The Narrowing Gap Between the “Right” Thing and the “Smart” Thing To Do In Business

NAEM recently held their 2018 Sustainability Management Conference in Providence, RI where environment and sustainability leaders from organizations around the country met around the common goal of cultivating more impactful company cultures. Having a sustainable mission has become a pride point for customers in today’s age of consuming, and therefore has become a smart business decision for companies big and small.

If anything was readily apparent, it was that adopting better principles for sustainable business has evolved from just the “right” thing to do, to the “smart” thing to do. I was lucky to attend this conference, and wanted to share a few highlights.

The Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility & Philanthropy, Eileen Howard Boone from CVS Health keynoted the second day and shared the story of their transition to a more purpose driven brand from making their stores more energy efficient to more dramatic decisions like stopping tobacco sales.

At first glance, some purpose-driven decisions seemed like they could be bad for business. Discontinuing sales of one of the highest money- making products on the market? To most, that would seem like a mission to go out of business. But that is what it looks like to the vantage point of a short- term thinker. In fact, after making that decision, CVS reported that there was a 1% decrease in cigarette pack sales in states where the company had at least 15% market share, equating to 95 million fewer packs overall. By doing good the healthcare brand had over 500,000 visitors to its smoking cessation hub, where helpful products to quit smoking are provided. In this way, CVS still wins by making the right decision.

Dozens of brands are taking similar stands to make the smart investments of a sustainable business mentality. It is important to note that sustainability isn’t all about the environment. Investing in people and social-impact through volunteering, employee wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion are all part of what builds a sturdy base for long- term growth with purpose. The trend is staring us in the face, and the brands gathered in Providence were eager to make the right changes.

As somebody who has grown up in the thick of the climate change crisis and a clear movement for stronger ethics with how we treat people and the planet in business, I think I had one of the most unique perspectives on this event. I have grown up with the expectation that businesses should be involved in some social or environmental mission, or else it’s like “what are you even in business for?” (Note:  If you want to learn more about my generation, check out our most recent research on Gen Z, Purpose and the Future of Work)

That’s why when I find a new brand I like, from clothing to toothpaste, I always search their website for mission in sustainability or some form of social impact. This is largely how I gain satisfaction in the purchases I make. And that is why it has become a smart investment for companies. Whether the decision to steward the earth more responsibly is done for business or moral reasons, it’s a win- win either way.

I think I was the only one from my generation at this conference, which, frankly is why it was a little funny to hear the business case for sustainability sound at times like “breaking news.” Every company is at different stages with it, but it was nice to see everybody gathered for a common purpose of increasing impact.

What I admired more than anything was the openness to embrace change. For me, the need for change comes naturally due to the state of the world I have grown up in. But it would be unreasonable to expect the priorities of older generations to mirror those of mine. They grew up gaining a worldview around the issues of their time, which I think younger people forget when they’re frustrated about the rate of change happening. But what brought me peace of mind is seeing a general agreement that sustainable business is the best way to go.

WeSpire had a very unique position at this conference, because it’s almost the guiding compass for those looking to steer their company culture in a better direction. WeSpire takes the confusion that often comes with learning how to change, and provides the right tools to organize and propel it.

Sustainability is such an integral part of employee engagement because it connects people to a mission bigger than themselves. And thus the benefits of belonging and motivation at work are undeniable. WeSpire allows these forward-thinking companies to harness the power of collective action to improve their business, as well as the world around them. And that’s why it’s a pretty cool place to work.


About the author: My name is Ryan McElhinney and I’m a rising senior at Elon University. I have grown an appreciation for mindfulness and sustainability, and wanted to share my experience with you. Who knows, maybe it will influence you or someone you know!