Sunday, August 13, 2023

Q&A with Sandy Skees



Sandy Skees is the author of the new book Purposeful Brands: How Purpose and Sustainability Drive Brand Value and Positive Change. She is executive vice president, Global Purpose and Impact lead, at Porter Novelli, and she's based in Santa Cruz, California.


Q: What inspired you to write this book?


A: The book is the culmination of almost two decades doing work helping brands become more thoughtful and intentional. Business at scale can help in ways almost no other sector can. The faster we can get businesses to accept that responsibility to the commons, [the better]. This book is a blueprint.


Most of purpose gets operationalized through sustainability. It’s important to create change in businesses, and also a cultural change needs to happen. We’re watching it play out now, for example, from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles. Companies saw that this was the way things were moving; you also need to change the market at the same time that you change the business model.


Q: What are some brands you think are doing an especially good job on this front?


A: “The commons” involves environmental and also social cohesion. I don’t think there’s any company that’s moving fast enough, but there’s some interesting work by Proctor & Gamble on consumer packaged goods. They’re in the buy/use/throw away sector, and they’re working to come up with new formulations for more long-term use.


Tide is looking at washing in cold water. When they can tell us to wash in cold water, clothes last longer. There are cascading things that they will take responsibility for educating us about. The idea is to work toward having the normal setting on a washing machine be less hot.


In my role talking with executives, we see concepts of circularity. Everyone is beginning to see that our business models may need a shift to service models, subscription models that don’t depend on customers always buying the next thing.


Q: What changes have you seen over the years, and what do you see looking ahead?


A: In 2018-2019 Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, began changing his rhetoric, and saying that purpose went beyond profit. That was something we were going to work with.


Profit-only companies are missing the needs of multiple stakeholders. There was a myth that if a company did anything to benefit society or the environment, it was harmful to the stakeholders. But the companies with the idea that they need to be good partners are outperforming other companies in the S&P. They’re better-run companies.


The younger generations are moving into management, and there’s a sea-change in perspectives. All these things converged. And then there was the pandemic, which showed us how vulnerable we were as a society.


Q: Can you say more about the impact of the pandemic on your work?


A: Businesses understood how fragile our social constructs are, how fragile the global supply chain is. I saw how quickly they could pivot. It didn’t change the business model forever, but it proved companies can change, and change fast.


Q: And what impact do you see the current political climate having?


A: It’s playing a role of creating massive chasms, pitting two idea camps against each other and maintaining a binary view of the world.


Q: So what do you see looking ahead?


A: It’s having a tempering effect on companies I work with. What I’m hearing is how do we actively talk about it in a way that doesn’t activate activism against us.


A diverse force is what we have and will have, and we have to create a sense of belonging and safety. The question is how we talk about it. Move away from numbers, quotas, targets, and talk about the human benefits of decarbonization and the workforce.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: This is my work every day. It’s fascinating to watch companies waking up to the reality of where we are and what’s required by their businesses. My hope with the book is to provide a sense of hope and provide a road map.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The book is part personal and part professional. There’s the integration of personal purpose and how you leverage that within your organization to have it available to everyone in the organization. My personal journey is in there, and some future-forward advice from experts.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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