions to the environmental crisis. That's why we're in business. 

 

Businesses that misuse the word purpose do us all a disservice. We have to define purpose. It starts with acknowledging that the definition of purpose must be more than just a return to shareholders as it has to include responsibility to stakeholders. Fundamentally, that what purpose is. 

 

Commitment to environmental responsibility is a commitment to business value. Because every investment into environmental protection Patagonia has made, has improved our business performance. 

 

Purpose means we get to pick the best people coming out of business schools. Recruitment and retention are the top benefits of staying true to your purpose. 

 

You can go surfing anytime you want, just don't let your co-workers down. That’s how Patagonia employees work. We’ve been at forefront of figuring out how to bring professional and personal lives together as seamlessly as possible. We’ve established a day care centre, which, arguably, became the most innovative thing that Patagonia’s done. And that has become one of the main reasons of having highest employee retention. 

 

There is no business on a dead planet. Why the planet isn't a KPI for a business? Every business KPI should be related to the health of the planet. 

 

Don't buy our jackets if you do not need them! There is a tension between selling more jackets and saving the planet. Patagonia’s board, which Rick admits is rather small, made a decision to take their bestselling jacket line down as it does a lot of harm to the environment. Why? Because it’s crucial to run all your business decisions against your mission. Rationalising business growth is a tough process. Not everybody at the company gets it, but that’s what Patagonia stands for. 

 

Transparency is the willingness to tell the world what we're doing well but also the willingness to share what we're doing is not so good. That’s the only true definition of transparency. We found out that our third tier suppliers used forced labour in dye mills in Taiwan. We made it public and engaged mills and the dye houses, employee brokers and the governments, so the solutions are underway. We don’t think that could have done it better without staying true to our statement of transparency.   

 

Acting sustainably shouldn't be a separate issue for business, so why should it be a separate department? One of the most sustainable companies in the world – Patagonia – doesn’t have a sustainability department.  

 

Rick represents and promotes the company’s core values with external stakeholders including NGO’s, trade organisations, academics and universities, and government agencies. He serves on the boards of Conservacion Patagonica and the Turtle Conservancy, and is on the Advisory Boards of World Wildlife Fund, Unilever USA, and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

 

He was founding chairman of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. During his 12-year tenure at the company he has developed and launched environmental and sustainability initiatives including Freedom to Roam, the Footprint Chronicles, the Responsible Economy Campaign and Worn Wear.  

 

Rick lives with his wife Jennifer in California, they have been married for 33 years, and they have three grown children.

 

Elina Yumasheva is head of content at The Crowd. 

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Why purpose isn’t reverse psychology

When Rick Ridgeway, VP of Public Engagement of Patagonia, speaks at an event you can hear a pin drop. Despite being called The Real Indiana Jones by Rolling Stone magazine, he is a quietly spoken man and audiences have to strain their ears. But what comes out is pure inspiration.

 

He told us a story on Monday evening at the Crowd Forum that perfectly illustrates how most people misunderstand the value of purpose. He shared the background story of Patagonia taking out a full-page ad in the New York Times on Black Friday in 2011. Their advert has a picture of its best-selling R2 jacket, with the arresting line ‘Don’t buy this jacket’. 

 

Rick ran the ad to make people to think before they joined in the consumption frenzy that Black Friday has become. It explained the environmental harm associated with the manufacture of the jacket, and asked people to get the most out of their existing clothing through repair. It pledged to join the Common Threads Initiative ‘to reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace’.

 

What happened next? Patagonia sold a lot of R2 jackets. The company was criticised by some for being hypocritical. The most telling response came from Advertising Age, the premier US advertising magazine, who called it “the most brilliant use of reverse psychology in the history of advertising”. As Rick explained, ‘they didn’t believe us. They didn’t believe we were serious about the message under that headline’. 

 

A quick google will show you there is now a category in marketing called “Reverse Marketing”, which cites Patagonia as the pioneer. An industry that largely doesn’t understand purpose has turned it into a dark art. 

 

OK, you’re thinking, but they’re still selling a lot of stuff - Patagonia’s revenues are growing fast, reportedly around $800m. How should a sustainability purist feel about that? Well, probably pretty good. Patagonia is constantly developing environmental innovations, which it shares with its competitors. It donates 1% of its revenues to environmental causes. As the company grows, the environment benefits, or as Rick put it ‘We want to use our company as an agent for environmental protection. That's why we're in business.’ 

 

The business case for purpose

 

Sacha Romanovitch, CEO of Grant Thornton UK, told our audience that Grant Thornton is becoming selective in how it works with clients on tax. ‘If the client’s whole goal is not to pay tax, we don’t work with them’, consistent with its purpose of building a vibrant economy. If purpose is revenue limiting, or incurring higher innovation costs, where is the business case?

 

For both Rick and Sacha, the return comes through a myriad of different and often intangible areas. It’s the intangible element that may be the stumbling block for many people who like to see hard numbers. They agree that the main return lies in the ability to hire and retain staff.  Patagonia is able to pick the best people coming out of business schools, whilst Grant Thornton is hiring people who want to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work. 

 

They gave use some numbers. Since Grant Thornton launched its purpose-led change management programme, its unplanned employee turnover has fallen from 20% to 14%. Patagonia gets 300-1200 applicants for every job they create. And it seems our audience shares these views – our Twitter poll saw 56% select “more engaged employees” as the biggest return on purpose. 

 

We covered a number of other areas of the return on purpose – the ability to innovate, cost savings, brand reward, risk management and more. If you want a deeper dive, watch the discussion online starting at minute 19. 

 

The impression they left us with was that when you get purpose into the heart of your business, it keeps giving.

 

Patagonia may be the global poster child of a purpose-led business, and many big companies will struggle with the chasm between their business and Patagonia. For those, Sacha is one to watch. ‘No company is whiter than snow’ she says, ‘but not being perfect is the reason to start the journey’. We’ll be following Grant Thornton’s purpose-led change management programme closely.

 

Jim Woods is CEO at The Crowd.

 
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The Purposeful story of a reformed forklift truck driver

I once drove a forklift truck in an industrial flour mill. Besides showing off our driving skills to startled millers, the main excitement for me and my fellow micro-truckers was to “accidentally” pierce the bottom bags on the pallet.  This was wonderfully messy and also created work for an army of day labourers who swept the flour back into the system. 

 

We, the Lewis Hamiltons of the factory floor, saw our infantile misdeeds as contributing to a form of circular economy: creating jobs to recycle the flour.  In the absence of anything better from the company, that was our Purpose.

 

Because the mill had no mission other than to keep our wages low and make money for others, our corporate story was built around our derring-do use of our little trucks to cause mayhem.  We pursued our Purpose with great passion, as any purposeful employee should.

 

Some decades later (and fully reformed) I was struck by the contrasting story told by a forklift driver at  Interface, the carpet tile maker celebrated for its purpose, called Mission Zero: to eliminate any negative effects of the company by 2020. 

 

James Wiesner, the Interface driver, was once hailed by a factory visitor.  When she asked him what he did at Interface, James replied: “I come to work every day to save the Earth,” adding “I don’t want to be rude, but if I don’t get this roll of carpet to that machine in the next minute, our emissions are going to go out of control. I’ve got to go.”

 

The difference between James’s and my trucker stories highlights the value of a well-understood and authentic corporate purpose.  But it also demonstrates how a negative story (piercing those bags) can be far more powerful than the goody-goody version, and far more damaging.  

 

At Context, our mission as corporate sustainability story tellers is to ensure that our clients tell good stories, not goody-goody versions. Some commentators think this is still not good enough and view corporate storytelling as a load of hoo-ha. The brilliant FT columnist, Lucy Kellaway, says this: 

 

“I remember ridiculing an earnest American who had written a book, Around the Corporate Campfire, in which she urged people to ‘develop red-hot, value-based stories that spread like wildfire and propel them toward their vision’. She was right about the wildfire. Indeed, the corporate campfire has spread so dangerously, it is time to call the fire brigade.”

 

Lucy has a point if the stories are inauthentic, pretentious PR tosh. But she is wrong to reject corporate storytelling as intrinsically silly. Especially when it comes to bringing corporate purpose to life.

 

Like Interface, most companies do very boring, repetitive things. They make carpet tiles, fill drinks bottles, audit accounts, kill rodents, sell groceries and clean offices. Most of the tasks carried out by humble employees are mind-numbing.  How else can you hope to instil a sense of purpose in their dull working lives unless you wield the emotional tool of a good story?  Emotion always beats the rational.  And one of the best ways to bring emotion into communications is through stories about people.

 

Think of Bible parables such as the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son. Communicating values such as care for our fellows or forgiveness can’t be done in PowerPoint.  There has to be an emotional element and that is best achieved through stories about feelings that the listener understands.  Analyse the best Ted Talks and you will find a story, not a set of bullet points.

 

You can create a corporate purpose quite easily.  But it will remain a load of gush unless it is communicated through an authentic story. And reinforced with sequels that keep the purpose fresh and real.   

 

Most companies claiming to have a clear corporate purpose may have the best intentions but are plagued by little Lewis Hamiltons wreaking havoc on the shop floor. Perhaps if my lowly job as a forklift driver was narratively linked to my part in bringing daily bread to my fellow citizens, I would have felt a greater sense of purpose. A good story of the miller’s mission would have helped me understand my role and helped me be a better, more productive employee.   

 

And then this story would have been different. 

 

Peter T. Knight is Chairman at The Context Group

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86% of London’s corporate sustainability experts want to remain in the EU

On the 11th May The Crowd hosted a debate on whether the UK is better off remaining in or leaving the EU from an environmental policy perspective, with over 200 corporate sustainability executives. The final poll result was emphatic: 86% voted to remain, 9% to leave, and 5% were unsure.

 

Was it a victory for remain or for intelligent debate? What startled us most was the positive atmosphere in the room after the debate. With much of the national debate focusing on emotion and sound bites, both sides can quickly become fearful of the wrong outcomes. Thanks to the passionate but intelligent positions of our experts, there was a feeling that both outcomes could be OK as long as we have the right people making decisions.

 

We had some of the leading minds on both sides of the argument, with tight moderation by Axel Threlfall. We began with an overview of our environmental policy relationship with the EU from The IEEP’s David Baldock, who made it clear that there needs to be a lot of upside if we are to undergo a period of considerable environmental policy uncertainty. The remain argument was articulately made by Caroline Lucas MP and Professor Paul Ekins, with support from Lord Marks. Michael Liebreich and Lord Callanan made the case for leaving the EU.

 

There were so many good points, but here are four arguments that we found striking.

 

The EU undermines our cultural willingness for environmental policy

 

Michael Liebreich made an argument for leaving that we hadn’t heard before, and which generated a lot of conversation afterwards. He said the existence of Europe means a lot of our environmental lobbing is focused on Brussels rather than Westminster, which takes debate and education out of the UK. When policies then arrive from Brussels, they are then seen to be imposed by the mother ship, which increases them being unpopular.

 

“The fact is why would any NGO bother doing all the campaigning for all these things to influence the Tory party, my party or to change the debate in this country when quite clearly you get funded in Brussels to do so. And then the results are imposed… The politicians don’t really mind because they can turn out and say it’s Brussels fault.” – Michael Liebreich said.

 

The EU provides important environmental policy stability

 

One of the grounding arguments for remain is closely linked to the nature of the UK election cycle. When a newly elected government changes environmental policies it weakens the business case for key internal decision makers, diminishing the company’s willingness to respond. The EU protects against such volatility and gives credibility and security for companies to invest. Businesses would rather have a slow moving stability rather than fast moving volatile political environment.

 

Environmental problems need to be solved through collaboration

 

We had a healthy debate on air pollution, with all panelists agreeing that the London has one of the worst air pollution in Europe. For Lord Callanan that’s a sign that the European approach isn’t working. But for Caroline Lucas it is an example of why we need to collaborate more on policy. “Environmental problems do not queue politely at borders waiting for their passports to be checked. They are by their very nature cross border and therefore need cross border solutions.” Echoing his partner point, Professor Paul Ekins says: “if you want to collaborate, you have to be a member of the club.”

 

The EU lacks an understanding of environmental innovation

 

A big thrust of Michael Liebreich’s argument was that we need innovation to tackle environmental challenges, and he cited Elon Musk as example of why we can be optimistic. His views drew a lot of discussion on Twitter, #crowdforum. Michael told the audience that very few Horizon 2020 grants go towards environmental innovation – there are only 2 graphene projects, for example – whilst there are hundreds of social engagement projects. “We can only make environmental progress through innovation. Europe is not innovative” – he said. 

 

At the beginning of the debate, Axel Threlfall quotes some of the latest public polls, which are showing around a 45% Remain vote. The question we’re pondering over is why we got such a different outcome for this vote from the national vote. Is it because environmental policy requires more collaboration than other areas of policy making? Is our community just more collaborative than the population at large? Are we lacking in little Englanders? Whatever is the answer to that question, one thing we know for sure is that if the vote on the 23rd June is for Brexit, this community will feel a significant sense of loss.  

 

Watch the full EU referendum debate here.

 

Elina Yumasheva is head of content at The Crowd. 

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Employee Activism and Purpose

 

Patagonia is recognised by many as a pioneer in sustainable business, does their ‘employee activism’ exemplify their bold approach to purpose? It seems encouraging their employees to be activists in the community could be a core driver behind embedding purpose throughout the organisation, and importantly bringing a sense of connection to their people. How can the principles of employee activism be used in other organisations to instil a sense of purpose? 

 

‘Employee Activism’ isn’t as radical as it first sounds. The original inspiration for the term came from Patagonia’s support of environmental activists back in the early days of the company’s formation. Since those days Patagonia encourages employees to become an active part of their corporate environmental mission through volunteering, grant making and fundraising events. All of these activities are focused around environmental groups which the employees can choose to support for themselves. Something a little more out of the ordinary is their environmental internship programme, where employees can opt to take 2 months of paid time to work for an environmental cause. 

 

To find something more radical in their approach to employee engagement, perhaps we should consider the term ‘activism’. This term often has strong connotations, and may be something corporations traditionally fear, thinking of Naomi Klein’s depiction of activists campaigning against corporations. A google of the phrase ‘employee activism’ also refers me to an explanation of how social media has allowed employees to become activists for or against the practices of their employers. But how could encouraging ‘activists’ within your own organisation be sure to encourage employees to work with your corporation and community, rather than against?

 

Looking at the impact of community investments on employees, we notice the benefits of team work, motivation, skills and reduced turnover. All industries and corporations vary in what is important for them. But maybe something which sticks out for all employees is the sense of contributing to something greater, aka purpose. Ejaz Rashid built the GivingForce portal as he wanted to use his tech skills to create a tool for multiple corporations and their employees to be part of a greater movement towards social responsibility. Activists are only as strong as the size of the movement around them. We notice employees realising that as part of a larger organisation and body of people they can achieve great things. Even if you volunteer on a short term basis, employees get motivated when they see how their contribution forms a percentage of the corporation’s work as a whole or as part of various regions and causes. In its simplest, being an activist means championing a cause. A certain strength seems to lie in corporations which strongly support one cause, such as Patagonia’s support of environmental causes or British Gas tackling housing issues and homelessness. This integral relation between the cause you support and the business you operate in seems a natural alignment for your employees, allowing them to champion your cause. 

 

So whilst ‘employee activism’ in its essence may be a bold way to brand employee engagement with the community, this in itself may be the real beauty of it. A current problem for CSR professionals seems to be creating an employee engagement programme which is able to withstand company change. Having a strong brand around your programme such as ‘employee activism’ creates internal recognition and senior level buy-in which remains at the heart of purpose in your organisation. Your brand needs to get people excited and talking, but importantly get people to act! Anyone reading this blog post and already engaged with The Crowd probably wants to be an active citizen and contribute to a bigger discussion on the role of the corporation in society. Why not let your people be active employees and contribute to a bigger movement on what the role of your corporation should be? Apparently millennials in particular are demanding to be more like activists at work. Maybe we’ve truly entered the age of employee activism. “Use activism to ignite purpose in your corporation.”

 

Marianne Hughes is Head of Client Relations at GivingForce

 
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