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Walking the Talk
25 Brand Leaders Share Lessons Learned from Remaining True to Purpose

A new ebook compiles insights from dozens of interviews with business leaders from the Purpose 360 podcast. The ebook is designed to be easily shared with colleagues, to help advance discussions about purpose into actionable strategy and practice.

In today’s world, success as a sustainable company means clearly defining — and then acting in accordance with — your social purpose; and demonstrating an authentic commitment to making the world better by putting values, character and people first.

That, however, is easier said than done. Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy at telling the difference between greenwashing, empty marketing and public relations-driven corporate statements that aren’t backed by action. In 2020, authenticity is difficult — if not impossible — to fake.

To aid brands in discovering their social purpose, Sustainable Brands™ is releasing an ebook entitled Purpose 360.

The book was produced in partnership with Carol Cone, a pioneer of the social purpose movement and “Mother of Cause Branding”; and Chris Noble, a “digital and cause marketing savant” and CEO of Matchfire. It includes 75 insights from 25 business leaders across a broad range of sectors; representing a diverse range of small, medium and multinational companies, social enterprises and NGOs.

One of them is Johnson & Johnson — which, uniquely, had a founding purpose that was articulated in a 350-word statement when the company went public back in 1943. It has now been condensed into an audacious, single line: “To profoundly change the trajectory of health for humanity.” This purpose gives the company, according to Michael Sneed, J&J’s Executive Vice President of Global Corporate Affairs and one of the interviewees, “the permission to persevere, even in the face of setbacks, until we get to those breakthroughs” — such as its ongoing work in the fight to eradicate HIV.

The ebook is partly based on the Purpose 360 podcast, created and co-hosted by Cone and Noble, which has interviewed dozens of leaders on how to unlock the potential of social purpose to ignite business and social impact. However, it also includes insights from experts interviewed after the COVID-19 pandemic changed life — and business — as we know it, showcasing additional insights into how having an authentic purpose guided these organizations to take swift, decisive action.

The ebook is designed so that content can be easily shared with one’s colleagues, with the goal of advancing discussions about purpose into actionable strategy and practice. Students, sustainability practitioners, those looking to launch social enterprises, or even those in the nonprofit or public sectors looking to build public-private partnerships will all find value in them.

For example, REI’s founding purpose — “A life outdoors is a life well lived” — is simple, but that has allowed the co-op to invest an astounding 70 percent of its profits into the outdoor community, as part of its #OptOutside campaign. The retailer even spearheaded the trend of closing on Black Friday, historically a major sales day for retailers, so that employees could have the weekend to spend time with families or enjoy the outdoors.

It’s no surprise that consumers expect more from REI — because its purpose is expressed in all of its actions.

“If people don’t know what the heritage of your organization is, it probably means that you haven’t explored it deeply enough or asked deep enough questions,” Alex Thompson, then-VP of Brand Stewardship and Impact at REI, says in the ebook.

This is just a taste of the valuable lessons, examples and deep insights found in this ebook. The interviews and takeaways illuminate the vast potential of purpose — from engaging employees and fostering deeper consumer loyalty, to inspiring product innovation and even increasing market share.

The goal is to show how defining a clear social purpose can benefit organizations of all sizes and shapes, in any industry. The ebook also aims to accelerate the reader’s individual purpose journey. In a year where we’ve seen brands take unprecedented stands on racial justice, and other environmental and social issues; and with society as a whole facing incredible challenges around equity and climate change, defining and adhering to a clear social purpose is no longer optional.

Businesses and organizations of all types need to be proactive, not reactive; and purpose is a key component of defining your strategy and involving yourself in the larger social conversations essential to modern business success.