Building purpose into your business

Recent research shows that UK consumers, and particularly younger generations, are hitting companies that do harm where it hurts.

Luke Fletcher, Partner, Bates Wells

In the video above, Bates Wells partner Luke Fletcher discusses how the Better Business Act is seeking to build purpose into every business across the UK.

There is a growing concern in the UK that capitalism in its current form isn’t working. Campaigns such as the Better Business Act, the British Academy’s Future of the Corporation summit and movements like B Corp are gaining traction, fast. Recent research shows that UK consumers, and particularly younger generations, are hitting companies that do harm where it hurts. And younger people in particular are not likely to have the wool pulled over their eyes by greenwashing.

What can you do to make sure your company isn’t left behind in this groundswell of change – and where should you start?

Think about your goals, values and aspirations

Before you get started, you should look at why you are looking to embed purpose, how far you are prepared to go and who is leading the charge. For this to be really successful, buy-in needs to come from across the organisation, but it needs to be led from the top. There is a range of models that you can adopt to embed purpose into your company’s governing articles, such as a social enterprise model, B Corp or traditional business that commits to doing less harm.

You might also look at the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and think about how they align with your work. Another really handy tool is the B Impact Assessment, which anyone can use as a way to benchmark where they are now and help set aspirations. Once you have learnt more, talk internally at all levels about what your values and aspirations are and how you might best achieve them.

Reach out

It can be daunting to start a journey to make your business more purposeful, but the good news is that purposeful businesses generally love to talk about what they are doing and to bring others on the journey with them. Reach out to the B Corp community in your sector or local area, follow key networks on LinkedIn, find a B Leader, go to talks and webinars and get yourself up to speed.

You should also look at your existing network, as you are likely to find that you already know some purposeful businesses. Chat to them and find out what they are up to. We are always happy to talk to people thinking about becoming more purposeful and to share our experiences: we have been a B Corp since 2015 and our lawyers were involved in setting the standards for the UK.

What practical steps can you take now?

Embedding purpose isn’t about standing still; it’s about continuous improvement. Once you have done your research and thought about your operating model, you should set some aspirational goals and agree on how you will meet them. Make them timebound and let your commitments be known so that you can be held to account. Think about how you will measure and report on your progress and how you will resource this work. Some tangibles to consider:

  • Measure your environmental impact and commit to doing better. What is your carbon footprint? What happens to your waste? Are there ways you can operate that will have a positive (or less negative) environmental impact? Where are your pensions and investments held? Where does your energy come from? Consider setting a net-zero target by 2030 and work out how you can get there.
  • What are you doing to support your people and to make your workplace a positive one? Committing to staff wellbeing and a positive company culture can have huge benefits. Do you have perks or benefits in place? Can your staff’s voices be heard by your leadership? Are you fostering a positive working environment? What is your attrition like? What do your people think about working for you?
  • Have you looked at diversity and inclusion? A diversity benchmarking exercise is a good place to start – once you know who is on the journey with you, you can start to find ways to even things up and fill in gaps. Look at the Race at Work Charter, Social Mobility Employer Index and apprenticeships as ways to help redress any imbalance.

Build resilience now

The past couple of years have shown us that we need to build resilience and flexibility into our businesses if we are to survive. A range of factors from the pandemic to the climate crisis to Brexit will increasingly have an impact on our day-to-day operations. Building resilience now just makes good business sense. Some things to consider:

  • Build sustainability into your corporate strategy. Link your purpose to what you do and who you do it for.
  • Look at your supply chain. Are there any weak links? Do your suppliers have sustainable and fair practices that mean they are more likely to survive in challenging times? If you do a lot of work to build purpose into your operating system but don’t address your supply chain, you could get tripped up. Think about working with other purposeful businesses where you can, and be clear about how your suppliers operate.
  • Think about your building strategy beyond cost. Our research has shown that buildings that take wellbeing and sustainability into account result in a more productive and happier workforce. Think about how your building helps you to meet your environmental aspirations – what are the emissions from it, what are the waste facilities like and how clean is the air inside?

The decision to become a more purposeful business is just the start of a long and exciting journey. Taking the first steps towards that now will put you in a position of leadership and help you to survive the legal and regulatory changes expected in the coming years to address the climate and social justice issues we face.

At Bates Wells, top-tier legal advice is coupled with a real desire to drive change. Visit bateswells.co.uk to learn more

By Angela Monaghan, Purpose and Impact Lead, Bates Wells