Purpose Trends 2021


26 / 03 / 2021

2021 follows a year of seismic shifts when it comes to the way businesses operate, the globe’s sustainability progress and the way we come together (or are divided) as a society - and the shifts are still in play.

With that in mind, how has this impacted the role of purpose in business for the coming year? What will be the areas of focus and where are we set to see the most change?



Post-pandemic paradigm shift

When it comes to business, the pandemic has challenged everything. Even for those fortunate businesses not in a fight for survival, the last year has forced adaptation to the extreme. The traditional corporate structure has been well and truly dismantled and 2021 will mark the beginning of a reset where the private sector will be expected to step up and play a crucial role in creating a better system for all.

The activist CEO

Cancel culture isn’t a temporary internet phenomenon, it is reflective of citizens’ rising expectations around the world and the increased scrutiny that brands and businesses will face this year. The events of 2020 mark a critical shift in people’s understanding of the role businesses play in society and consumers expect them to lead by example. But as some brands rush to join the conversation before they’ve put real plans and concrete actions in place - we’ll continue to see more backlash against anything that suggests ‘purpose-washing’.

Sustainability sitting firmly on the board

If the 2000s saw the emergence of the CTO and the 2010’s the creation of the CCO (Chief Customer Officer) – then the 20’s will be marked by the arrival of the CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) as the new most important voice at the executive table. We’ve seen the rising influence and importance of the CSO at board level in recent years, and in 2021 we’ll continue to see their efforts at a management level, bringing social and environmental issues into business decisions and strategy.

Business alliance over the common good

In 2021, we expect to see more businesses partnering on purpose-related issues, sharing agendas and working together to create positive change. 2020 fostered a spirit of collaboration for common goals and we will see more of this in 2021. At the end of last year, many businesses pledged their commitment to the new campaign Make My Money Matter, which calls for the trillions that are invested in our pensions to help build a better world. BT recently announced its £55bn pension fund – the UK’s biggest private company pension scheme managing the savings of over 300,000 people – is committing to Net Zero by 2035.

Sustainability becoming accessible

2020 was a tipping point for sustainability going mainstream. But still too many barriers stand in the way for those wanting to make better, more ethical consumer choices. At Walmart, research showed that although customers desired more sustainable products, many did not have the means to pay extra. This led Walmart to focus less on consumers and more on suppliers - working with them to make products more sustainable without a meaningful increase in price.