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We ARE on the right track, but we need help

The report from the Business Purpose Commission for Scotland is fantastic step in the right direction. But we need to be bolder.


Can you remember when it was normal to smoke cigarettes everywhere?

Bars, restaurants, cinemas and even a few years earlier, aeroplanes.

It was just the way things were.

When government policy was debated as an option to change this dangerous and destructive behaviour, people resisted shouting about their rights and freedoms. Of course, the tobacco companies had quite a lot to say on the matter too.

In March 2006, Scotland led the way and despite the critics, we did what was right. Smoking in indoor public places was banned. The rest of the UK followed soon after.

In 2022, the idea of smoking at a dinner table is inconceivable. If someone was to light up now, it would be socially unacceptable and they would be asked to leave.

The power of peer pressure and policy working hand-in-hand.

Looking back now, it all seems so obvious and begs the question, why didn’t we do it before? Think of the lives we could have saved.

This is what needs to happen today with businesses and purpose. Just like the smoking ban, we can save lives.

Of course, when I use the word *purpose*, I don’t mean a marketing sticking plaster. I mean a significant shift in how we see and operate business on a local, national and international level.

This quote sums it up:

The purpose of business is to “find profitable solutions to the problems of people and planet, not to profit from creating problems for either."

Now is the Time for Purpose
Report of the Scottish Business Purpose Commission

We must make it inconceivable for a business to create MORE problems for people and planet.

We must make the dangerous and destructive behaviour of businesses unacceptable to the public.

We must ignore the cries of the laissez faire capitalists who have financial interests in the current system to delay change or to dictate change on their terms.

We must recognise that the purpose of any business has to go beyond profit for shareholders; and that businesses must do better, for Scotland, the UK and the world.

BUT government policy and public pressure are both needed to change attitudes and behaviour.

I’ve been using my strapline “grow with purpose” for a few years now. But recently, it feels like everyone’s talking about purpose. I should be happy, but too often when you look behind the shiny logos and platitudes, the purpose of business is STILL profit alone. The rest is just smoke and mirrors - perhaps we should call it ‘purpose washing’?

Groundbreaking report for Scotland

This is why I got excited when the Scottish Government and SCDI (Scottish Council for Development and Industry) announced a ‘Groundbreaking report for Scotland’ and set about putting together the Business Purpose Commission for Scotland.

I got involved in the consultation and followed the process closely, eagerly awaiting how Scotland was going to lead the world again.

The report from the Business Purpose Commission for Scotland was published earlier this month, and I'm not going to lie, I was a wee bit disappointed.

It's important to recognise the quality of the research and it's a fantastic step in the right direction. But I can't help feel we need to be bolder, and that it doesn’t quite go far enough.

What the report got right

  • Underpinning the commission is the reality that "we need businesses in Scotland to be part of the solution, not the problem."
  • It identifies the need to have employees, communities and the natural world at the centre of a business' purpose, not just profit
  • It calls on Scottish businesses to show leadership
  • It acknowledges that the mainstream accepted business models are outdated and contribute to the problem
  • It highlights some inspiring examples already working in Scotland and identifies the need to share good practice
  • It recognises that businesses cannot tackle this alone. True purpose-led business is NOT mainstream and can put businesses at a competitive disadvantage when the only accepted measure is profit
  • We need intervention, support and policy change from governments at all levels, including business education and a favourable tax system

What's missing?

  • Real clarity of what business purpose means to the everyday business in Scotland
  • How business should operate with purpose - what does it actually look like?
  • How we prevent purpose washing from becoming an even bigger problem as the word ‘purpose’ goes mainstream
  • What needs to be put in place to hold businesses accountable and presided over
  • It sets an ambition for all businesses in Scotland to be purposeful by 2030, without clarity on how this would be defined and measured

What should be the next steps of the Commission?

  • We need the concept of purpose-led businesses to be clearly defined. There should be no room for misinterpretation and it should NOT be down to individual businesses to decide amongst themselves. We know not all businesses have a genuine desire to solve the problems of the world. If this Commission is to mean something, the next step must be a definitive purpose-led framework so at the very least, everyone is on the same page.
  • We need to identify what businesses work in this new purpose-led economy and what businesses don’t
  • We need to see government legislation and leadership in policy, tax and other support available to make true purposeful businesses the only ones that can thrive
  • We need to make sure that as this happens, all voices are heard

What can we do?

Firstly, let’s remember that this is reassuring.

If you're reading this it’s because you have previously downloaded my white paper "Why purpose, why now? The role of marketing in a world of overconsumption".

You care.

You are a business leader who wants to be purposeful and doesn’t want to purpose wash.

Take this as validation.

We're on the right track, and we need to keep going!

More things we can do

  • Regardless of where you live, read the report - it's a valuable piece of work that we can all take something from
  • Join the Wellbeing Economy Alliance and be part of the work they do. The Wellbeing Economy Alliance is an organisation dedicated to move our economic model beyond profit and into the service of people and planet. Business has a huge role to play in this.
  • Keep talking about this stuff. Post about it on LInkedIn, email your list, bring up the discussion at networking events, ask your MP what's being done in your area. Make the subject of purpose one that can’t be swept under the carpet. Demand better.
  • Vote with your own wallet. Whether you're making buying choices for your business or personally, pay attention to where you spend your money and don’t take purpose or green claims on face value; dig deeper. When you come across a business that's working to solve problems instead of creating them, share with others.

Right now we must come together as bold action takers, and we need policy to back us up.

I'd love to hear what you think. Let's talk some more.

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