From “business as usual” to sustainable “purpose‐driven business”: Challenges facing the purpose ecosystem in the United Kingdom and Australia

Business and Society Review (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Purpose‐driven businesses have a stated objective to contribute to the welfare of society and the planet alongside generating shareholder value. As interest in purpose‐driven businesses grows, an emerging “purpose ecosystem” of advisers, investors, and enablers offers different types of support for businesses wanting to transition to sustainability. This paper examines how the transition towards purpose‐driven business in Australia and the United Kingdom requires addressing challenges facing this support ecosystem at three levels. First, at the individual level where support providers need to build the capabilities of managers who are experiencing tensions around integrating societal and environmental purpose while facing pressure for maximizing shareholder value. Second, the support providers working within the purpose ecosystem offering professional advice and finance face their own tensions between environmental or social objectives and commercial pressures. Third, there are challenges facing actors in the ecosystems aiming to change the wider policy and institutional environment but facing lobbying from those wanting to keep “business as usual.” We identify practical implications for those parts of the purpose‐driven business ecosystem providing support. This includes building capabilities to combine social, environmental, and commercial purpose; coordination among support providers; and creating an institutional environment to avoid “purpose wash.”

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