Businesses as activists

“Commerce without morality is a social sin’. Mahatma Ghandi.

The world is in a state of flux. Governments and politicians, our traditional go-to for trusted solutions to the big issues, are increasingly mistrusted as they struggle to deliver on their promises and effect meaningful change. Naivety, lack of real-world experience and ego are all contributing to compromising, short-termism, self-preservation and ultimately piss poor performance.

That said, let’s not despair. There is hope and it’s right under our noses. 

I spent last week in Chicago with one of our clients, starting the process of a three-year brand strategy and comms plan. Interface pioneered the use of the carpet tile in commercial spaces, a $1 billion global manufacturing behemoth. All well and good, but the interesting part is their deep integrity and drive to not only have no impact on the planet but to actually give something back. Started by Ray Anderson in 1973, he had an epiphany in 1994, and put in place Mission Zero, to have no impact on the planet by 2020. A bold, inspirational and potentially suicidal move for his business.

He proved everyone wrong. Innovating with groundbreaking initiatives that had a gigantic positive affect on the company’s carbon footprint and water usage, whilst at the same time growing profits exponentially. Changing the face of not only his own business but sending a rallying cry to others that if they could do it, anyone could. 

Unfortunately, Ray died in 2011, but the culture he created at Interface has more than survived with current CEO Jay Gould picking up the mantle with his team. ‘Climate Take Back’ is their mission to go further than simply having no impact on the planet, but to ultimately give something back.

Having met with a broad footprint of the Interface team, you can really feel that this purpose of helping make others’ lives better with an eye on our precious environment, binds and drives them to achieve what others believe to be impossible. Truly inspiring in a global manufacturing company.

At the other end of the scale, whilst walking Neocon, we bumped into Ben, David and Kevin from Bureo Skateboards, who we met last year via Interface and their Networks initiative. Really cool young men that frankly made me feel like an underachieving fossil.

These boys are making skateboards and sunglasses out of old recycled fishing nets from collection programmes they are setting up around the world. Over 200,000 sqm’s of net reclaimed from an increasingly polluted ocean. Entrepreneurs with a good business, supplying great products but with a drive to help the planet, people and disadvantaged communities throughout the world. Outstanding!

Bureo, leads me nicely to Patagonia, a good friend of Interface and a partner and supporter of our young skateboarding friends. These guys via the vision and drive of the likes Yvon Chouinard and Rick Ridgeway are the living embodiment of an activist company. 

Again, the environment is their driving passion. Their mission. Build the best product. Cause no unnecessary harm. Use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. And boy, have they done a good job at proving that thinking of others, of future generations, whilst still delivering a globally respected quality product is a real success!

‘Do good for the planet – Do good for business.’ Rick Ridgeway, VP Public Engagement, Patagonia.

There are of course many other examples outside of the three personal examples I’ve outlined. Elon Musk, with his drive to prove the viability of electric transport for all. Richard Branson and his group purpose of ‘Changing business for good.’ Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and many other morally driven businessmen and women with a bigger purpose than personal greed for power. 

Closer to home, Glasgow’s One Solution Group has been supporting children’s charities across the world since 2005, donating close to £500 000 and culminating in the building of a school in Tanzania. Brewgooder donates 100% of its profits to getting fresh water to those that need it most. And here at Good, we try to do our bit with our ‘Good for Nothing’ initiative.

All around us I’m seeing individuals and companies with a greater purpose than simply making money and funding their own short term goals. Vision and real purpose drives progress, motivates teams, builds enviable cultures and drives innovation. This ultimately leads to real sustainable change and long-term impact to benefit all.

We are being failed by the political hierarchy and its four-year cycle of boom and bust. Responsibility for changing our world and how it operates lies with all of us. Individuals and businesses, small and large, we all have choices to make, but what we’re undoubtedly seeing is a groundswell of hope. Business and personal activism is gathering pace as more and more of us try to have a lasting impact beyond the bounds of our chosen professions.

So it’s not all bad. Real change lies within the individual as always and more and more businesses are realising the power of altruistic activism for their brand. Let’s not leave it to others, but ask what we can do for others.

“Commerce without morality is a social sin’. Mahatma Gandhi.