Better on Purpose

Reimagining business, social & environmental impact at Target

“You do the best you can until you know better; and then when you know better, you do better.” I can’t remember where I first heard that—from Dr. Maya Angelou, or from my grandmother, who loved those wise words. I like them too; and I think they get to the heart of what it means to be a purpose-driven brand. Given the pace of change in today’s world, standing for something larger than ourselves means we have to be both principled and agile. You stay true to your beliefs, but you never stop getting better.


At Target, purpose has always been our compass and guide. We are unapologetic about returning value to our shareholders, but our founding family, the Daytons, believed business should also serve the interests of guests, team members, communities, and society. In 1976, Bruce Dayton, our then president and chairman, said, “To those who assert that business should operate only in its best interest, I contend that corporate social responsibility is in our best interest.”


There’s an inherent tension in doing good while doing well, but it can, and should, be a healthy tension. The key is to work through—not around—the difficult questions. At Target, we immerse ourselves in the lives of our guests to understand their hopes, dreams, frustrations and goals. We regularly assess materiality across a wide range of business and societal issues. We engage in local, national, and global stakeholder conversations to gauge where Target can contribute to meaningful change. And—based on what we learn—we live into our purpose in new ways, relevant to the moment.


As we evolve our work, we’ve learned a few lessons along the way:


Laysha Ward
Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer

Social responsibility is how we do what we do

Our strategic intent for corporate social responsibility is to fuel Target’s growth, improve people’s lives, and make a sustainable difference in the world. That aspiration is fully integrated with the company’s overall purpose and strategy. In other words, social responsibility is not a separate body of work at Target, it is a commitment that runs through our entire strategy. It’s how we do what we do.


For example, the wellness category is a signature business for Target, and so we are designing an integrated portfolio of products, programs and partnerships around healthy eating, active living and clean label solutions.


One example is UNICEF Kid Power, which gives kids the power to save lives by getting active with the world’s first Wearable-for-Good®. The more kids move, the more Kid Power Points they earn, and the more lives they save by unlocking packets of therapeutic food that UNICEF delivers to severely malnourished children around the world. This month we introduced the Band in all Target stores, in addition to selling on And this past spring, we were proud to support the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in the expansion of the UNICEF Kid Power school program, to get almost 70,000 students playing and active, while learning about the importance of global citizenship and physical activity alongside their classmates.


Honor what’s worked—but don’t settle on it

The Daytons insisted from our founding that five percent of company profits should be reinvested in the communities we serve, and that’s a commitment we still keep today—to the tune of now more than $4 million a week. But the investment includes much more than philanthropy. We are leveraging a full suite of assets, including prioritizing the time, talent and expertise of Target’s team members. Last year, the Target team volunteered more than 1 million hours in our communities, and we brought our intellectual capital to a variety of complex social problems.


Similarly, our commitment to sustainability looks very different in 2016 from when we sponsored the first Earth Day in in 1971. Early efforts included recycling cardboard in the backrooms of our stores and mobilizing Target volunteers for cleanup efforts along the Mississippi River near our headquarters. Today, the commitment to sustainability is built from a deep understanding of our direct and indirect impacts, and integrated across the business.
Create an ecosystem

The difference any one brand can make is limited, but leveraging our ecosystem of vendors, partners—and even competitors—creates exponential opportunity. A couple of examples:


  • Target’s Made to Matter program features and promotes purpose-driven brands in our stores and at On average, sales of our Made to Matter brands grew 30 percent last year, 1.5 times faster than the same brands grew outside of Target.


  • We have partnered with Walmart to cofound a leadership group within the beauty and personal care sector—made up of members from across the value chain including retailers, product manufacturers, and chemical companies—to steer the sector toward ingredient transparency and producing better and more sustainable products. Even though some of us compete with one another, we are committed to driving transformational change together.



Innovate through human-centered design

We think design matters, that it makes people’s lives better, which is why great design has always been a cornerstone of the Target brand experience. This ethos informs our approach to corporate social responsibility, as well, in part because we believe lasting solutions always emerge from human approach to design. For example, we’ve launched a partnership between Target, MIT and IDEO, to imagine the future of food. The coLab has a wide array of projects in development – everything from food transparency and authenticity to supply chain and education. A couple of early tests were live last month, and you can stop by Target’s booth in the Activation Hub on Wednesday evening to check out another early stage idea.


Be curious

“Be curious” is one of our core beliefs at Target. It’s what keeps us looking around the corner, under the surface, and behind the curtain for what’s next. A hundred-year history of good citizenship is not a certificate of accomplishment. It doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. We are curious for more learning, new ideas, and better ways of tackling old problems to create a sustainable future. Conferences like this one offer us all opportunities to learn and share our successes and failures to drive meaningful change in our world.

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