Are the pressures of delivering quarterly earnings at odds with longer-term challenges, such as climate change?

Airmic is set to release ‘Roads to Repurposing’ later this year. “Airmic members and the wider business community have been hearing a lot about corporate purpose and the need for businesses to repurpose,” explains Hoe-Yeong Loke, Airmic’s research manager, who is leading the project.

“They wonder if it’s just the latest corporate speak, or if it is something they absolutely need to pay attention to, especially during the pandemic when many are rethinking business models.”

”Risk professionals have been at the forefront of organisations during the Covid-19 crisis. They are well positioned to navigate their organisations through the opportunities and challenges brought on by repurposing, while building up organisational resilience.”

Time for stakeholder capitalism?

Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, organisations in a wide range of industry sectors are adapting and remaining agile in order to survive and thrive.

But repurposing is much more than a short term adjustment. Faced with macro pressures, including climate change and resource scarcity, the concept of capitalism is being fundamentally reexamined. 

ESG [environmental, social and corporate governance], for instance, has become more than a buzzword. A study by NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business found that sustainability initiatives drives better financial performance due to improved risk management and more innovation. Meanwhile, new rules are coming into place to standardise ESG reporting.

”No one would have missed out on the word ‘repurposing’ in the media last year, in the sense of companies temporarily repurposing to support efforts to tackle the pandemic,” observes Loke. “Manufacturing companies redirected resources towards making ventilators where they previously didn’t, for example. That has given cachet to the term, but corporate purpose is much more than that. It is about rethinking an organisation’s reason for existence, and rethinking business models in tandem.”

”The longer term issues here are the pressures of delivering quarterly earnings and the trend towards shorter business cycles, whereas companies used to exist for decades or centuries. This raises issues for society at large, at a time of increasing challenges ranging from COVID-19 to climate change. Are businesses and organisations fit for the future?” 

He thinks the repurposing exercise is much more than just a fad, something the research will illustrate once it is complete. ”We are in the midst of interviews with thought leaders and companies, from which we hope to share many illuminating case studies on the results of their repurposing journeys. We are looking to release the final report by the end of the year. What we have published to date is a white paper, which lays down our thinking on the topic from conversations with our partners, and summarises what has been said out there about corporate purpose.”

Following on from Roads to Ruin (2011), Roads to Resilience (2014) and Roads to Revolution (2018), Roads to Repurposing is supported by Lockton, Crawford and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. Anette Mikes, associate professor at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, will sit as a member of the project advisory group.

Hoe-Yeong LokeHoe-Yeong Loke