Why your business needs a social purpose

By Laurence Gibbons contact

- Last updated on GMT

Having a social and environmental purpose could bring benefits for your business
Having a social and environmental purpose could bring benefits for your business

Related tags: Strategic management, Management

Almost all current and future business leaders agree firms should have a social and environmental purpose, but only a fifth of the younger generation believe they are currently in place.

That’s according to a survey by Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), the Financial Times​ and Cranfield School of Management.

The study, ‘Combining Profit and Purpose’ ​is based on the views of 50 ceos and almost 150 MBA and MSc students and recent graduates from across Europe.

Having a social purpose offered relevance to the next generation of customers and employees, more than three quarters of ceos (78%) said and 70% claimed it ensured business survival.

More than half of the future leaders (54%) said employees would be more engaged, innovative (53%) and trusting of businesses with social and environmental purposes.   

Growing expectation

Forward-looking businesses were already focusing on how to balance profit and purpose and there was a growing expectation on businesses to do this, said John Brock, chairman and ceo of CCE.

“Today’s leaders play an essential role in integrating environmental and social issues into strategic decision making, but future generations have even higher expectations of business,”​ he added.

“It’s clear that social and environmental purpose will increase in importance in the years to come, and that collaborative innovation is the key to unlocking success.”

Unilever, Danone and the Campbell Soup Company were identified as food and drink manufacturers with good social purposes in the survey.

Current leaders claimed external factors such as government pressures and regulation were the biggest barriers to businesses adopting a social purpose.

Whereas future leaders believed current management attitudes played a larger role.

While the overwhelming majority of current ceos felt that profitability and shareholder value would remain key in the future (94% and 88%, respectively), the survey found that future leaders had higher expectations of the social and environmental roles businesses should play.

They claimed that societal and environmental impact (80%), innovation (61%) and development of future talent (57%) would be more important indicators of business success in the years to come.

‘Big challenge’

Professor David Grayson, director Cranfield School of Management’s Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, said: “While it’s not surprising to learn that social purpose is seen as a priority for business, the big challenge is to ensure more business leaders define the real purpose of their business, and identify how they are going to achieve that purpose.

“By developing clearly defined strategies and identifying new, disruptive approaches now, businesses can better ensure success and relevance in the future.”

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