Purpose is meant to be a guiding principle that can offer tangible benefits to a business. Leaders who have integrated purpose into their operations and daily practices have found success with newly-created products; internal processes that help drive new product development; and initiatives that benefit their constituencies — whether internal or external.
As part of our collaboration with BCG BrightHouse, Innovation on Purpose, we interviewed senior leaders at companies that have defined a statement or set of principles around purpose. This piece explores some of their greatest successes and outcomes.
Vivienne Long, the Chief Marketing Officer of Washington-based REI Co-op, said the outdoor store’s purpose, focused on outfitting lifelong advocates of the outdoors, has helped shape a number of goals internally.
For REI, inclusivity and sustainability have been core principles of their purpose.
Vivienne Long, Chief Marketing Officer, REI: “We’re famous for what many have called our garage sales. It’s now branded as our Resupply program. These are events where people can buy gently used gear. This allows people to access high-quality gear for a new or existing outdoor activity at a fantastic price point. It’s also great for the environment to be able to pass on this gear to someone…
Inclusive sizing is something that we’ve focused on for years, long before many brands ever considered it. Again, that also relates to our concern about equity and commitment to making sure everyone feels included in enjoying life outdoors. This year we collaborated with Outdoor Afro, an organization that supports the Black community, which didn’t always feel that they belong in the outdoors. The gear and apparel wasn’t really suited for the Black community, so we innovated with Outdoor Afro on product lines that are more inclusive.
Of course, sustainability is important to us, and has been for a long time. We’ve been carbon neutral for years, and long before it was popular we were offsetting our carbon footprint. Now we have plans and aspirations to become nature-positive. In our products, we use sustainable materials — like seaweed in our footwear.”
Tia Cummings-Hopkins is the SVP of Global Brand Marketing at Square, the San Francisco-based payments and point-of-sale company. Square’s purpose revolves around equitable economic empowerment, and because of that purpose, the company made an effort to launch another version of its product suite, entirely in Spanish.
Tia Cummings-Hopkins, Square: Late last year, we introduced our entire product suite in Spanish, because we realized we were lacking there in supporting the large population of Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs. [We wanted to] ensure that they have access to our powerful suite of commerce and financing tools. …
We worked on that for the full year of 2022, because it’s a global effort. When you think about the different product teams or globalization teams, we almost treated it like we were launching in a new country — doing the research to really understand Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs, and what do they need most? What should we start with? How are we translating all of the content on our website? How are we ensuring that all of our products now have the capabilities to be able to be delivered in Spanish?
That [project] was one of the shorter timelines. If you’re thinking about something like a new product, those things could take upwards of 18 months to two years, because there’s so much that goes into building it, because we want to make sure that it’s really meeting the needs. So there’s a ton of research that gets done at every stage of the process. It’s not just at the beginning; it’s not just at the end — it’s throughout; it’s iterative. It’s a very large, cross-functional effort… and that’s one of the beautiful things at Square. Everyone who works here really believes in our purpose. A lot of people are here because of it.”
Sarah Beaubien, Senior Director of Impact & Sustainability at California-based Clif Bar & Co., said the company instituted an internal process for evaluating new products based on its purpose. The company makes energy bars and drinks, and part of its internal sustainable nutrition guidelines includes a commitment to organic ingredients. Clif Bar has a five-pronged purpose called the Five Aspirations, which incorporates the needs of the planet, the community, the people purchasing and creating products, the brands, and the business itself.
Sarah Beaubien, Senior Director of Impact & Sustainability, Clif Bar & Co.: “One of the best examples of where impact meets innovation is, we have what are called the sustainable nutrition guidelines. And those were co-authored by multiple functions. They are the tool that we use through our stage-gate process, which we call the PLC — product lifecycle. From beginning to end, just like any company, we have stage gates, and, unlike a lot of companies, we have somebody from impact as a gatekeeper in those stage gate meetings. The backbone is the PLC process or the structure, and then the sustainable nutrition guidelines are the tool that gets used at every stage gate to ensure that in every product that’s being developed, we’re taking into consideration certain impact, responsibly sourced, sustainably made, and nutrition KPIs that every product is expected to follow.
I’ve never seen that before. I’ve talked about it in various sustainability roles over the past 15 years or so, but this is the first time I’ve seen it established. Everybody who’s part of the product development process, or a pod that’s developing a product, is very familiar with the sustainable nutrition guidelines. They know that their product is going to be held to the test and that there’s a lot of communication going on. One of the requirements is an organic target, so there’s a lot of conversation back and forth, usually about how we’re going to meet that organic target if certain ingredients aren’t available organically. There’s a lot of really rich dialogue back and forth between the people who are in innovation and brands with our team, trying to figure out how we’re going to meet those sustainable nutrition guidelines.”
Kimberly Coletti, who is the Global Director for LIFT (Leveraging Innovation for Transformation) Labs at Save the Children, said the organization’s purpose is focused on creating a better world for children globally. Save the Children created several programs — among them the CUBIC initiative and the Shift program — to help amplify children’s voices on difficult issues, and to focus on the welfare of marginalized children globally.
Kimberly Coletti, Global Director for LIFT Lab, Save the Children: We have an initiative called CUBIC — the Center for Utilizing Behavioral Insights in Children. CUBIC is the first applied behavioral science team in the world to focus on the rights and welfare of the most marginalized children. A key pilot success was the CUBIC-led massive vaccination uptake program in Asia, which drove over 9 million social media users to national vaccination registration pages. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s own COVID-19 vaccine uptake handbook also drew inspiration from this global initiative, showing the global potential of these practical strategies.
We have another global innovation called Shift. Shift amplifies youth voices by linking community movements with creative agencies to design and lead public campaigns. In 2018 we began our Shift pilot in Myanmar. The pilot brought together young people from Myanmar and provided training, mentoring, and resources to equip them to lead change in their communities on the issues that matter to them. A group of youth developed the “Know What you Breathe” campaign. They came up with the idea to drive a huge white stuffed teddy bear, Dr. Air Bear, around Yangon. As the day wore on, the air pollution turned the teddy bear gray. They used social media to track this journey around the city and the progress. As a result, they got the attention of the local government, and in early 2020 the Yangon Department of Meteorology and Hydrology announced they would release their air quality data to the public, acknowledging the “Know What you Breathe” campaign.