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By Ellen Ormesher | Senior Reporter

April 20, 2023 | 7 min read

The certification is just the beginning of the agency’s sustainable transformation.

Becoming a B-Corp is no mean feat for any company – requiring total transparency and rigorous measurement. So B-Corp certification for a global network advertising agency across nine offices in seven countries is quite the achievement.

Blake Harrop, managing director of Wieden+Kennedy (W+K) Amsterdam and Luke Purdy, social impact director, talk us through how it came to this.

W+K Amsterdam was the first office in the network to claim the certification, back in 2021. “Leadership took notice,” explains Luke Purdy, social impact director at the agency.

“Everyone was quick to say ‘Who wants to be a better company? Raise your hand. Ok, let’s go for it’ and we dove into the process,” which required every team across every office to “really get down to the nitty-gritty” of what was happening across the regions and took two years (due in part to the growing queue of companies outside B-Labs applying for certification).

“A single office certifying first is reflective of W+K’s offices around the world,” explains Amsterdam’s managing director, Blake Harrop. “We’re quite independent.”

“Starting in Amsterdam we had the freedom to go out and look into the audit process – we thought it would teach us something about where we hoped to go.”

He says that the initial process was invaluable, as it highlighted where the agency needed to improve and allowed the team to distribute that knowledge across the different regions. “We had to get into the brass tacks.”

Both Purdy and Harrop stress that certifying across the different offices took some dedication, “we had to consolidate everyone’s answers to 260 questions into a final answer that would represent W+K,” explains Purdy.

When asked whether consolidating the process across the different regions highlighted any areas for improvement, the duo was quick to say it “is a real pride point for us.”

Purdy explains that when the Amsterdam team went through the certification, it scored quite low in the environmental section. “We weren’t doing anything wrong per se, but we didn’t have strict policies.”

Now he says, through the B-Corp certification process, W+K has begun to measure its global emissions (“we now have data from 2019 onwards”) using decarbonization specialists Zevero and carbon offsetting partner, Klimate. The partnership helped the network reduce emissions by 16% and its environmental score in its global application has doubled.

“It’s great to see the progress we’ve made in just two years,” says Purdy.

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And while B-Corp certification doesn’t necessarily dictate which clients an ad agency can and cannot work with, Harrop says “it puts a healthy pressure on us in every decision we make”.

When asked whether B-Corp status would solidify a commitment to not work with fossil fuel clients, Harrop replied that “it doesn’t mean we have a ruthless filter. We work with other B-Corps, companies exclusively in the renewals space and companies with issues that they need to tackle”. For example, W+K works with Grundfos, the world’s largest water pump company, as well as automotive giants and Formula 1.

“Ultimately, our clients reflect the values of the people who work for us,” he says. Citing the work the team did with Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) at Cop26 in Glasgow where it pushed for green hydrogen to be accepted by world leaders as a viable solution. “That’s indicative of where our values lie,” he concludes.

Inherently, Purdy and Harrop tell The Drum, the B-Corp certification serves as an indication to future clients of W+K’s values, as much as the other way around. “Nike, our founding client, has the expression 'there is no finish line,' says Harrop, “and I think that’s certainly true of businesses needing to play a responsible role in the world.”

Now the group is encouraging other network agencies to go through the certification process, “the more the merrier! No company within the movement is perfect, but holding yourself accountable to third-party standards can only be a good thing”.

As increased regulation across the world comes into play, standards for sustainability reporting for companies will only continue to rise – B-Corp included. As Purdy explains, brands with certification are already in consultation for new standards in 2024. “We welcome it, it’s a testament to those who are committed to it.”

“Yes,” says Harrop, “following certification we’ll be taking stock, taking a breath and then rolling up our sleeves and getting back to work.”

Want to learn more about the most important issue of our time? Senior reporter Ellen Ormesher will explore the role of advertising and marketing in the climate crisis. Case studies, tips, interviews and more. Register your interest.

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