Did you know the average lifecycle of a mission-driven business is actually longer than a traditional business? Mission-driven businesses have the power to change the world for the better, all the while creating a sustainable (and enriching) work environment for employees.
When we think about starting a new business or reimagining a traditional business, we have to think about the why. As our ethical marketing friend Sian Conway calls them, “the big why businesses.” Why are you building this company? What are you choosing to support through your business and why are you doing that? That’s the drive behind purpose-driven and mission-driven businesses.
The current Executive Chair of Leesa Sleep, John Repogle, offered us so much insight into the reimagining of traditional business practices that we almost don’t have room to share all of his nuggets of wisdom. John’s experience in the sustainable business sector spans a few names you might like and know.
He was the CEO of Seventh Generation, Burt’s Bees, and is now the founding partner of One Venture Fund. John’s experience makes him a unique expert in scaling companies on a mission to make the world a better place.
What Is a Mission-Driven Company?
Mission-driven companies believe that it is possible to have a positive impact on a social or environmental issue while considering all stakeholders and staying committed to product development, profit, social responsibility, and sustainability.
Why Do We Need More Mission-Driven Companies?
John explained to us on the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Podcast that mission-driven companies are the only ones who can stand the test of time while serving both the public and the environment.
He shared three key truths that make businesses on a mission more successful now than ever before, and how the business landscape has changed in the last 20 years to favor these businesses.
1. Authenticity and Branding: With social media being so prevalent, companies are owned by consumers. Brands are actually the relationship between the consumers and the product, and relationships are built on trust. There’s nowhere for companies to hide, which is why millennial consumers are willing to spend more just to know that their purchase isn’t having a negative impact. In just a few clicks, any company can be exposed on social media for the harm it’s doing to the planet, the source of their startup funding, or the well-being of its workers. Companies are now going above and beyond to be transparent in their operations.
2. Success Models: Purpose-driven companies are outperforming companies that focus solely on maximizing profit. The business paradigm has completely shifted to favor for-profit companies that serve an authentic purpose.
3. Our Problems Are Greater: Every day, we learn more about how the effects of climate change are threatening our planet. We can’t leave saving the planet to only the nonprofits and government. John thinks that business is the most powerful force on earth and if we’re going to solve the threats to humankind that we currently face, business needs to step forward and become the solution, not the problem.
We need more companies that use their mission statement and actions to drive sustainable change that has a lasting impact on the health of the planet.
Purpose-Driven Company vs. Mission-Driven Company
A mission is what the business is trying to accomplish and the purpose is the why. Every company has a mission statement, but what are they really doing? Mission and purpose are often used interchangeably, but actually mean quite different things when it comes to business models. Mission-driven businesses focus more on providing returns for stakeholders and ultimately, they use the mission to support business operations. Purpose-driven businesses exist solely to do good in the world.
Nonprofit organizations are inherently purpose-driven, they exist solely to solve a problem.
For example, Plaine Products was founded to reduce plastic pollution in our waterways from beauty products. Their purpose is to eliminate single-use plastic and their mission is to sell sustainable, refillable beauty products made with thoughtful ingredients. Nonprofit Re-Mat was started to promote the circular economy through proper mattress disposal and job creation.
We would label this a purpose-driven business. One could argue that Amazon is a mission-driven business because they aspire to be the most consumer-centric company in the world. That’s clearly a mission, but we all know that Amazon isn’t making an impact on environmental or social sustainability, so they’re not purpose-driven (that’s why we often recommend alternatives to Amazon for online shopping).
Here are a few more examples of some of our favorite purpose-driven and mission-driven companies!
A Good Company
After realizing the truly devastating effects that e-commerce and mindless consumption were having on our planet, Anders Ankarlid started A Good Company. They make everyday products with the least environmentally impactful materials, no synthetic chemicals, and practice radical transparency in their supply chains. A Good Company’s purpose is to eliminate mindless consumerism and instead create products that improve people’s lives and the planet. Their mission is to sell only products that consumers really need. Ultimately, this is a purpose-driven business.
Fueled by a desire to kick fast-fashion out of the mainstream and redefine the status quo, Shamini Dhana created Dhana Inc. to increase awareness of circular fashion and make consumers aware of the impact fast fashion has on the planet. Dhana’s mission is to create clothing that connects people and the planet, but we consider this a purpose-driven business.
To decipher whether a business is purpose or mission-driven, take a look at their founder’s story. Patagonia, now the gold standard for socially conscious businesses, was founded to solve a problem and to save our home planet by better equipping people to experience it. Yvon Chouinard details the decision-making process for Patagonia in his book, Let My People Go Surfing. Yvon has redefined how businesses can be profitable retailers and make a significant impact for the betterment of everyone. What do you think Patagonia is? We say it’s a purpose-driven company!
What Does Success Look Like for a Purpose-Driven Company?
Profitability and financial performance are crucial to maintain any business’s sense of purpose. Without sales, it would be impossible to drive the initiatives that facilitate environmental and social good. However, mission-driven and purpose-driven businesses have a few extra line items to review each quarter that ensure success.
Businesses fighting climate change like Badger use their profits to invest back into company culture. A key measure of success for a purpose or mission-driven company is employee retention and employee engagement. Are employees excited to come to work each day? Do they love to work for the company? Team members who are connected to a higher purpose at work perform much better, which only improves business overall. John is the perfect example of that!
Every business strategy has long term and short term goals that business leaders rely on to outperform competitors while serving their purpose statement. A Good Company has goals around the release of new products, but doesn’t shy away from holding back release dates until the product is truly perfect for their consumers. Plaine Products has set goals around how many plastic bottles to divert from landfills, and they’ve already surpassed 200,000! The power of purpose is clearly shown in these measures of success.
For a purpose-driven organization, success doesn’t look any one way. But we can be sure when we purchase from B Corporations and other purpose-driven businesses that our dollars enable them to continue impactful environmental work and cultivate a sense of community for employees who are excited to go to work each day.
Leesa Sleep: Ending Childhood Bedlessness
Founded as a Benefit Corporation, Leesa was built around the global issue of childhood bedlessness. One in five children lives in poverty and doesn’t have access to a bed, which can lead to mental and physical health issues over time.
Leesa designs and builds innovative mattresses in the United States that are delivered straight to the customer’s door. As a B Corp, they’ve met rigorous standards for environmental and social standards. For every 10 beds they sell, Leesa donates 1 to a child in need. Already, they’ve donated over 38,000 beds.
To close the gap to 40,000 beds donated, Leesa is hosting an online campaign to involve customers and noncustomers alike in the opportunity to donate a bed to a child in need. By foregoing your own bed for one night and posting to social media with the hashtag #1bedlessnight, Leesa will donate a mattress on your behalf to give children healthier lives.
John Replogle, Chair of Leesa & Founding Partner of One Better Ventures
After working in corporate America, John realized that he needed his working life to align more with his personal values. As a job seeker, he knew he had to connect with the mission of his new company, so pursued a career that would impact human health and wellbeing. Since that decision, John served on Unilever’s team for the Real Beauty Campaign with Dove, became the CEO of Seventh Generation, and later the CEO of Burt’s Bees.
Now, John serves as the Executive Chair for Leesa Sleep and as a Founding Partner for One Better Ventures. On the leadership team at Leesa, John uses his extensive background in mission-driven work to amplify the brand’s mission to end childhood bedlessness. John believes that business can be a force for good and seeks to help scale businesses that are redefining success by addressing the triple bottom line and the world’s greatest issues at the same time.
“The reward of working with a team, a community, committed to a purpose really fires you up. It gets you through the lowest lows in business and it makes the highs that much higher.”
How To Start a Purpose-Driven Business (Or Embed New Practices Into a Current Business!)
John’s wide breadth of experience makes him quite the expert in purpose-driven business. Here are his top tips for success.
- Cultivate a Community: Your employees should be your biggest fans and most important community. By building a collaborative team, you already have great resources for pushing your company to higher levels of success.
- Utilize the Power of Storytelling: John relied on immersive storytelling to have employees and the public experience the reason behind the company’s organizational purpose. Through the #1bedless night campaign with Leesa, the company is encouraging the public to go through what many children go through nightly, the experience of sleeping without a bed. This encourages a mind shift and allows you to place more value into the work you’re doing for the company.
- Take the B Lab Assessment: Incorporate the B Lab Assessment into your framework early on to instill core values in your company. Then, check back on how you’ve progressed through the B Lab standards throughout the years. John encourages businesses to even have their suppliers and factories take the assessment, just to have a baseline on overall sustainability for your company.
Closing: Purpose-Driven Businesses Can Save the Planet
It’s 2020. We’ve been weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate clock was set up in Times Square, and it’s pretty clear that our behaviors need to change. Businesses have an imperative duty to give back to people and the planet and we’ve seen that it’s possible for traditionally successful businesses to integrate mission and purpose-driven work into their fold.
John told us that the future of business doesn’t look like businesses did 20 years ago. We know that the intersection of sustainability and businesses has the power to change the world for the better, so we need to support them where we can. Start purpose-driven businesses, support them, and share their stories.
For even more info on Leesa Sleep, check out our Leesa Mattress review.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- John on Linkedin
- Leesa on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
- One Better Ventures
- White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
- One Bedless Night
- Generation Investment Management
- Imagine (UK)
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.