'Purpose for Prosperity' Framework

For the majority of organisations, they provide a safe working environment for their employees, and through various taxes, contribute indirectly to the upkeep of society. However, for any organisation to prosper in the long-term, it needs to operate in a prosperous society and ecologically robust environment.  The framework below helps develop an understanding of how organisations' primary business purpose should positively contribute to society and/or the environment.

Many organisations now understand there are reputational, cost-cutting, and/or regulatory reasons why they should conduct some activities around sustainability.  But, in almost all cases this is not the primary motivation of their business purpose, or business model which supports its purpose.  This has the consequence that as they grow their organisation (e.g. in terms of number of consumers, revenue, etc.), the net impact on the overall environment and society (in the broadest sense) is a negative one, e.g. in Scenario A below:
Organisations need to be honest about how their
 primary business model impacts the environment and society

Even in Scenario B, where let's say, the organisation is managing to be more resource efficient in its internal operations, if its business model scales with a negative impact, this ultimately won't be the long-term answer - it's only incrementally better than Scenario A.  it's certainly 'less bad', but not necessarily 'good'. Controversially, some organisations' interpretation of embracing the circular economy might exhibit elements of this - resource efficient, but still encouraging high consumption patterns.

The step-change / innovative business models look more like Scenario C.  Examples might include some elements of collaborative consumption (number of users and revenues can grow substantially whilst sharing physical resources), or dematerialisation, where physical assets are replaced with alternatives (e.g. DVDs being replaced by film streaming).  In both of these cases, as they provide a step-change improvement they should be encouraged, but may need grid de-carbonisation in order to further reduce any environment degradation.

Scenario D is of course the panacea - where growing the business provides a net benefit to the environment and/or society, perhaps even exponentially so.  This is where there is a 'decoupling' of the growth of the business and a negative impact on the environment/society.

Businesses (and their investors) are slowly realising that they will only prosper in the long-term if they can operate in a sustainable society and environment.  It's these businesses that will emerge as the long-term winners.

The following 'Purpose for Prosperity' framework identifies a series of opportunities.  Those in the green hexagons are considered the key primary business purposes which must all exist in an economy to protect our future. A hypothesis is that any organisation that provides one or more of these as its primary business purpose, has the potential to prosper in the future - and feel good about it!  In blue are two additional areas, which are also required to support the key business purposes.

'Purpose for Prosperity' Framework

The following paragraphs briefly explain each purpose.  Below these is the diagram with some examples associated with each.

Mitigation Manager

To mitigate against climate change, we must invest further in renewables and other forms of low-carbon generation.  Smart-grids and low-carbon transport solutions will help reduce the impact we have on our environment.  And it's not only carbon emissions which need to be reduced, but water scarcity is becoming a greater challenge, and in cities, particulates from diesel fumes are causing premature deaths.
Case Study: Tesla
Eton Musk's Tesla hasn't just created desirable electric vehicles, they are tackling the supply of lithium-ion batteries with their $5bn Gigafactory, and rolling-out their supercharger network.

Case Study: Solar City
Solar City are a US-based full-service solar solution provider, offering consultation, installation and maintenance services for solar installations for residential and commercial buildings. As the cost of solar reaches grid parity in certain states, they are disrupting traditional utility business models.

Biodiversity Booster

We have a huge reliance on the biodiversity of Planet Earth, something which society tends to take for granted. For example, pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production.  And a recent report by the UK's National Capital Committee highlights the economic impact of a degraded natural environment (BBC News article).
Case Study: Woodland Trust
The Woodland Trust's vision is for a UK rich in woods and trees, enjoyed and valued by everyone. They aim to create new native woodland with the help of communities, schools, organisations and individuals; and they try to protect our precious ancient woods, restore the ones that are damaged and fight for those under threat. They do this by inspiring people up and down the country to visit woods, plant trees, and enjoy the many benefits that woodland has to offer.

Consumerism Cutter

As a society, we buy too many products, and even if a business is run in a resource efficient manner, if its primary business model is to maximise sales, it's unlikely to be the right long-term solution (unless perhaps it's selling solar panels!).  Migrating business models to driving revenues through services and experiences, considering collaborative consumption where physical assets can be shared, and dematerialising all together can be explored. The purpose of the 'Consumerism Cutter' is to reduce the amount of consumption which society makes unnecessarily.

Case Study: Mud Jeans
Rather than a business model which is directly driven by maximising sales, Mud Jeans rent out pairs of jeans.  Users then return the jeans when they are finished with them, and the material is reclaimed to create a new pair.

Wellbeing Wishmaker

Any organisation which promotes healthy eating, mental health awareness or fitness fits into this purpose.
Case Study: BUPA
BUPA is a leading international healthcare group, we serve over 22 million customers in more than 190 countries. With no shareholders, they invest their profits to provide more and better healthcare and fulfil their purpose - longer, happier, healthier lives. They have recently launched Bupa Boost - a innovative health and wellbeing solution.

Society Service Provider

There are parts of society that are not as fortunate as others, and this problem is increasing as global inequality worsens.  Organisations which support improving youth employment, reducing poverty, community development, etc. will help society prosper.

Case Study: The Trussell Trust
The Trussell Trust partners with churches and communities to open new foodbanks nationwide. With over 420 foodbanks currently launched, its goal is for every town to have one. In 2013-14 foodbanks fed 913,138 people nationwide. Of those helped, 330,205 were children.


Adaptation Agent

Although climate change mitigation is critical, the harsh reality is that with an increasing frequency of extreme weather events linked to climate change, organisations that can help us adapt will prosper.  Such adaptations may be at the individual household level, but as this video shows, Rotterdam have considered this at the community/city level with their Water Plaza Benthemplein:

At a global level, without adequate investment in adaptation, populations may start to displace, potentially causing pressure on local resources and even civil unrest.

Case Study: UK Flood Barriers
UK Flood Barriers vision is to to lead the flood defence sector by providing the most effective and intelligent range of flood defence solutions to meet the diverse needs of our customers. They have solutions for both the building and community level.

For organisations delivering any of the purposes above, two additional purposes are required too (in blue):

Critical Society Support

For a functioning society, various services are required such as emergency services, education, hospitals, law enforcement, etc.  Without these services, society itself would not be able to function, so they are a prerequisite for our future to prosper.  As individual organisations, they should of course still look to operate in a resource efficient way.

Functional Facilitator

In order to support the key business purposes, a second tier of organisations will prosper by providing various types of functional help.  This could be anything from professional services, to reverse logistics, financial products, and product service design.  They should also seek to run their internal operations as resource efficiently as possible.

The diagram below includes some examples against each of the purposes:

'Purposes for Prosperity' Framework, with examples (click for larger version)
For those that aren't already operating one of the key business purposes, there are some opportunities:

  • For some organisations, they have an opportunity to create a 'step change' to embrace one of the key business purposes directly.  This goes well beyond incremental changes (i.e. Scenario A to B above), but opens up completely new revenue streams, and develops innovative user/membership relationships - and strategically considers more much holistically about how its core competencies can be harnessed to protect our collective future
  • As a 'Functional Facilitator', it's important to maximise the amount of the organisation's focus on providing goods and services to those organisations that are operating in one/more of the key business purposes.  Then, as the Functional Facilitator succeeds, so should organisations operating in the key business purposes.  As important, is if as a 'Functional Facilitator', it finds itself supporting organisations which are explicitly operating against any of the key business purposes, it may be worth considering if such a relationship should be deprioritised
  • Some of the key business purposes may not be readily able to generate huge amounts of revenues, (at least for as long as society as whole underestimates their importance).  The 'Society Service Provider' business purpose is one in particular which may be sensitive to this.  Here, where there is a prevalence of charities, there may be options to form close strategic collaborations and partnerships with them 

In summary, this Framework may help readers consider whether a particular organisation really supports a long-term prosperous society and environment.  It also highlights those organisations who may have a purpose which does not fit well into this model - fast fashion retail, fast food chains, tobacco companies, mining, etc.

By Richard Waters, January 2015.

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