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Three very different approaches to profit with purpose

24 May 2021

Change Makers was born out of the idea that businesses can be a force for good. But in a diverse corporate landscape, filled with different business models, priorities and influences, companies that believe in profit with purpose come in different forms. 

We’ve had the privilege of talking to many leaders behind such companies – here are some thoughts from just three of them offering insights from the very different worlds of advertising, insurance and grocery. 

Amy Williams – Good Loop 

Having started her career at Ogilvy, Williams founded Good Loop in 2016 – which rewards people for watching ads by getting the brand to donate to a good cause in return. 

The potential of advertising to make a difference. 

“There are ways that advertising can be negative but really advertising is just a tool that we can choose for good or bad. I would say there are two main ways that advertising can be a force for good. The first is by changing behaviour or by changing culture. When we advertise electric cars, when we show diverse faces on TV – there are there are places where our influence can really help society. 

“I also think advertising money can shape things in a positive way. There is $600 billion flowing through the pipes of media, so advertising is a huge consumer and its demand shapes things like the internet. It can be used to fund things like diverse journalism and important news coverage.”

Giving business the space to do better 

“Brand purpose should be coupled with accountability. But I think that perfection can be the enemy of progress and by holding businesses to unreasonable ethical standards, we make them afraid to take steps. If when they put their head above the parapet they get yelled off the stage, then they’re going to just stay in their lane and keep making money by shovelling palm oil into their products and by promoting white people and nothing will change. So creating a space where we can allow brands to see the business benefits of doing good is really important.”

Nigel Wilson – Legal & General 

Since he has been at the helm of insurance giant, Legal & General, Wilson has spoken about the creation of “inclusive capitalism” – which he aims to do by investing in long-term assets that benefit everyone – improving the lives of customers and creating value for shareholders.

 Investing in a better future 

“The world’s awash with liabilities – pension liabilities, climate change liabilities, insurance liabilities – and we don’t have enough assets to back them. So if we can create assets that back them rather than gilts or some very low yielding asset, we can really make really good things happen. And there’s billions of these liabilities lying around. All these societal problems, whether it’s in, Newcastle, or Sheffield, Leeds or Manchester – every day, every week, there’s just big issues which are not being resolved. 

“They need the application of some kindness, but also a huge amount of long term patient capital, both on the physical side and digital side for creating infrastructure, but also on the start-up side. We should enable companies to be more entrepreneurial and giving them access to capital and start using defined contribution pension schemes to invest. Saving for the future and having a stake in it. In pooling all of that together, this can really make a difference to everyone.”

Inclusive capitalism 

“We’re on a journey to communicate that inclusive capitalism is better than exclusive capitalism – I think most people would agree that that’s the better outcome to strive towards. The opportunity for us because of this contrarian view is huge. If you look at our results for 10 years now we’ve had double-digit growth in earnings per share. I think part of that’s driven by the culture within the firm where people want to do the right thing, for the right reasons and deliver the right outcome – so society trusts us. 

“We’re trying to do the right thing, all the time on a massive industrial scale. So we’re not doing a little bit here, a little bit there. For example, we’ve invested £4bn in Oxford, £3m in Manchester – they are big bets that actually these towns and cities of the UK will reemerge as global powerhouses.”

Richard Walker, MD, Iceland 

When Walker joined the family business, started by his father in 1970, he put environmental responsibility at the heart of the supermarket – starting with his fight against plastic and palm oil 

The tightrope between profit and purpose 

“My dad tells me in his Yorkshire accent to stop saving the world and get into the shops. There is that constant tension and I’m walking that tightrope of purpose and profit. But we have a long track record of ‘doing it right’, which I guess is our own take on a sustainability strategy. In fact, under my dad’s leadership we were the first retailer anywhere in the world to ban GMO foods back in the early noughties. 

“For me, I am very aware that supermarkets are a huge cause of environmental problems because of the plastic we produce and therefore I’m very keen to try and use the business as a platform to do everything I can to help make the world a better place.”

Democratising environmentalism 

“We’re only 2% of the market, but we wanted to do a really disruptive eye-catching campaign that would raise awareness of the issues caused by palm oil in the rainforest. It took us a long time to do it but we removed palm oil from all of our own-brand products. 

“What really drives me is the need to democratise environmentalism. Normally, it’s the preserve of Waitrose customers who can afford to pay more for ethical products. But of course, many of our customers might only have £25 per week to spend and they don’t have that luxury. It’s not that they don’t care about these issues – they’ve just got far more important things to worry about. Therefore if we can come up with solutions that are cost-neutral, I think that really is game-changing, because we can genuinely create scalable solutions.”

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