Profit vs. purpose: why we shouldn’t have to choose

While many might think of purpose and profit as mutually exclusive, Words By Nuance's Alex Pratt explains how if done correctly, the two can become one in the same.

These days, a growing number of companies seem to be shouting about how they’re using their power as a force for good instead of evil. Suddenly it’s all about who’s the most ‘purpose-driven business’ – quite a change from the old days where brands were purely focused on getting the best product or service to market, and profiting accordingly.

This ethical revolution has seen the birth of phrases like ‘Conscious Capitalism’ – and while terms like these might make your skin crawl, they’re increasingly hard to ignore.

It’s not just hippies

Although the concept of ‘purpose-driven business’ might seem an oxymoron, you’d be lucky to find an industry that hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon. From financial services to property development and telecommunications, corporates of all shapes and sizes are joining the movement to become more ‘conscious’ – and for many, it’s far from a token gesture.

Some businesses are creating entire departments to focus purely on corporate responsibility, while others are creating a bunch of new ethical roles (like Energy Efficiency Auditors or Environmental Engineers). Some have even made ‘purpose’ fundamental to their products, showing that social enterprise is more than just a nice idea.

All this virtue does make us wonder though – what’s the motive? Is it actually authentic and genuine, or is it just a new ploy to attract more customers and generate profit? And what’s even caused this shift? Is it a global-warming guilt trip? Is it because we can’t rely on governments to do the right thing? Or is it because we’re finally becoming a more caring society? Whatever the motivation, no-one can deny it’s a step in the right direction for humanity. And (perhaps surprisingly) it’s proving to be good for business too – with socially responsible companies (like the ones we’ll get onto below) showing how ethical operations can actually help drive commercial success.

We decided it was time to put the spotlight on some of the companies doing a great job in this space. The thing that’s worth noticing about these companies is that they haven’t just tacked social responsibility onto the end of what they’re doing – they’ve embedded it into their strategy, so it’s also complementing their business objectives. Hopefully these stories will inspire others to build purpose into their business plans too.


Heineken’s long-term sustainability program ‘Brewing a Better World’ is a great example of purpose-driven business done right – because as well as having a massive impact on the planet, it has saved them a staggering $84 million in just six years. How? Simply by reducing the amount of water they use at their breweries by 23%.

But Heineken didn’t stop there – they also went on to minimise their CO2 emissions by 30%, and transitioned to using more solar and wind powered brewing equipment, and greener cooling agents in their breweries. Now, they’re focusing on cultivating better relationships with local communities and are committed to investing in initiatives that protect both people and the planet.


This tech giant is determined to solve climate change with its ‘AI for Earth’ program and just last year committed to invest another $50 million in this initiative. Through this program, Microsoft is providing a bunch of cloud-based tools and AI services to organisations who are focused on tackling the urgent issue of climate change.

Microsoft believes that by observing global changes in our environmental systems, AI could play a major part in helping solve our climate crisis.

It’s a great example of how a company is playing to its strengths to utilise specialist knowledge, expertise and data as a force for good.

Ben & Jerry’s

They might be one of many businesses around the globe supporting same sex marriage, but Ben & Jerry’s dedication to the cause goes way back. In 1989 this ice-cream brand was the first major employer in Vermont to offer health insurance to same-sex employee couples, something that was super rare back then.

Today, their passion for the LGBT community hasn’t wavered and they’ve invested big bucks globally to promote awareness around this issue.

They didn’t just add a banner to their website or whip up a petition either, they actually renamed their products (‘Choc Chip Cookie Dough’ became ‘I Dough, I Dough’), arranged public demonstrations worldwide, banned double scoops of the same flavour until marriage equality in Australia was achieved, and gave customers the opportunity to petition parliament while they waited in line.

Sadly, Australia is still very much trailing behind the rest of the world when it comes to corporate social change, with a global KPMG survey revealing our 100 biggest local entities by revenue are below the world average.

If you’re working for a company that’s not stepping up, why not take the initiative and drive some change within your workplace?

Remember, there are lots of ways to do this – it doesn’t have to be monetary donation. Many businesses choose to donate time or services instead. You could inspire your team to take part in a charity event to raise money for a cause you’re all passionate about, or organise a company volunteering day. Even the suppliers you choose to work with can help you make sure your impact is positive (think recycled paper and packaging, fair trade coffee, local food suppliers, etc.)

Alex Pratt is a copywriter at Words By Nuance. This post first appeared here. 


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