Today, business success hinges on more than just selling products or services. It’s about having a deeper purpose, a “why” that drives every action. A genuine purpose goes beyond profit and reflects the company’s values, shaping its contribution to society.

Some companies have embraced this philosophy by embedding sustainability directly at their core. This approach not only distinguishes them in a competitive market but also attracts customers and employees who value sustainability. It fosters brand loyalty and enhances brand perception, while also serving as the bedrock for sustainability strategies that influence every aspect of the business.

Let’s dive into three inspiring examples of companies that have put sustainability at the heart of their brand purpose.

Patagonia: Setting the Sustainablity Bar

Patagonia has long been a trailblazer in sustainable practices, setting a high standard for environmental and social responsibility in the apparel industry. Their commitment is woven into every aspect of their business, from product design to supply chain management.

In 2018, founders Yvon Chouinard and CEO Rose Marcario redefined Patagonia’s purpose, declaring: We’re in business to save our home planet.

This ethos was further solidified in 2022 when Chouinard announced that the Earth was now the company’s sole shareholder. Rather than sell or go public, Chouinard, with a company worth $3 billion, chose to “go purpose,” using his wealth to combat the climate crisis.

This commitment is not just talk – 100% of Patagonia’s voting stock has been transferred to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, ensuring their mission and values are upheld. The remaining nonvoting stock is now held by the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental preservation.

For almost 50 years, Patagonia has led in corporate social responsibility, becoming a certified B Corp and a California benefit corporation. Patagonia has also made significant strides in reducing its environmental footprint, promoting fair labor practices, and advocating for conservation. They are transparent about their efforts, sharing both progress and challenges with customers and stakeholders.

This dedication not only differentiates Patagonia in the market but also inspires others to follow suit, positively impacting the planet. And, their commitment has not gone unnoticed. In 2023, Patagonia was ranked the most reputable brand in America out of 100 top brands, according to an annual survey by Axios and Harris Poll.

Unilever: Pioneering Sustainable Business Practices

At Unilever, sustainability is a way of life. Since 1894, when the company was founded by the Lever brothers, social mission has been embedded in the company’s DNA. Today, Unilever’s purpose is clear: to make sustainable living commonplace.

In 2010, Unilever launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), a groundbreaking initiative with three ambitious goals: to help one billion people improve their health and well-being, halve the environmental footprint of their products, and source 100% of agricultural raw materials sustainably.

Building on this legacy, Unilever now drives its purpose through The Unilever Compass Strategy for Sustainable Growth. This integrated sustainability and business strategy includes 38 sustainability Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) under three key priority areas:

  • Improving the health of the planet
  • Improving people’s health, confidence and wellbeing
  • Contributing to a fairer and more socially inclusive world.

This strategy is not just about doing good; it’s about driving commercial success. Unilever believes that sustainable business is a core driver for superior financial performance. In its 2023 annual report, Strive Masiyiwa, Chair of the Corporate Responsibility Committee, noted, “The new Compass Organisation has shown us how the Business Groups, with the support from Unilever’s Business Operations and Corporate Centre, are now best positioned to deliver the stretching Compass sustainability commitments and respond to consumer demands, whilst retaining the utmost commitment to business integrity and minimizing risk.”

Managing over 400 brands, this multinational consumer goods company is proof that purpose-driven business can lead to lasting success. By integrating sustainability into its core operations, Unilever not only inspires change but also demonstrates that profitability and sustainability can go hand in hand.

Mars: Leading with Purpose for a Sustainable Tomorrow

In 2019, Mars embraced a new era, rebranding to put purpose at the forefront. The ‘Tomorrow Starts Today’ platform unveiled the company’s purpose statement: The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today.

As a global powerhouse with a footprint comparable to a small country, Mars is a privately-owned company that operates in the food, pet care, and confectionery industries. Mars acknowledges its profound responsibility – and the opportunity – to leave a positive impact on the world. As a family-owned business, Mars takes the long view, focusing on generations rather than just quarterly profits, guided by its purpose.

At the core of Mars’s operations for over a century are the Five Principles: Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom. These principles underpin every decision made by Mars associates worldwide. Additionally, the Sustainable in a Generation Plan embodies Mars’s commitment to its purpose. This plan envisions a future where the planet is healthy, people and pets thrive, and society is inclusive. Since its launch in 2017, the Mars Sustainable in a Generation Plan has driven transformative change in how the company does business and guides the company’s sustainability efforts.

These efforts include a pledge to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, expand renewable energy usage, reduce water use while increasing crop yields, eliminate deforestation, and transition to a circular economy for product packaging. The company also focuses on human rights throughout its value chain, supports nutrition and wellbeing, and works to ensure fair compensation and sustainable practices in its supply chains.

Mars serves as a beacon for companies worldwide, showing that growth and sustainability can coexist. In 2021 alone, the company revealed that sales grew 50% to almost $45 billion in 2021, according to a statement. And in 2023, Mars was listed Inc.’s annual Inc. 5000 list, one of the most prestigious rankings of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.

Purpose and Profit

Patagonia, Unilever, and Mars have shown that when sustainability is at the core of a business, it can drive brand value, support business growth, inspire innovation, and create a positive impact on the planet and society. As more companies follow their lead, we can hope to see a future where sustainability is not just a goal but a way of life for businesses worldwide.