What Does Purpose-Driven, Sustainable Business Leadership Look Like?

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By Maurizio Patarnello, CEO of Flow Alkaline Spring Water

The more we hear companies talk about purpose, the more it runs the risk of becoming another catch-all buzzword. More than a marketing tool, purpose speaks to the very existence of a company, offering a roadmap for decision-making in an ever-changing retail environment.

Companies used to be able to rely on a linear purpose, turning to their product or service offering to communicate their reason for being. But in a time where customers seek opportunities to connect with brands past the point of purchase, transformative purpose expands the impact a company can have on customers and the community. Customer and shareholder demand is driving the corporate conversation on sustainability and stakeholder-driven, transformative purpose. In a 2019 Insights report, Deloitte found that purpose-driven companies grow an average of three times faster than competitors, enjoying higher rates of customer satisfaction.

Flow Water’s purpose has been the same since our founding in 2014, to reduce environmental impacts with products that maximize our customers’ health and wellness. Flow’s reason for being is tied to our commitment to sustainable business practices, such as becoming a carbon negative business by 2025. Successful purpose-driven companies are transparent, making it clear to customers where and how sustainability plays a role in everything from product offerings to corporate decision-making. Flow differentiates itself by being mission-driven, e.g. sourcing our naturally alkaline (pH ±8.1), electrolyte-rich water from two artesian springs and using renewable, plant-based packaging.

Inevitably, conversations about purpose and sustainability lead companies to invest in and prioritize  corporate social responsibility (CSR). Last year’s Meaningful Brands report found that 71% of surveyed customers have “little faith” that companies will deliver on sustainability promises. These never-ending commitments to social responsibility have fueled public skepticism as companies often lack follow-through. Businesses need to take measurable action and be transparent about how they are fulfilling promises, so that CSR commitments are more than just a few notes on a slide deck and have an impact on their communities.

Flow aggressively pursued a “Best for the World” B Corporation™ Certified status because being authentic in our sustainability efforts is paramount to our success as a purpose-driven company. A recent study showed that 58% of customers label themselves as belief-driven, supporting and advocating for businesses based on their core values. Customers have more choices than ever before, but through these shared values, Flow has been able to form authentic connections with customers based around CSR.

McKinsey recently named inaction on sustainability as one of five consumer zero tolerance factors. Companies can no longer afford to be stagnant, and a truly transformative purpose will push a company to go further with CSR. In 2021, Flow joined The Climate Pledge (TCP), a global commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and meet the Paris Agreement goals a decade early. Expanding the scope of our sustainability commitments strengthens our relationship with customers and community stakeholders.

Flow actively works to lower our carbon footprint through packaging, renewable energy use and carbon mitigation and offsetting strategies. While the company currently operates carbon neutral, purpose helps us evolve as we widen our impact—Flow is working towards the ambitious goal of being carbon negative by 2025, and will continue to be transparent in this process.

Just as it is outdated to frame sustainability and profitability as mutually exclusive, it is misguided for companies to see purpose as a quick sales fix. When we talk about the importance of transparency and authenticity in purpose-driven companies, the key element is consistency. A guiding, transformative purpose helps ensure that companies are consistent in their corporate citizenship. Companies like Flow lead with purpose, discovering additional opportunities that have positive impact on customers and their communities as we grow.

Maurizio Patarnello is the CEO of Flow Alkaline Spring Water.

Maurizio joined Flow after an impressive 27+ year career working for Nestlé. During his tenure he assumed various positions of increasing responsibility around the world, including throughout western and eastern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In 2017 he was appointed CEO and Chairman of Nestlé Waters, a role that he occupied through the end of 2019.

He has dedicated the large majority of his career to the bottled water business, in which he significantly contributed to Nestlé Waters’ growth of iconic multibillion dollar brands such as Nestle Pure Life, Perrier, San Pellegrino, Acqua Panna and Poland Spring. He is also a pioneer in the global consumer health movement from carbonated soft drinks to bottled water.

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