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Purpose vs Impact: What is driving your sustainability goals?

Are you purpose-driven or impact-driven? You might not know it, but the drive behind your adopting the green lifestyle could be the reason you are experiencing burn-out.

Individuals who adopt the green lifestyle all want to change their environment positively but they do not generally have the same drive. The reasons behind their decision might differ. Some of these reasons can either be driven by a sense of purpose or be based on some impact they hope to make on their community or on the world as a whole.

On the surface level, purpose and impact might look similar but they are not. They do have similarities but they are actually quite different. There are several downsides to each too. And at the same time, there are several upsides. Having knowledge of both is important for individuals considering this path so they will not rush into this way of life ill-prepared.

We will start with a simple analysis of the two.

Analysis of Purpose Driven and Impact Driven Motives

The two promises result in a change. Whether a person adopts the green lifestyle because of a purpose they hope to achieve or an impact they hope to make, they both are vying for some goal. They are both not satisfied with the current state of things and are ready to take action to effect a change. The difference is that an impact-driven endeavor gains its influence from without while a purpose-driven one gains its influence from within.

An individual or organization adopting sustainable practices because of an impact they want to make are externally focused. They have seen something missing in the world or in a society and are hoping to fix it. They are hoping their activities influence some change.

In contrast, an individual or organization adopting a sustainable lifestyle based on a purpose they want to achieve, focus most on their work and activities within. The change they want to make is mainly for them.

Impact-driven people are generally reactors. They see some wrong that needs to be corrected and react based on that wrong, focusing most of their time and energy trying to correct that wrong. They are mostly activists, volunteers, and workers in non-profit organizations. They are usually emotional about the work that they do. Many of them even work long hours and sacrifice time, energy, and sometimes relationships to see that their goal pushes through.

Purpose-driven individuals care for the world and want change too, but they have boundaries and limits. They are less emotional and they know, based on the goals they have set, where their boundaries lie. Their goals are usually less utopian and dreamy.  

While an impact-driven person might strive to change the world, a purpose-driven person will strive to change something about himself or his path that would later affect the world as a whole. Their effort is seen in the small and big decisions they make. For example, they will manage waste, water, and energy well. They are also most likely to plant a small garden than a large farm or greenhouse and they are most likely to install solar panels in their house and switch off bulbs only when they are needed.

Purpose is more wholesome. An individual with this mindset has identified what he or she wants to be consistent in or wants to achieve in the long run of his life. Impact is more fixed on something it wants to change. It’s not the only thing the individual wants to achieve but at that moment, it is what the individual is most passionate about.

Effects of the Drives on Sustainability

Sustainability is sustained on both drives. Businesses and individuals who aim to change something in their environment, like the number of trees planted or the waste management of their community, have an impact-driven sustainable outlook. They are looking outward, trying to effect some change in their environment around them. They are less likely to identify personal actions they need to quit or change. Sometimes these people still go ahead to use fuel-powered vehicles and electricity generators or adopt production practices that negatively affect the eco-system. They have a sustainable outlook but only in general and obvious areas, other areas needed for sustainability are ignored.

Businesses and individuals with a purpose-driven sustainable outlook, seek to be better citizens of the Earth as a whole. They make sure that their personal and day-to-day activities are not causing harm to the eco-system. They might contribute to grander projects for nature like planting large trees or creating awareness about deforestation but they would not do that often as they are focused mainly on themselves and being better people or individuals. Their footprint is important for a change but the grander needs of sustainability will be largely ignored.

Pros and Cons of Purpose Driven Motive


Focus. It helps you stay focused. This drive is not powered on immediate results and so an individual is less likely to lose focus.

Joy. It helps an individual enjoy the work or activities he/she engages in for his goal. It is less fanatic or based on heightened emotions. It usually gives the individual a sense of satisfaction and joy.

Value. In as much as you would make great sacrifices, the value you will gain from the experience will by far supersede the sacrifices.

Relationships. An individual with this drive is more likely to seek new relationships to share his or her dreams and goals with.

Goals. This drive helps a person have a clearly defined goal. The person is less likely to jump from one activity to the other as his or her goal is definite and concise.


Impact. Since their focus is mainly inward, Purpose driven individuals usually don’t make much impact on the world or society around them as a whole.

Selfish. They make less sacrifices and are less likely to abandon their cause to pursue another with more pressing need. Their purpose comes with unconscious boundaries and anything that won’t help them achieve this wholeness is usually ignored.

Intelligent. They might have knowledge on the path they are trying to steer into but are usually oblivious of so many other things as they don’t have the direct need to research on them.

Pros and Cons of Impact Driven Motive


Activists. Individuals with this drive are most likely to be activists. They create awareness for the green cause. They make sure a lot of people know its ills with workshops, seminars, tours etc. They meet with corporate officials and fight to achieve sustainability in life’s areas.

Doers. Individuals with this drive are very active people. They do not shy or back down from a good challenge and are always seeking for more opportunities to achieve their goal.

Bold. Individuals with the aim of creating impact might not start off as bold people but they eventually become one as their need for change rises in crescendo.

Intelligent. These individuals are usually well-read. They read magazines, periodicals, books, pamphlets, etc to stay abreast of world and environmental conditions.

Sacrifices. They never shy away from making huge sacrifices for their goal. Some abandon homes, donate huge amounts of money, or give of their time to constantly lend their hands for causes.


Relationships. Impact-driven individuals might have a lot of acquaintances because they make themselves available and ‘out-there’ to make an impact but they rarely have deep, quality friendships that stand the test of time.

Goals. They don’t have a defined goal. All they have is a dream and so they tend to jump from one activity to the other in their quest to fulfill that dream.

Self-Neglect. These people often neglect themselves and their own needs in their quest to achieve something for the greater good. They usually give more than they get.

Discouragement. Individuals with this drive are most likely to get discouraged. When the impact they hope to make is a long time coming or when people tend to ignore or misuse their efforts, they could give up.

Health. They might experience burn-out and exhaustion from the amount of energy they keep expending. They are also most likely to suffer from tropical and other contagious diseases.

Verdict: choosing between purpose and impact

The two are intricately linked. A lot of impact-driven people started out with a purposeful drive but in the long run got emotional and passionate about change as a whole. Some purpose-driven individuals also started off seeking to effect some change before finding their true life purpose.

The two drives are quite important. None really trumps the other. In the long run, synchronization will be best. But if you are seeking to adopt the green path for the duration of your life, it will be best to have a more purpose-focused outlook. That way you reduce discouragement and burnouts.

Further reading:

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