Be bolder than brand

What makes a sustainability initiative good? This list of ‘Most innovative corporate social responsibility initiatives’ from Fast Company was set-out because they are ‘reshaping industries and culture’. Except they aren’t.

The initiatives listed will positively impact specific topics (e.g. inclusivity), local areas (i.e. USA) or meet emerging client needs (e.g. climate calculators). All of them will be positive for the organisation brand and help employees feel good. And to some extent they might give fresh perspectives to industry and influence USA culture. But none of them will achieve the degree of change necessary to meet the challenges of climate change, resource constraints and an inequitable world.

To truly reshape industries and culture – business needs to commit beyond ideas that are good things to support brand image. It needs to realign its strategy, purpose and operating model to a new planetary reality. This is not only important for meeting the challenges facing humanity but for the longer term relevance of the organisation.

For example, Microsoft is one of the ‘Top Ten’ for its investment into providing a data set on disability. This is is an excellent and necessary initiative. However, with all of its resources and reach – what could Microsoft do to radically impact the way we humans do business? How could it shape its organisation to provide solutions for a world that needs to operate within natural boundaries and support social justice?

Microsoft could shift the way money flows out of poor communities by rejigging its business model. It could focus its organisation on developing tools that serve the planet by shifting is purpose. It could lead the tech sector into longer-term relevance by reimaging itself as a social change organisation and becoming a B-corp. These would really reshape the technology industry and change culture.

To have significant impact and long-term relevance, brand enhancing initiatives are not enough. It is in the interests of organisations and the people within them to change their version of doing business to align to a vision of a more just, sustainable world.


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