As the agency enters its 25th year I’ve been reflecting on the journey we’ve been on.

When we started, helping brands who wanted to have a positive impact on the world was just one of our areas of focus that we felt was important. A few years later, success and demand meant that this became our only focus.

Back then the term Purpose had yet to be coined, doing good was the remit of charities and regarded as unnecessary for businesses by all but a very few. Brands like Body Shop, Patagonia, and Green and Black’s, who were founded on social and/or environmental principles, were the exception.
And it is easy to see why. In the 90’s Milton Friedman’s philosophy that business only had a duty to shareholders and no duty of care to society or the environment still dominated corporate thinking and behaviour.

CSR was used as a defensive mechanism to protect a brand’s reputation. And defend shareholder value.

There were many committed groups trying to persuade business to do the right thing, but change was slow and resisted.

Fast forward to today and many of the challenges we face are the same as 25 years ago but much more acute; to the extent that whole economies and many communities are suffering because of inaction on climate change, significant disinvestment in civil society by government and extreme wealth inequality. There are also new, and equally significant challenges, the exploitation and abuse of data, an obesity epidemic, unsustainable levels of waste and a crisis in mental wellbeing.

Many of these problems, old and new, have been caused by business, but now business is facing an unstoppable force of human conscience. To survive, businesses have to behave in a way that reflects the values of their customers and employees, rather than follow Friedman’s corporate mantra of profit at all costs.

More enlightened businesses, like Nike and Ikea, have already responded by operating with an authentic Purpose, and benefiting from doing so; others are either struggling to work out how to respond, like Starbucks and Pepsi or claiming Purpose where there is none, and suffer the damaging consequences, like Facebook, Amazon and Google.

So, looking forward to the next 25 years. I am incredibly optimistic that the levels of creativity, innovation and commitment within business and wider society are so powerful that we will see the fall of brands that behave like Facebook, the rise of more brands that behave like Unilever and many, many more created with the values of Patagonia.

And it’s our agency’s purpose to make sure this happens.