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Leading with a sustainable purpose: Leaders’ insights for the development, alignment and integration of a sustainable corporate purpose

November 2020 – This report from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) distils shared insights into how four leading multinational companies developed, aligned and integrated a purpose and strategy to transition to a sustainable economy.

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Leading with a sustainable purpose

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The changing business context

As companies emerge from the pandemic, they are faced with other systemic challenges, from the climate emergency to growing inequality. This presents an opportunity for companies to align their corporate purpose and strategy with the transition to a sustainable economy. Doing so can provide clarity and meaning to navigate complexity, manage risk and capitalise on opportunities. By expressing its positive contribution to society, a company can also attract and motivate stakeholders, empower employees and drive innovation.

This raises the question: ‘how can organisations develop alignment and integration of organisational purpose and strategy to transition to a sustainable economy?’

Leaders’ insights

This report from CISL's Centre for Business Transformation distils shared insights into how four leading multinational companies developed, aligned and integrated a purpose and strategy to transition to a sustainable economy. This is intended to inspire and inform any leader, in any organisation that is seeking to align and integrate their purpose and strategy with a sustainable economy.

The report puts forward ten principles that any leader company setting out to align and integrate its corporate purpose and strategy to transition to a sustainable economy should consider. It includes a menu of corporate practices that can be customised to operationalise the principles and offers practical tips and guidance to enable leaders to facilitate their adoption in an effective manner.

The five leaders that generously shared their insights are, in alphabetical order:

  • DSM, Jeff Turner, Vice President Sustainability and Inge Massen-Biemans, Global Director Purpose, Brand & Employee Communications
  • Ingka Group (IKEA), Pia Heidenmark Cook, Chief Sustainability Officer
  • Interface, Erin Meezan, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer
  • Unilever, Rebecca Marmot, Chief Sustainability Officer.

The ten principles

The following ten principles emerged as central to developing and integrating a sustainable purpose:

  • Take an ‘outside-in’ view that engages external stakeholders 
  • Take an ‘inside-out’ view that engages employees 
  • Engage the Board to align purpose and strategy and broaden ownership
  • Integrate the purpose into strategies and objective-setting
  • Align rewards and incentives
  • Integrate the purpose into core business practices
  • Build the capacity and capability of employees 
  • Select and build external partnerships and advocacy 
  • Integrate the purpose into metrics and external disclosure
  • Integrate the purpose into corporate positioning and communications strategy.

 

The following two webinars, that accompanied the launch of the report, share further lessons from the four companies that contributed to the report. 

Webinar 1: Leaders' insights into how to align corporate purpose and strategy with a sustainable economy

Join Ben Kellard as he explores first-hand insights into how Unilever and Interface aligned their corporate purpose and strategy, in conversation with two of the report’s contributors:

  • Erin Meezan, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Interface
  • Rebecca Marmot, Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever

 Watch the webinar here.

 

Webinar 2: Leaders' insights into the internal integration and external engagement of a sustainable purpose

Join Ben Kellard as he explores how DSM and IKEA integrated their purposes and engaged externally, in conversation with two of the report’s contributors:

  • Inge Massen-Biemans, Global Director Purpose, Brand & Employee Communications, DSM
  • Pia Heidenmark Cook, Chief Sustainability Officer, Ingka Group (IKEA)

 Watch the webinar here.

 

Reference

Please refer to this business briefing as: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2020, November). Leading with a sustainable purpose: Leaders’ insights for the development, alignment and integration of a sustainable corporate purpose. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.


 

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Published November 2020


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Acknowledgements

This report was authored by Ben Kellard, CISL with support and input from Gillian Secrett, CISL and Dr Victoria Hurth, CISL Senior Associate. Richard Aldwinckle, an adviser on sustainability, purpose, positioning and communications was a contributor.

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.