The last decade has been the business era of Do No Harm, but it’s no longer enough: the public expects us to also Do Some Good.
Like never before, businesses are rightly expected to conduct themselves in a manner that respects environmental boundaries and that doesn’t exploit people and their rights.
Communities expect factories in their midst to operate safely and without causing pollution or in any way injuring the health of people living nearby. Workers expect to be paid a fair amount and to have their health and safety prioritised. And, more broadly, people expect businesses to take climate change seriously.
This is especially true of younger people.
For instance, recent polling by Bright Blue, the independent conservative think-tank, reveals that climate change is the second highest issue younger people want senior politicians to discuss more, second only to health, and actually the top issue for 18- to 28-year-olds. When under 40s were asked to describe their perception of the Conservative Party’s current policies on climate change, the most commonly selected adjective was ‘weak’.
The behaviours of our Victorian ancestors simply wouldn’t be tolerated nowadays.
But alongside this expectation that businesses will do no harm is a rising expectation that they will also do some good.
Doing good business
Ask most business leaders, especially those in SMEs, what a company “doing good business” looks like, and it’s probable that they’ll quote metrics like sales, profitability and growth at you.
It’s true that a company that’s doing good business (typified by the phrase “business is ‘brisk'”) is trading well and achieving its financial targets, and it’s how we tend to benchmark between businesses when trying to appraise them according to some measure of relative success.
But doing good business can and should be about more than that; it can and should also be about making a positive difference and actually doing some good in the world, and it’s what consumers increasingly want to see.
According to this 2012 Globescan report, over a third of respondents in a global survey said they’d purchased a product because of its environmental of social benefits.
And this 2017 report from Accenture, which canvassed the opinions of 30,000 consumers worldwide, found that sustainability is on the radar for 62% of Brits when making purchasing decisions – with 15% already considering sustainability performance of companies, 10% actively looking for sustainability information before buying, and 37% saying they will consider sustainability more in their buying decisions in the next 12 months.
Other, non-financial measures of doing good could include things like how many people you employ locally; that you pay the real Living Wage (like we now do); how many internships, training places and apprenticeships you’ve created; the flexible working you’ve introduced for new parents (in addition to statutory maternity and paternity leave); your spend with local suppliers, oiling the wheels of the local economy and cutting down on delivery miles and related transport emissions; the scheme you’ve developed that allows staff to take a fixed number of days off every year to volunteer for causes they believe in; the excellent safety record you maintain that demonstrates how you take care of your people; and many more besides.
These are all tangible examples of doing good, making a positive contribution and changing things for the better simply because you can.
Leveraging your do-gooding
We’ve dedicated a lot of blog space over the years to showing how businesses that do good also do well, outcompeting their rivals and often quite significantly so.
One of the reasons for this is that they’re able to use it as a differentiator and create a competitive advantage.
Imagine you’re bidding for a contract to supply goods or services and you’re up against two of your competitors. And let’s say that the quality of what you supply is pretty consistent with that offered by your rivals and there’s not a great deal of difference in price. How is your potential customer going to decide who to buy from? What’s going to make them choose you? It really could come down to their perception of you as a supplier, and if they can see that yours is a company that does some good, it could make all the difference.
Because the changes in buying behaviour and the trend toward more socially, environmentally and ethically-driven purchasing decisions among consumers matters – whether you sell directly to the consumer or are further down the value chain. There’s a certain psychology to it: thanks to the internet and social media, people are much more aware of the world around them, about environmental threats and social harms, and they want to play their part in making a difference. They want to feel good about themselves, and you can help to facilitate that by proxy if your business is doing good.
1. Do some good with your business and it’ll help boost sales
2. Attract new customers by showcasing all the good your business does
3. Think about reporting the good you do alongside your financial successes