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What applying for B Corp-certification taught me about realistic sustainability

As the ink dries, the dust settles and the trains depart, it will take a while to work out what the agreements made at Cop26 mean in reality – both in ‘big picture’ terms and for us as individuals. One thing’s for sure though, it’s time for drastic action and we all have a role to play. Businesses, brands, staff and consumers are all demanding better, and agencies must practice what they preach when it comes to making meaningful changes.

An agency’s job is to advise its clients, but often our advisory roles mean that we can slip under the accountability radar when it comes to our own company. However, not putting our money where our mouths are will trip us up in the long run – both professionally and, more importantly, ethically. Professionally because brands are looking for green-conscious agencies that aren’t just blowing smoke, and ethically because both Cop26 and August’s devastating IPCC climate report have hopefully given everyone a much-needed kick up the backside.

Having submitted Hooton’s B Corp application this autumn, I’d like to pass on the below advice to other agencies that would like to get on board with ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance).

  • It’s worth looking through the B Corp assessment to learn what it takes to be considered ‘sustainable’ regardless of whether you’re thinking of applying now. It’s a real eye-opener, bringing up issues and solutions that probably haven’t even crossed your mind. For example, it’s only since starting the process that I understood how much carbon footprint a website has.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture. By all means, have lofty goals, but also be realistic. A year ago, the Hooton team made a document laying out our sustainability aims: Step 1 – save the world. Step 2 – save the world some more. Seeing the sheer scale and breadth of what’s at stake in black and white can feel intimidating. Yet, I’m glad we made the list because it forced us to get realistic. What can Hooton actually do to make a difference to its people, its environment and its industry? What HR systems, benefits and support can we offer? What can we do for our local community? What pro bono work can we take on? Focusing on smaller, more manageable steps made us feel like we could really contribute.
  • Brace yourself for the long haul. Change doesn’t happen overnight, (even just applying for B Corp can take years), but the structures and policies you establish now will soon become routine. Only a few years ago, many European agencies wouldn’t have thought twice about flying to the US for a weekend to meet clients or blowing a brand’s budget on a flash shoot in Italy. Both climate change and the pandemic have put that kind of excess under the microscope. It would be a brave production manager who suggests jumping on a plane for a 14-hour flight to attend an hour’s meeting nowadays (if Covid allowed). Sustainability is an (entirely necessary) change of mindset. People who resist the changes are the ones who are going to be left behind.
  • Normalise transparency and honesty around the subject. I think there’s a fear within agencies in admitting they don’t know how to do this or that. Because we work in an advisory capacity, it can seem self-defeating to say, “I don’t know how that works” or “is this actually a good idea?”. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we’re all in this together. Being transparent will only help us to learn, grow and get to where we want and need to be faster. It will also combat accusations of green-washing. People only misrepresent something if they either don’t understand it, don’t believe in it or are actually trying to get away with it.
  • It’s not unethical to admit that being more sustainable is a sound financial business plan. I’d be lying if I said the business benefits of being B Corp-certified aren’t a motivation behind Hooton’s application. I know the agency will appeal more to clients that are themselves looking to cross that bridge and also who are of a similar mindset. It’s a huge tick in the box that says you care, you’re willing to make changes, you can work hard, and that you do indeed practice what you preach.
July 05, 2022