Purpose-Driven Strategy: Creating a Sustainable Business While Solving the World's Challenges

06/30/2015 10:15 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016

Big doesn't begin to describe the amount of data the world generates in a day. In fact, Ernst & Young reports that the world creates as much data in 10 minutes as in all of human history up until the year 2003. This volume will continue to multiply exponentially as new technologies, like immersive computing and wearable devices, make generating and sharing content even more pervasive.

With an increasing global population and a rising middle class in emerging economies, billions more people will be connecting in the coming decade, shifting the centers of power in the world and further accelerating the data explosion.

All that data is collected, processed, stored and managed in large-scale data centers around the world, which collectively consume a tremendous amount of energy, and may soon require more energy than we can even produce each year.

That's why HP Chairman, President and CEO Meg Whitman has said, "Business as usual is not sustainable."

Clearly, we have to think and act differently in the way we conduct business, and the time for action is now.

Sustainable business, sustainable world

Companies like Unilever and HP have embraced this opportunity to firmly embed purpose into the heart of their business strategy. This integration is essential not only for society, but for long-term business growth, fueling the transition to a sustainable economy.

For some companies, sustainability-related products or services are the reason they exist--think alternative energy companies and businesses driving the sharing economy. But other companies adopt this strategy out of urgency and necessity, perhaps resulting from risks to their supply chain or financial challenges.

For HP, it was largely driven by our company turnaround strategy. While sustainability has been embedded in HP's DNA from the beginning, it wasn't always completely intertwined with our business strategy. Our leadership recognized that to optimize its value, sustainability couldn't be something we did alongside our business--it had to be core to our business strategy. In this way, HP could drive sustainable growth while solving the world's toughest challenges.

In 2013, HP launched Living Progress, which is our framework for thinking about how we do business. To us it means creating a better future for everyone through our actions and innovations. We do this by working to develop the most resource-efficient information technology (IT) products and services through the most responsible value chain.

Resource-efficient products and services

Putting purpose at the heart of strategy inspires companies to think differently about innovation; to reach beyond incremental improvements to create transformative solutions; to connect customer needs with human, economic and environmental impact. The result can be game-changing innovation that creates new market opportunities.

For example, the energy and space constraints that threaten the future of data centers is not a problem we can afford to simply slow down by making technology a little smaller or a little more efficient. We must completely rethink the way technology is delivered.

For HP, this type of innovation is imperative for the sustainability and competitiveness of our own business--and for the stability and growth of the global economy. That's why HP Labs is focused on transformational research called The Machine that will redefine how we think about computing in this big data era. The resulting solutions will be orders of magnitude faster, use the optimal amount of energy for the task, and be built at a fraction of the size.

We also know how we do it is just as important as what we do.

Most responsible value chain

To make a sustainable impact and continue fueling our world's economy, we believe companies must take responsibility across their entire value chain and help drive human, economic and environmental progress.

With one of the most expansive supply chains in the IT industry, we work diligently to improve the resiliency and reduce the risks, while protecting the health and well-being of the workers that support that entire chain. Since more than half of our final assembly manufacturers are located in China, this has been an area of great focus at HP. We continuously look for ways to improve the lives of workers across our supply chain and raise the bar for the industry.

Engaging employees

Aligning strategy around a common purpose can also help engage and excite employees. In 2014, the HP Company Foundation [i] launched the Matter to a Million employee engagement program with Kiva, a non-profit organization working to alleviate poverty by connecting people through micro lending. Through the Matter to a Million program every HP employee receives multiple $25 credits to loan to small business owners through Kiva. This five-year collaboration with Kiva gives HP employees multiple opportunities to contribute and be active participants in driving economic progress in global communities.

Capture return, build value

Our journey to create a better future began with putting purpose at the heart of our strategy. As we continue to execute on our turnaround and prepare to separate into two Fortune 50 companies, having a clearly articulated vision of citizenship that's intertwined with our innovation, operations and social investment provides us with an essential roadmap. We're realizing this vision through innovations that focus the creativity and talents of our employees on developing solutions that build a sustainable future for our business and for the global economy.

By adopting a purpose-driven strategy and integrating sustainability across their entire value chain, companies can capture return on capital today and build the leadership and business value for their future. These investments help companies create a competitive advantage, build stability, and provide assurances to stakeholders that they are well positioned for the challenges of the 21st century, all which help accelerate a sustainable economy.

This blog post is an abridged version of an article originally published in Reframing the Game: The Transition to a New Sustainable Economy -- edited by Mike Townsend and published by Greenleaf -- and is available now.

[i] Hewlett-Packard Company is the sole contributor to the Hewlett-Packard Company Foundation and has funded the Foundation throughout the last 35 years.

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