“At its core, I would say the purpose of a company is answering the question: why is this company in business? It has nothing to do with taglines and marketing activities, and it has nothing to do with talking about the 'what' and the 'how' the company's doing.”

Stephan Feldhaus, Head of Group Communications, Roche

Sustainability has become mainstream and stakeholders expect brands to act more responsibly and ethically. To meet this demand, many brands have tried to share sustainability stories with their audiences – which may not tell the whole story about a company’s actions and investments.

As brands have tried to embrace purpose, there’s a risk that a business could be using it to purpose-wash. If businesses make flimsy promises without really being committed – it’ll have a negative impact. It needs to be clear to both internal and external audiences that purpose is much bigger than a PR exercise. It needs to be credible.

You can’t just say you’re purposeful, you have to demonstrate it in actions across your business. Stakeholders are savvy and more sceptical than ever – they can see right through woolly statements and want proof that a business’s purpose is authentic. 

So, businesses have to be transparent. If you want your brand’s purpose to be more than greenwash, it should be credible in everything you do – from communications, to how you perform, to how you behave.

“One of the challenges around purpose is that our people need to understand that it’s more than just a phrase. They need to experience it, they need to understand how they make an impact in their role, and we want them to feel like they’re part of Deloitte’s purpose.”

Michele Parmelee, Global Managing Principal, Talent, Brand and Communications, Deloitte


How we can help

If you think you need some help convincing your employees that purpose is more than a ‘greenwash’ exercise, call us. 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.