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The balance between profit and purpose

Billy MacInnes looks at the challenges for those that want to make money but also do the right thing by the planet

There’s a much quoted verse in the Bible which goes like this: “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” It’s from Mark, chapter 8, verse 36 where Jesus is basically saying your soul is more valuable than all wealth and possessions, but it’s often quoted nowadays in the context of someone who makes a fortune in a sphere of life or commerce but at the expense of everything else. The lesson being that pursuing gain at all costs can result in terrible loss.

Few of us will ever find ourselves in a position to prove the truth or otherwise of the question posed in Mark (and Matthew and Luke for that matter). But in everyday life we are often called upon to face a variant of it, even if it’s on a much smaller scale.

Consider the story elsewhere on this website  concerning how partners are starting to appreciate the importance of getting their approach to environmental, social and governance (ESG) right and the effect it could have on their relationships with other companies.

Based on a report from Agilitas IT Solutions entitled Evolve for your partners, it reveals channel partners are developing alliances to improve ESG and are under increasing pressure to be able to demonstrate the use of innovative technologies to support sustainability efforts.

“There was a recognition that tinkering at the fringes of the business was no longer an option and to be truly sustainable required wholesale changes and working with others through alliances or ecosystems,” the story states.

The overall perception appears to be positive but there are some areas of concern. The one that stands out is that, as Agilitas notes, many channel partners “still valued profits over purpose as the main criteria when selecting a partner”.

On the one hand, it makes sense to look at the bottom line but in an era when sustainability is becoming an increasingly important consideration for customers and suppliers, it may not be wise to concentrate on profit to the exclusion of other factors.

When it comes to achieving the balance between profit and purpose, companies need to be cognitive of the fact that the pursuit of the former can be very short term but the latter will clearly have a greater impact on the business in the long term.

The problem, however, is that it can be difficult to have a clear purpose on sustainability when your route there may not be as simple as you think. Agilitas head of sales, Warren Playford, points out that a third of companies surveyed “said an error could easily go undetected in their sustainability data, so a move toward accountable sustainability cant come soon enough”.

Those of a more cynical bent might view the lack of effective measurable accountability as an entirely predictable consequence of an approach to sustainability that often appears more lip service than reality. After all, if profit trumps purpose for most companies, how much credibility should we really attach to their enthusiasm for sustainability? Judging by the acknowledged weakness of their sustainability data, you have to wonder.

The only organisations that gain from a lack of accountability around sustainability are those who aren’t doing it properly and want to muddy the waters, blurring the lines between themselves and those who truly are engaged in sustainability initiatives and practices. So it’s in the interests of everyone, including customers and suppliers, to make sustainability more accountable – and more effective. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of hot air.

Perhaps we should add another ‘p’ to the two ‘p’s of profit and purpose: planet. Taking some liberties with Mark, maybe we should be asking: “For what shall it profit us if we gain everything, but lose the world?”

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