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Sustainability Agency Leadership B Corp

We ask marketers: can B Corp still drive real change in marketing?

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By Sam Anderson | Network Editor

August 31, 2023 | 11 min read

Following open letters demanding clarity on whether marketing B Corps can work with heavy polluters, is the sustainability accreditor washed? We asked marketing leaders from The Drum Network.

A polluting factory

Can sustainability accreditation B Corp still drive real change? / Chris LeBoutillier via Unsplash

Sustainability accreditation B Corp has come under fire in recent weeks, with some suggesting a lack of clarity on its stance on agencies working with heavy-polluting clients. The most recent development: some stalwart B Corp agencies are demanding clarity and policy changes following a media review by Shell.

B Corp is by no means the only organization in the sustainability accreditation space, so the organization that runs it, B Lab, will be treading carefully through this controversy. But will its broad-church approach risk alienating the more strident voices? Does B Corp remain a promising avenue for real sustainability change? And do marketers still have faith? We asked some.

Charlotte Hamill, COO of Born Social (part of the Croud Group): “I support industry pressure on B Lab to provide more clarity. If it truly wants to mobilize business to drive change (and to maintain its credibility), it is in B Corp’s interest to prevent big business from maintaining the status quo. If you don’t stand against something, do you really stand for anything? As a business leader, I am happy to have the headache of choosing between commercial gain and certification. Is this not the entire point? We need to force businesses uncomfortably into learning how to grow ‘right’.

“If B Corp is reluctant to set out hard lines, perhaps a more flexible approach would be to introduce a penalty system. A business that chooses to work with a conflicting industry, such as fossil fuels, gets 10 points deducted from its B Impact score – a hefty price to pay in a system that mostly awards in decimal points. The business then has a choice of whether to counterbalance its choice by heavily investing in sustainability elsewhere to maintain its score, materially reducing sustainability credibility, or at worse dropping beneath the 80-point threshold and losing certification.”

Julie Reid, strategy director, Hallam: “The number of organizations seeking B Corp certification has skyrocketed in recent years. I think it speaks to a genuine desire to do business in a better way – that’s certainly what it was for our agency. The framework was a straightforward way to measure our impact with concrete recommendations on how to improve – useful for a company just starting out on its journey. But there will always be some who want the designation without making substantial changes.

“Is B Corp still a promising avenue for real change? Yes. If an organization pursuing the certification is intent on aligning its business with the stated values of B Corp, it will find enormous benefit in the framework (and more importantly the community behind it).

“Is it perfect? No. We should all participate in the conversation to uphold high standards and set out clearly what is (and isn’t) B Corp behavior.”

Pooja Dindigal, global head of impact, DEPT: “B Corp certification absolutely remains a promising avenue of real sustainability change. While the sustainability world is littered with an alphabet soup of reporting standards, pledges, campaigns, and ‘commitments’, there aren't many frameworks that actually have companies assessing their performance and incentivizing them to change. Those incentives are not solely brought on by B Corp certification requirements, but by the community of like-minded businesses pushing each other along. By becoming a B Corp, you take stock of your impact on stakeholders (whether you like it or not) and are held to a higher standard by those stakeholders. We can't make decisions that run counter to those expectations. That facilitates real sustainability change. Marketers should look at B Corp Certification with nuance; it's not just a checklist of requirements or practices, but a transformational way of thinking, working, and doing.”

Alex Lewis, co-founder, Revolt: “As the most widely recognized corporate accreditation for good ESG practice. B Corp continues to have an important role to play. The best solution is to encourage B Lab to review and evolve its commitments so that it sets a high, progressive bar, rather than turning to something else. In that sense, they should adopt a hard line on those who work with fossil fuels. And as more and more agencies take the decision not to work with fossil fuel and high-polluting clients themselves, this will become a simpler, less ambiguous position for B Lab to adopt.”

Sean Stanfield, senior account manager, Brandnation: “For consumers, B Corp remains the gold-standard assessment that a company is committed to making the planet a greener place. Clarification on its position is important, as it ensures brands are transparent in their practices and avoids setting a double standard. That said, as industries transition from fossil fuels to green energy, there must be some allowances for growth so as to not block the door for those who want to become greener in the future.

“In setting the bar for becoming B Corp, a balance must be struck in having firm lines which cannot be crossed, no matter how much good a brand does for the planet. Yes, it should be a high bar (to guarantee compliance, fairness and status) but the green agenda cannot grow if brands are excluded through simple association. The sooner B Lab confirms exactly where the line is, the sooner those not in the exclusive club can work to get through the door.”

Laurent Olver, head of marketing, GreenJinn: “We’re at the verification stage of becoming a B Corp, and still think it is a great action to join up. B Corp has the platform and opportunity to make positive changes and for businesses to consistently improve. It’s about not just looking at one area in sustainability, which is where some of the criticism is, but looking at every area of the business including people for example. Even just through the process of the application and self-assessment, we have improved how we run as a business and our employee wellbeing.”

“We’re seeing more and more brands become B Corps; it’s almost becoming a requirement as we see B Corp brands collaborate with each other and support each other. They are together building a force to put pressure on the government where legislation changes can be made. We want to be a part of that.”

Alistair Robertson, creative partner, Nucco: “Fingers crossed, we’ll be B Corp certified before the end of the year. We view membership as a commitment to our team, clients, and other stakeholders to ‘be the change we want to see’.

“The process has been worthwhile. It has held our feet to the fire and ensured we increased our transparency internally and externally – including the publication of our first annual impact report. Doing so placed us closer to a network of businesses with similar prerogatives.

“While new business and community wasn’t an initial driving factor, in this tough economic environment every little friendship and conversation point has been welcome.

“Certification is just a start, one we expect to become a cost of entry rather than a badge of honor. But that’s okay. While we want to commercially succeed, we’d like to live in a less chaotic and dangerous world more.”

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Sophie Gherabli, programmatic director and Stanislas Albin, media strategy director, Jellyfish: “B Lab probably won’t stop heavily-polluting companies from advertising in the short term. Rather than pointing out the negative impact businesses can have on the planet, we suggest they focus on measuring the CO2 emissions of their marketing activities and implement solutions to reduce them (limit energy consumption, unnecessary server calls, data storage…). That’s what triggers positive change.

“The industry is still working towards standardized carbon footprint calculation, so it’s challenging for organizations like B Lab to know where to set the bar.

“Is being B Corp Certified and making revenue out of a heavily-polluting company a form of greenwashing? Maybe. But if we cannot change the nature of polluting businesses and stop them from advertising, let’s start with reducing the impact of their media activities on the planet. This will already be a (small) win.”

Stu Neilson, product strategist, Rawnet: “Reading this reminded me of a quote I read a few years ago from Klaus Schwab (chair of the World Economic Forum): “The problem that we have is not globalization. The problem is a lack of global governance”. The role of governance in the challenges ahead has been further explored as ‘governance 4.0’. It’s this context that makes me question the need for this.

“Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the joint letter – businesses from all corners should hold each other to account, especially ones impacting the environment as much as Shell. But if anything is to change, it’s the role of joint up governance, not businesses needing to enforce change by pulling back their services, especially in a challenging time when those services are commoditized anyway. Despite a joint letter, there will always be room for another agency, whether existing or new, to do business with the likes of Shell regardless of their environmental credentials because that’s business. Governance that actively polices businesses and everyone accountable is what is needed.”

Sustainability Agency Leadership B Corp

Content created with:

Jellyfish APAC

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Rawnet

Rawnet is a digital agency that defines, designs, delivers and drives strategic products and services that create a long-term positive impact.

By combining customer engagement with business efficiencies, creating a justified return on investment for its clients. The agency’s fast-paced yet detailed immersion into its client’s business allows the team to understand key objectives.

Equipped with this knowledge, they can provide quality, scalable digital solutions to develop a customer-centric experience, whilst diving into internal systems to innovate and future proof client’s digital products.

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Nucco

We make it beautifully simple.

We are communication experts that change behaviour and perspectives.Part of UNIT9, we are powered by one of the world’s leading creative, digital and content production groups. We use insight-led creative to create digital campaigns and content for advertising, marketing and internal communications.

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GreenJinn

GreenJinn is a triple-digit growth UK platform for connecting great consumable brands with relevant consumers. Through our platform we work with some of the most exciting and cutting-edge brands to help them drive awareness, increase trial and get access to real-time, detailed consumer insights they can’t find anywhere else.

GreenJinn started in 2017 with our intuitive mobile app which has grown to a community of 1M members with an App store rating of 4.7. Our partner brands offer cashback incentives to consumers to try their products which can be bought in most UK retailers. We support the brands awareness strategy with communications out to our community, across multiple touch points.

Our unique technology has evolved to help brands make their media more effective. GreenJinn Treasure was born out of many brands' frustrations with a lack of transparency of effectiveness of media spend. Our GreenJinn Treasure coupon technology plugs-in to any online or physical media (via a link for online or QR code for physical media), gives consumers an incentive to pick up the product instore and tracks full funnel media performance from impression right through to redemption in store. The best bit - we give brands access to a suite of live insights; consumer demographics, shopper, category and store level insights along with GJ Treasure campaign conversion funnel data.

Sound exciting? We think so. And so do our brands.

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Revolt

The world is on fire. There’s no time to watch from the sidelines. The most successful brands of tomorrow will be the ones that take a stand today. It’s time to pick a fight. We are Revolt. A purpose consultancy built to start and spread revolutions with partners that want to change the world.

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Brandnation

We’re an award-winning creative marketing and communications agency with bold ambitions and bright ideas. Our integrated proposition unlocks new possibilities for brands. Our creative ideas go further through intelligent amplification – inspiring audiences to explore, engage and take action. We're a full service agency, offering clients our expertise in creative campaigns, public relations, influencer marketing, social media, paid media, and content.

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DEPT

DEPT® is a pioneering technology and marketing services company that creates end-to-end digital experiences for brands such as Google, KFC, Philips, Audi, Twitch, Patagonia, eBay and more. Its team of 2,500+ digital specialists across 30+ locations on 5 continents delivers pioneering work on a global scale with a boutique culture. DEPT® is committed to making a positive impact on the planet and since 2021 has been Climate Neutral and B Corporation certified.

www.deptagency.com

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Hallam

We’re a multi-award winning full-service digital agency based in the UK, and a trusted partner to some of the world’s biggest national and international brands.

Putting digital at the heart of our clients’ future success, we create innovative strategies that deliver significant growth and exceptional results through our integrated web design and development, SEO, PPC, CRO, Social Media and PR services.

We strive to innovate and share expertise and for the second year have organised the Midlands’ biggest digital conference - Nottingham Digital Summit. This event brings together industry experts from the likes of Google, Virgin Media, Jaguar Land Rover and Experian to inspire over 700 local business people with the latest digital trends to grow their companies. What’s more, all proceeds go to support The Nottingham Samaritans.

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As a full-service agency we’re able to use our combined expertise in a range of digital marketing specialisms to create multi-layered campaigns and strategies:

- Our high-impact technical SEO campaigns deliver results that improve client visibility in search engine results pages;

- We create award-winning websites – technically sound, visually stunning, with seamless user experiences;

- Taking paid advertising to the next level, our data-driven insights and highly crafted, bespoke in-house tools deliver business-changing results;

- Tailored PR campaigns have raised clients’ brand awareness and secured top coverage across the digital landscape;

- We have a proven strategy using testing tools and monitoring clients’ online visitors, establishing the greatest impact on CRO and delivering permanent performance improvements;

- Harnessing the true power of social media we build creative, innovative campaigns that truly create a digital buzz.

Bringing together industry-leading expertise, we employ 65 people across core delivery teams from our Nottingham base.

Our clients

We partner with international organisations such as Speedo, The United Nations, Esso, Saint Gobain and Suzuki as well trusted UK brands such as Raleigh, Travis Perkins, The BBC, Jägermeister, TTS Group and Castle Rock Brewery. We consistently deliver transformational results; on average our clients see a 69% rise in organic traffic, 54% increase in ecommerce revenue, and a 65% increase in lead generation.

- Raleigh Bikes’ new website delivered improved conversion rates with a 675% increase in ecommerce revenue year on year, and a 370% increase in their Black Friday sales attributed to our Digital PR campaign;

- We helped Speedo deliver brand consistency across national and international digital channels, streamlining their online user experience;

- Our social media strategy for the United Nations helped them reach more than 15 million users worldwide;

- A bespoke website for Virtual Runner increased their average spend per transaction by 80% with a 57% increase in subscriptions since it’s launch.

“Hallam have delivered above and beyond what we expected, and are an absolute joy to work with.” ~Rikke Hennum, Campaign Coordinator, United Nations Free & Equal Campaign

Our people

Developing our staff, both personally and professionally, is one of our business objectives. We invest heavily in staff training and development, with wellbeing initiatives that include weekly yoga sessions, unlimited home working and mental health training.

We invest a combined 900 hours per month (2 days per employee) on a protected learning time initiative with everyone receiving an annual training budget of £2,000 to use on courses of their choice.

Our awards

We’re incredibly proud of our track record. Our work has been recognised across numerous industry-renowned awards with five trophies at The Drum Recommended Agency Awards, including the Grand Prix - award for overall best digital agency.

Our awards and nominations span all areas of our expertise. It’s just one of the things that pushes us to stay ahead of the curve for our clients and it’s a great feeling when that work gets noticed. Check out a selection of them:

The Drum Recommended Digital Agency Awards

- Grand Prix - Agency of the Year (40-99 Staff) Winner

- Search

- Usability

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- Full Digital Service

Google Premier Partner Awards

- 2019 EMEA Winner of the Growing Business Online Award

- 2018 finalists in Shopping Innovation and Display Innovation

DADI Awards

- finalist

UK Digital Experience Awards

- Best Online User Experience B2C - Silver

- Best Agency - Winner

- Shortlisted for three awards in 2019

European Search Awards

- Best Large SEO Agency - Finalist

- Best Large PPC Agency - Finalist

- Shortlisted in five awards in...

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Croud

Croud is a global, full-service digital agency that helps businesses drive sustainable growth in the new world of marketing. With a rich heritage in performance, we apply that mindset to everything we do; brand planning, strategy, integrated media, social, creative, and data.

Founded in 2011 with the mission to reinvent the agency model, we combine 500+ in-house digital experts with a global, on-demand network of marketing specialists. This agile, scalable model gives us more time to really understand our clients’ businesses, and deliver truly incremental growth.

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