My talk to RSA “Profit with Purpose” Fellows Network

On Tuesday I gave a talk at a new RSA Fellows network “Profit with Purpose”. My key message was we’ve moved beyond ‘responsibility’ and ‘ethics’ to enlightened self-interest, because sustainability affects drivers of business value. The network has the potential to help people make a difference in their company and in the world.

The RSA has a new Fellows network called Profit with Purpose. One of the founders, Alison Rodwell, asked me to give a talk that would inspire people to try and make a difference – always an easy brief! Alison herself did the first talk on the ‘case for action’, with loads of the frightening facts about the state of the world, our reliance on it and the problems in people’s lives. My talk – SBM_RSA talk on Profit with Purpose_DB_071210 – was a response, giving the practical examples of what companies have been doing and the lessons anyone working in business can take from them.

Central to my point of view is that we have moved beyond responsibility. When I started at Forum almost 8 years ago the dominant message to business was “you should act responsibly”. And the business response:   “well, the business of my business is business, but if I have to protect my reputation here’s some CSR-as-PR to placate you”.

Now there is a far greater understanding that the issues of sustainability affect the drivers of business value. The message to business is “you need to act sustainably for business reasons”. Consequently the business response is now “well, seeing as the business of my business is business, I have to engage with this in a strategic way”. (See slides 15 and 16.) I think the leading examples in business show this clearly. For me, this is a shift from a responsibility mindset to a sustainability mindset.

Given the scale of the challenge, how to inspire people? By linking with core purpose, of people and RSA. I found out that the RSA itself came from an idea in 1754 of using ‘premiums’ to support improvements in the liberal arts and sciences, and to stimulate enterprise for the common good.

The challenges we face today are so large and urgent that it is the task of our generation to solve them. Previous generations have abolished slavery, overcome fascism or communism. Our task is to leave the world on a sustainable footing. Networks like profit with Purpose can give people the peer-support and knowledge they need to make a different where they are, and so in the world.

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