Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, emerged in the late 1990s as a successor to corporate philanthropy – complete with the big idea of creating a win for both business and society at the same time. Since then, CSR has itself been succeeded, with most organisations choosing to talk about Sustainability.

The jumble of language surrounding corporate sustainability is, potentially, very confusing. Much of this conversation is a semantic debate – and we don’t think it really matters what you call it, so long as your environmental and social risks and opportunities are covered. But we do think there’s a difference when it comes to Purpose, which has been tangled up in the linguistic mix as part of its recent renaissance.

“For us, purpose is present in every conversation. For example, when we're having a strategy conversation with the M&A team, purpose is totally relevant. It’s not something that's tacked on at the end… It’s one of the ways in which we activate our business strategy, rather than something separate.”

Emilie Colker, VP Global Marketing Campaigns, Pearson


Purpose might inform a CSR initiative, and actions to show your commitment to individuals, society or the environment are a great way to show purpose in practice.  And purpose can be used to make sense of your sustainability work – to show how central it is to the running of your business and brand. So when it’s done well, purpose transcends a single function – expressing the ‘why’ and guiding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of every part of your business.

"Purpose is the core of our identity, the core of our aspirations, the core of who we are as an organisation. It provides meaning to what we do in our everyday activities and serves as a central guiding principle.”

Roeland van der Heiden, Global Digital Director of Corporate Affairs, AstraZeneca

How we can help

So, if you think you need some help convincing people in your company purpose is more than just a strapline, give us a ring. RY’s developed some tools that could be useful for you.

  • Materiality analysis: RY will work with you to identify the critical issues for your stakeholders and your business which may serve as the basis to identify the right purpose for you.
  • Sustainability strategy: Whether you need to find the right focus or set a future direction, RY can help define your strategy and ensure it’s engaging for your key stakeholders.
  • Roadmap to Purpose workshop: Making your purpose work takes time and demands action from every part of the business, not just CSR. RY can help you plan what to do, how and when.