People, planet and profit

People, planet and profit

< Back to Articles | Topics: Positive business environment | Contributors: Erin Elaine Casey | Published: July 2, 2019

More and more businesses in Atlantic Canada are looking at their “triple bottom line” — people, planet and profit. But does taking a strategic approach to creating social and environmental benefits help businesses navigate the competitive challenges we face here, including recruitment and retention, revenue growth, attracting investment and innovation?

The answer is most definitely yes.

Allison Murray is CEO and founder of Upswing Solutions, a Halifax-based consultancy that helps companies design and implement purpose-led business and product strategies, measure their progress and share their stories.

A purpose-led business is a for-profit company that can clearly demonstrate their products, services and operations are improving the well-being of their customers, their employees, their communities and the environment. Murray started Upswing about a year and a half ago after working much of her career with large multinational companies on social responsibility, sustainability and purpose.

“There wasn’t a lot of talk about purpose-led business in Atlantic Canada, although I could see many operating here,” she says. “The concept of social enterprise is well understood, but in terms of traditional, for-profit businesses who have a clear social and environmental benefit built into their business strategy, it wasn’t really part of the conversations I was hearing.”

Murray’s solution was to create The Purpose Project. She set out to talk to CEOs across the region about their purpose-led businesses. The resulting report, The Purpose Advantage: How purpose-led businesses are growing and thriving in Atlantic Canada, shines a light on how robust the purpose-led business landscape is in our region and builds a strong case for making money while doing good.

“We wanted to know: how are purpose-led businesses turning the competitive challenges we face here to their advantage?” says Murray. Every single CEO Murray interviewed — more than a dozen — reported that a clear business purpose has helped them attract investment, innovate, transform and drive strategy. Ninety per cent said it helps them recruit employees, connect with customers and generate revenue.

T4G is a large data analytics, digital marketing and custom software company operating out of Halifax, Moncton, Saint John, Toronto and Vancouver. Their purpose? Changing the world, one project at a time.

Executive Vice President Mark Fraser participated in The Purpose Project. “We’ve always had a community-minded orientation and 16 or 17 years ago we created T4G’s Future Focus Foundation to raise money to give to organizations that help kids succeed,” he explains. “Why wouldn’t we embrace the idea of making good profit while doing no harm?”

T4G was recently named a Great Place to Work in Canada for the 12th year in a row. They also earned B Corporation certification about 18 months ago. Certified B Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. “In our first year of being certified, we were recognized as Best in the World for Workers, putting us in the top 10 per cent of B Corps worldwide,” he says proudly.

“We now have clients seeking us out because we’re purpose-led and we’re starting to pitch that more.”

Employees get time off to volunteer for the charity of their choice, and several start-ups are housed in T4G’s offices. The company is also deeply committed to attracting and retaining top talent and works directly with universities to hire recent graduates and new immigrants. “We’re committed to making our business a force for change,” says Fraser.

John Robertson is CEO of Home-EXCEPT, another company involved in The Purpose Project. HomeEXCEPT also happens to be one of the start-ups housed at T4G. Their purpose is to provide non-intrusive monitoring solutions for exceptional peace of mind.

“The idea started from looking at the problems people face in being able to stay in their homes longer,” explains Robertson. “What we found is that families were constantly worried. When you watch a 65-year-old daughter crying about her 85-year-old mom it breaks your heart. There were lots of monitoring solutions out there, but we wanted to create non-intrusive ways to monitor —
no cameras, no listening devices, no wearables.” These systems don’t listen to, or watch you and don’t collect personal data, unlike other home security and smart home options.

HomeEXCEPT’s thermal, motion, light and sound sensors have many benefits beyond peace of mind. Robertson predicts they will also help address capacity challenges in the health-care system by keeping people at home longer with fewer interventions.

“By using sensors and AI, we can start predicting and preventing unfortunate things from happening. So when routines change in the home, we can see that dad’s going to the bathroom more, mom’s watching TV a lot or not sleeping, dad’s leaving the stove on. It works in nursing homes and hospitals as well.”

The company went commercial in June with their first partner in Atlantic Canada, Wilsons Security. “We wanted to partner with a trusted brand in the region,” says Robertson. HomeEXCEPT just made the Branham Group’s Top 25 Canadian Up and Coming ICT Companies

“Purpose is everything behind this business, right down to the fibres of how we run our company. There are no ‘positions’ — everyone in here plays a role. Almost everyone is under 30. We have complete equal pay and good gender balance.”

Fraser and Robertson agree that creating the right environment is key to attracting and retaining talent. “People want autonomy,” says Robertson, who employs nine people full time and has plans to hire both students and seniors in the future. “They want to work on things they’re passionate about, have control over their time, work with people they like and have an impact. They don’t want to punch a clock.”

“They’re not here because I’m paying the biggest salary,” he adds. “They’re here because they like being on the bleeding edge of technology. We want to be hiring young talent, particularly immigrants who want to stay and do something good.”

“We’ve incorporated our purpose into our talent search processes,” says Fraser. “We’re looking for people who want to think differently. Rebels drive businesses forward. We might even have used the word ‘insurrection’ at one point,” he laughs. And having a handful of start-ups onsite gives T4G’s staff a taste of that start-up excitement whenever they want to pitch in.

Sheena Russell is founder and CEO of Made With Local. You’ve likely seen their snack bars, mixes and oatmeals at local grocery chains and specialty stores. The mission “to build and nurture our local community through local suppliers and social enterprises and to be the voice of intuitive, mindful nourishment in the snack aisle” was not part of Russell’s initial plan. Her message to anyone considering making their business more purpose-led? “You don’t have to be a raging philanthropist — start with where you’re at.”

Russell’s farmer’s market-based enterprise started as a “locavore” initiative, but as the business grew and the need for production outstripped the home kitchens of its founders she knew she needed something to bridge the gap. That’s where social enterprise comes in. A social enterprise is a business or organization operated for the purpose of addressing social, cultural or environmental challenges, with the majority of profits reinvested to support community needs.

Russell started five years ago with the Flower Cart Group’s What’s Cooking Commercial Kitchen in New Minas. Today, that kitchen bakes and packs the vast majority of Made With Local’s
Real Food Bars, sometimes thousands a week. The Dartmouth Adult Services Centre handles the Loaded Oats and Real Food Bar mixes, and the Stone Hearth Bakery bakes and packs private label bars for the Farm Boy grocery chain in Ontario. All three organizations provide work opportunities for people with barriers to employment.

“I didn’t start with a ‘global saviour’ perspective,” laughs Russell. “But after partnering with the Flower Cart, we saw it was a total game changer that amplified our local impact in a major way. You’re impacting dozens of families, and it’s huge.”

She is deeply grateful for the work of her social enterprise partners’ clients. “We get lots of praise for what we do for these organizations, but I like to flip that on its head. How lucky are we to have been able to build a business that we could scale gradually with these amazing values that they’ve instilled in us?”

Made With Local is not only profitable, May 2019 was their best month on record as they begin national distribution through Loblaw’s. They also recently earned B Corp certification. “Our social impact is literally baked into the business. It just feels natural and the way you do things.”

All three CEOs see purpose-led business as a key to building a prosperous future in Atlantic Canada, and wouldn’t have their businesses follow any other path.

Allison Murray emphasizes that any business, any size, at any stage of development can introduce purpose into their business strategy. “This is an opportunity for established businesses to look at their impact on the world. Begin by asking how do we make our products and services better for people and our environment? The opportunity is there and the benefits are clear. You can start with one product line and go from there. And your company’s going to be different.”

“Go for it,” says Robertson. “Nothing feels better than waking up in the morning and wanting to go to work. I didn’t build this to exit — this is about building a company here. Everything is made and built here in Atlantic Canada and we’re sticking around. My investors bought into the problem we’re solving and they bought into me.”

“Start where you are,” adds Russell. “It can be as simple as deciding that one day a month all your staff is going to go volunteer somewhere. We donate oatmeal and our time at the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre. Think about things you can do that don’t cost anything. It’s doable and it doesn’t feel hard.”

“I think purpose helps us become more profitable by hiring people who want to stay,” explains Fraser. “I make no excuse for the business benefit I enjoy for being a B Corp. Yes, we invested in that, and yes I expect a return on that investment.”

“I want to make money and save the world, and I can’t do one without the other.”

To learn more or download the report, visit

To find out how to put your
business purpose into action,

< Back to Articles | Topics: Positive business environment

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