Five ways businesses can put purpose into practice

Whether it’s labelled “business for good,” creating shared value, or responsible business, many companies are wrestling with how to frame, deliver and measure their impact on people. For some companies, the S part of their ESG report can be a tick box exercise, and their purpose statement sits on their website, but has limited effect on their daily practice.

There are several reports and articles setting out why the ‘societal/social’ part is harder to measure and achieve compared to environmental and sustainability targets. Some of the reasons include: the language related to people is complex; there is no one clear societal goal equivalent to net zero;  there is a lack of commercial incentive; and indicators are not clear. In addition, it is challenging to isolate the impact of one business on society.

Beyond high profile examples like Patagonia’s commitment to ‘give away’ their company for the planet or Paul Polman’s well documented work at Unilever, there aren’t as many well known examples of showing how companies are doing good and making a profit simultaneously.

At SIX, we believe that the more we can highlight best practice examples, the more other businesses can be inspired to do well by doing good.

Below are five ways established businesses can put purpose into practice:

1. Look after people in your business

Companies can support their employees in a meaningful way, beyond the basics of paying a fair wage and having a more representative company.

Approaches are as diverse as L’Oreal Share & Care (Europe) which ensures all have access to the best social protection, healthcare coverage and well-being at work, to Grab, Southeast Asia’s leading on-demand transportation and mobile payments platform, which has partnered with a mental health platform to educate gig workers about their mental resilience and wellbeing in and outside of work.

Another innovation related to a productive workforce is ‘Open hiring’, a novel recruitment practice for entry level jobs which is fair and inclusive to all candidates. Pioneered by Greyston (US) and adopted by other companies like Body Shop (global), this practice is a way to create a more inclusive workforce and reduce barriers to employment.

2. Look after stakeholders beyond your workforce

Whether it be the people in your supply chain, your customers, or members of your local community, businesses have a responsibility for the people they interact with.

VivoBarefoot (UK), the shoe company, is taking a very different approach to traditional supply chains by instead building a value chain based on trust and transparency. Their Unfinished Business strategy explains their journey.

Global facilities provider Sodexo has a comprehensive social value strategy which focuses on their commitment to enhance the capabilities and capacity of its SME and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) network of suppliers.

3. Use your assets and strengths to create a positive impact on society

Companies can leverage their power, brand and influence to genuinely engage in societal issues beyond traditional CSR approaches.

Inspiring leaders like Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani (US) can have a big impact. Ulukaya is well known for mobilising the business community, philanthropy and governments alike to do more in humanitarian disasters around the world. In 2016 Hamdi launched Tent Partnership for Refugees, which mobilises companies to hire, train, and advocate for refugees.

Richard Walker, CEO of supermarket chain Iceland (UK), regularly speaks out about the prevalence of food poverty in the UK. Iceland’s comprehensive Doing it Right strategy includes programmes such as microloans and educational product labelling. This year, instead of producing a Christmas advert, they will invest the money into supporting customers during the cost of living crisis.

Other companies that demonstrate how effectively companies can make an impact in areas connected to their core business include Lego, who invest in the importance of play on mental health and child digital safety; Decathlon, who use sport as a vehicle for social integration; and Eventbrite, who have a programme aimed at decreasing social isolation.

4. Involve community members and stakeholders in decision-making and co-creating

In addition to gathering feedback for improving products and services, businesses can also involve their stakeholders to help them have a more positive impact on society.

Deoham (S.Korea) uses property development and renovation projects as a tool for engaging with residents, creating thriving communities and building a local economic ecosystem.

Another strategy is to bring in external partners to increase the impact of programming. Pukka Herbs’ Mission Council, a group of external advisors brought together in 2017, help drive their strategy to ensure the business is achieving its intended impact and maintaining its commitment to sustainability and ethics.

As part of their Indigenous Reconciliation programmes, telecommunications company Telus (Canada) is committed to learning from Indigenous voices and has enlisted the services of experts in their field with lived experience to support their Indigenous Reconciliation Action Plan.

5. Leverage collaboration and partnerships for impact

When collaborations are genuine and built on mutual interest, honest communication and trust, they can be beneficial for society and help businesses to succeed.

eBay for Change (UK) works with over 300 social enterprises on the platform to support them to grow and thrive. Their inclusive entrepreneurship initiative currently supports Black women entrepreneurs and refugees to grow their business. Sodexo also develops partnerships with social entrepreneurs through their Accelerator programme. These programmes not only support startups, but help companies keep their finger on the pulse.

Another kind of partnership is 7-Eleven (Japan), who partners with government housing providers and municipal governments to act as community hubs for the elderly in rural areas. Being so embedded in the community means they could also act as emergency support centres in natural disasters, like the earthquake in 2011.

Growing the movement

There is no shortage of complex societal challenges and we need business to be play a role if we are going to tackle them.

We believe this movement will only grow if there are more examples demonstrating how businesses are putting their purpose statements into practice ( ideally by doing all of the above, and more!). At SIX, we work with partners who share this vision and we are here to help grow the movement, and support any companies looking to amplify their impact.

If you have an example to share, or if you want to learn more about our programme of work on Business for Good, get in touch via

Whether you are at the beginning of your journey embedding social in your business, or whether you’d like to amplify the work you are already doing, we’d love to hear from you.