‘Building in’ purpose when shaping our future cities

A conversation with Mace’s David Hendy and WSP’s Emily Binning

City dwellers are taking over the world. Today, 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas and, by 2050, that is set to increase to 68%. Combine that with general population growth, and the world’s cities are set to home an additional 2.5 billion people.

This poses two important questions: how do we shape our cities to make life valuable for citizens, and what do we do about the energy they’re going to need?

It is vital that these environments adequately reflect the population they house, and play an integral role in a radically more sustainable future – requirements that filter directly down to the organisations building our cities. Afterall, if an organisation isn’t sustainable or diverse enough (in its make-up, thinking, approach and outlook) then its output won’t be either.

We managed to secure the time of David Hendy, Head of Corporate Communications at Mace, and Emily Binning, UK Head of Brand and Marketing at WSP, to explore how firms operating in the built environment are responding to this, in terms of their organisational purpose.

Please follow this link to listen to the podcast or, if you’d prefer reading, we’ve summarised some key points from the discussion below.

The need for values and vision

In our discussion, it quickly became clear that an internal purpose speaks to the outside world loudly.

Both David and Emily agree that a having a defined purpose, one that’s central to what they do, can help guide the organisation through difficult circumstances and ensure that those within the business do not lose sight of their reason for being: building structures for, and helping better the lives of, people.

And, as Covid-19 hit, the sector certainly faced difficult circumstances. A point of pride for David was, despite the seismic disruption impacting the entire industry, Mace’s commitment to defining and articulating its organisational purpose – To Redefine the Boundaries of Ambitionto help futureproof the direction and vision of the organisation going forward.

Similarly, for WSP, the challenging environment of the past year saw a commitment to its set of guiding principles including helping communities thrive, challenging the status quo, and holding themselves accountable for tomorrow. In practice, this takes the shape of its Global Innovation Programme, its commitment to net-zero and also its Changemakers initiative.

Leading from the top down

As Emily puts it, for any purpose initiative to be successful, it must take the form of a business imperative. Metaphorically, purpose needs to be ‘baked’ into the business. Once it’s there, it will come out authentically in how the business communicates its story.

And David echoes this; once a purpose is really part of a business’ make up, you can be more confident that there will be buy-in throughout the company.

What does this mean for marketing and communications experts? That there’s a responsibility to ensure that what the company is saying externally is truly felt by all colleagues across the business. For Mace, that’s everybody – right down to the assistant manager on a small construction site, physically and mentally removed from the development of the firm’s corporate agenda. An organisation’s purpose needs to resonate with everyone, to realise the potential it can deliver.

Roadmap to net-zero

Then there’s the roadmap to achieving net-zero and the role of the built environment within this.

For both David and Emily, this is the biggest driver for better and more holistic industry collaboration. Back to the purpose of the industry, serving people rather than just profit margins; it’s a lot easier for purpose driven organisations to collaborate – yes, even with historic competitors – to develop innovative, far reaching solutions that can help address the environmental challenges we currently face.

This sentiment, of us all being in it together to support a greater societal cause, was reiterated by Emily. And she pointed out that new talent is very conscious of this. WSP has found that when interviewing candidates, it is the interviewers now being sounded out – it is down to them to convince candidates that they share their beliefs and the ambitions that they wish to pursue. So, to secure talent, its critically important that statements of organisational purpose are founded in truth and talk to the broader positive impact the company can have.

An exciting future ahead

Finally, what was clear was the opportunity that those in the built environment have to do good – good for business and for the world. What’s key to this is purpose sitting at the centre of organisations, to help businesses make that crucial emotional connection with employees and customers, and guide the decision-making process.

And for marketing and communications teams, well they can become true strategic advisers; playing a key role in ensuring sustainability pledges are met and communicated to drive and inspire change.

Written by Harriet Rich, Corporate MD

For more information on how to discover, articulate and communicate your Purpose, get in touch.