This Earth Day, use purpose to guide your tough decisions

Over the past year, companies have been called on like no other time in recent history to do the right thing in response to the pandemic and systemic racism. Many have risen to the occasion. Others have made some callous missteps. Some have made honest mistakes. But most are both anxious to do right by all their stakeholders, yet they are unsure how to best proceed. This is where corporate purpose really matters. As we approach Earth Day, we are called to contemplate how our organization’s actions affect everyone on the planet, which makes this a great time to think about corporate purpose and make any necessary changes.

For example, many companies have reevaluated how the clients they work with impact the environment. One example is Patagonia, the California-based outdoor clothing company. This brand that works hard to craft an image as the go-to for any outdoor adventure has become the unofficial uniform of Wall Street — particularly a dress shirt under a Patagonia fleece vest sporting the logo of a bank, tech company or investment firm. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, anyone strolling the financial districts of New York or San Francisco would have a hard time missing the vests with various company logos. Recognizing this trend, Patagonia now prioritizes custom-branded vests to firms that “prioritize the planet.” These companies are recognized by B Lab, a non-profit that certifies B Corporations that meet “the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” This is a great example of a company articulating its purpose and creating a policy to support it. It also strengthens Patagonia’s credentials as an outdoor company with an interest in preserving the Earth, which will only help their bottom line in the long run.

When COVID-19 started to impact the United States last year, companies had to make serious, immediate decisions that would affect the lives of their employees. Those that already a well-developed, clearly articulated purpose had an advantage, because they could use that North Star to guide tough decisions and implement new policies. This was especially important for companies with frontline workers who did not have the luxury of being able to work from home. These organizations had to decide how to operate effectively while keeping employees safe.

One company that has used purpose to make critical decisions about its workforce is our client Bolthouse Farms – a carrot, salad dressing and plant-based juice company. They have many essential employees working to develop and distribute their healthy fare. They used their purpose, “Committed to healthier products, making better choices for the planet,” to inform their decision to construct a temporary grocery store . This move made important goods that were simply unattainable due to high demand in commercial grocery stores available to Bolthouse employees.

If your company has not established a purpose, Earth Day would be the perfect time to start. And if you do have a purpose, this week offers an opportunity to revisit it and make certain it’s not just words on a webpage but a compass needle you can use to keep your organization moving in the right direction.