How sustainability can power purpose in the war for talent




Huw Morgan

As people often confuse an organisation’s purpose with its sustainability commitments, this post looks at the close relationship between the two and, more importantly, how amplifying sustainability in the employee experience can boost staff commitment and loyalty.

How sustainability powers purpose

One way to understand the relationship between purpose and sustainability is to picture a triangle with purpose at the tip, influencing every major business and brand decision and action. 

At the centre of sits the organisation’s vision and strategy; its long-term goal and plan to remain successful and relevant.

At the base of the triangle are the two key areas of culture and sustainability. Culture includes values, employee experience and diversity and inclusion, while sustainability encompasses the ethical, social and environmental aspects of doing business.

Sustainability in the media

Although an organisation’s purpose should lead everything it does, its sustainability actions are often more apparent to the outside world and certainly receive more media coverage.

Fashion retailers Asos and Primark both hit the headlines recently after announcing new sustainability commitments. Asos said it aims to achieve a net-zero impact on the environment by 2030, while Primark said its clothes will be made using recycled or “more sustainably sourced materials” by the same date.

Asos and Primark employees, who will be well aware of the environmental and ethical issues surrounding fast fashion, should rightly feel energised by these announcements, but they should also expect transparency around measurable progress and clarity on how these sustainability commitments align with the purpose.

Asos’s purpose is ‘to become the world’s number-one destination for fashion-loving 20-somethings’, while Primark’s purpose is ‘to bring affordable fashion to everyone around the world’. 

With the rapidly growing demand for sustainable fashion from young consumers, it’s now imperative for both Asos and Primark to show employees how delivering on the core purpose is not at the expense of their sustainability commitments and vice versa.

Just as Millennial and Gen Z consumers are demanding more sustainable products, they also want to work for companies whose values match their own. 

In a recent Censuswide survey, almost two-thirds of employees said that they were “more likely to work for a company with strong environmental policies.”

If a connection to the brand purpose imbues an employee’s work with added meaning, sustainability taps into a more personal sense of purpose.

With sustainability now embedded into the corporate strategy and agenda for most large organisations, socially-conscious employees are increasingly looking for opportunities to get more personally involved in sustainability initiatives at work.

Involvement breeds commitment

Research by Great Place to Work looked at thousands of employee surveys from companies on its ‘50 best Workplaces that Give Back’ list and revealed that workers at these organisations say they’re more likely to stay with their employer for a long time as a result of the company’s volunteering programmes.

Volunteering is a great way for employees to get involved in their company’s sustainability initiatives and businesses offering volunteering programmes stand to benefit from booming staff loyalty and engagement. We’ve experienced this first hand at Good Relations with our ‘Passion Days’ initiative, where colleagues are supported to take a day out of work to pursue a cause that’s close to their heart.

UK companies across a range of sectors, including Nationwide Building Society, Accenture, Experian, Salesforce, Allianz and Ovo Energy, now offer corporate volunteering days to staff, where they get an average of two to three days paid leave to do their bit.

Recyclable footwear brand Toms, meanwhile, has earned praise for its Giving Tuesday employee volunteering initiative; an annual day where the brand closes all of its stores until lunchtime so employees can spend the morning volunteering at local organisations.

Aside from volunteering, businesses are finding other innovative ways to show employees how they can support the sustainability agenda and drive the purpose.

Prior to its merger with O2, Virgin Media devised a fun and creative way of showing employees how they could support sustainability in the organisation. Head of sustainability, Katie Buchanan, and her team produced a Squad Selector tool with positions and tactics to help employees understand the role they play in the team to contribute to each of the goals in the sustainability strategy.

These initiatives are great examples of how involving employees in sustainability activities can drive the purpose and boost commitment and loyalty.

We work with clients to activate sustainability in the employee experience with compelling storytelling and creative campaigning that shines a light on commitment, measurable progress and a clear link to purpose. Get in touch or read more about our services here.

Huw Morgan
Huw Morgan

Director, Internal Communications

Huw's passion is for targeted campaigns that bring brand strategy and purpose to life from the inside out. Huw has a wealth of client-side experience leading colleague engagement for major brands, including Telefonica Digital, Virgin Media and O2.

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Huw Morgan

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