Ten years ago, having a purpose-driven business was a “nice to have” – a cherry on the top of your marketing and trading strategy. Consequently, and depressingly, many companies did the bare minimum; at best, slowly reviewing their supply chain and people policies; at worst, green-washing or creating a “woke culture”, writes Joanna Jensen, Founder and Chair of Childs Farm.
Today, this is simply not acceptable. Consumers are far savvier and choosey. Quite rightly. And, for many, there is an expectation that purpose and ethical trading has to be baked into the DNA of a brand if they are to entertain becoming a loyal customer.
The rise of the conscious consumer
Research conducted by Monash University in 2019 found that an increasing number of Australian consumers not only prefer to buy ethical brands and those that align with their personal values; they’re also prepared to pay more for them. We’re especially seeing this with Millennials, the newest generation of empowered, purpose-focused consumers.
Nowadays, price and convenience are not the only purchase drivers. Global impact appears to be front-of-mind. Indeed, global warming, the “Greta” factor, the bushfires, Black Lives Matter, and now the COVID pandemic, means that shoppers are far more conscious in their consumerism. As such, any business that doesn’t embed authentic purpose and ethics into everything they do – and do well, by doing something good for people and the planet – will struggle.
And I guess the ray of light in an otherwise bleak 2020 was seeing an acceleration of examples of businesses standing by their communities and going beyond their brand comfort zones, despite the troubling business environment. For us all, it has been a wake-up that we cannot take nature for granted, and that there has to be a better “new normal”.
Put purpose at the heart of your business
I am the founder of Childs Farm – a leading independent skincare brand, and the #1 children’s skincare brand in the UK and already a Top 5 brand in the Australian Supers. When I founded Childs Farm, the world was reeling from the effects of the 2008-09 financial crash, and my husband had been made redundant from his job in the City of London.
Back then, the conversation about purpose was in its infancy. In the decade since, I’ve learned a thing or two about purpose and ethics in business. In fact, I set the company up with a mission and vision of baking in ‘only the good stuff’ from day one. I couldn’t find skincare products with natural and efficacious ingredients to treat mine and my kids’ sensitive and eczema-prone skin, packaged with sustainable and environmentally friendly materials. So I just got off my backside and did it myself. I am still on the restless journey to do even more and better, but I am proud of what my team and I have achieved as a small independent company.
In fact, it regularly makes my blood boil: if we can, why can’t the global giants do better?
Now, there is an even greater crisis facing the global economy. And crises like this one can be the catalyst for millions of new businesses to launch, and for existing businesses to really reflect on how they interact with the rest of the world. As they say – necessity is the mother of invention!
So how do you go about driving purpose and ethical trading into the DNA of your business?
For starters, you have to be clear about what your values are as a business and why. Then focus on your people. They are the guardians of your brand and – just like you – need to live and breathe those values. So many business leaders say this that it’s almost hackneyed by now, but it bears repeating.
Without people who believe in the brand, and believe that it can also do a world of good, you’re doomed from the beginning. This first step is crucial, but it can be done by businesses of any size. It will also help with your recruitment, attracting like-minded “on brand” people who will help nurture the best team culture.
Too many companies pay lip-service to diversity – and more importantly, inclusion – without walking the walk. But ‘your people’ doesn’t mean only your employees. Once your own house is in order, you can also start considering how your suppliers fit into the picture.
The most forward-looking businesses are busy incorporating social and environmental standards into their supplier onboarding and even procurement processes, as well as all of the business processes – recognising just how crucial and interlinked these are. If you can help others that you do business with to adhere to high standards of care for the world around them, your impact is being felt way beyond your own company.
At Childs Farm, for instance, our greenhouse gas emission analysis of our supply chain has been invaluable in becoming carbon-neutral – and we want to go further still. We have recently purchased certified carbon credits to offset some of the greenhouse gas emissions in our supply chain.
What about the planet?
That leads me to sustainability – surely the hottest topic in business right now. The issue of sustainability has been catapulted to the top of the agenda since the Paris Agreement of 2015, and a new generation of consumers are forcing a radical rethink for all sorts of businesses. If you’re not already thinking about this – think harder.
As a consumer brand, we’ve learnt that this isn’t always easy. For example, a few years ago, Lego announced they would use bio-plastics including sugarcane plastic in their products – however, as a farming-intensive material, and one that breaks up into damaging microplastics, this cannot be a sustainable solution. For our part, we have drastically reduced our use of plastic, and no stone remains unturned in our efforts to find a long-term solution to the use of sustainable materials in our packaging, though our materials have a low environmental impact, and are recyclable.
For now, however, we have achieved carbon neutrality. We use low-emission vehicles to transport our products, we have comprehensively assessed our premises and operations for energy efficiency, and our products use a manufacturing process significantly better for the environment than the typical practice for our industry. Yet, we’re always looking to improve, which is imperative if you want to keep ahead of the curve in a rapidly-changing business environment.
Ethics puts the customers first
Finally, embedding purpose and ethics into your business requires you to be always thinking of your consumer. It’s of no use businesses condescending their consumers; many are usually ahead of you. Make it easy for your consumers to follow your journey and encourage them to join you. Think about where you fit into your consumers’ lives, and how this can make you a powerful agent for change.
For instance, as a children’s skincare brand, it’s natural that at the core of our business is ensuring children live happy, healthy lives and are literally happy in their skin. As a result, a focus on sustainability and on tackling hygiene poverty are key priorities for us – trying to make the world greener and more equitable for the kids who use our products. Whatever your business, there’s always a contribution that you can make – as long as you start somewhere!
Finally, always listen. Having a dialogue with our customers is fundamental to the way the team and I run Childs Farm. And it has paid dividends, driving loyalty, innovation and, above all, ensuring we are always doing our best to do the right thing.
Here’s to a healthier, happier and more ethically-focused 2021 and beyond. We will get through this and I’m sure, all the better for it if we heed the lessons learned.
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