B Corp: Where the worst offenders can be encouraged to do the most good?
Should sustainability accreditation schemes admit big pollutors who really want to change? It’s been a hot debate this year. Tangent’s Andy Eva-Dale argues that, in some cases, maybe they should.
Is B Corp the best place to clean up the world's biggest polluters? / Marek Piwnicki via Unsplash
B Corp isn’t exactly new. And even when it was first launched, the sustainability accreditation came under scrutiny (as have many equivalents since). The most recent in a string of controversies attached to B Corp has been its stance (or lack thereof) on agencies working with heavy polluters.
Many agencies have been calling for a review of these guidelines, seeking more clarity on B Corp’s stance. There’s a wide spectrum of opinion on what this all means for B Corp itself: some claim the honor of the status has been diluted by the sheer volume of certifications; becoming “a cost of entry rather than a badge of honor”. Others claim the accreditation “absolutely remains a promising avenue for real sustainability change.”
So where do we stand?
Well, isn’t there an argument here that the most good can be done by the worst offenders? In fact, in the big year of 2023, many brands (who seem to have in general become more self-aware about their shortfalls) appear genuinely keen to foster change and progress. So, is it productive to deny the heavy polluters access to avenues and resources for change? Namely, agency partners who can support their journey?
Excluding the heaviest polluters won’t solve the problem. In fact, they should be welcomed, and the agencies that take on the challenge of improving these brands for the better also deserve some recognition.
At Tangent, we’re seeing more and more briefs and RFPs from brands large and small, close to home and far afield, that give time and space to understanding our sustainability credentials, regardless of whether the project directly pertains to sustainability or not. Brands are clearly seeing this as a true differentiator in their selection process. Someone more pessimistic than I may call this box-ticking on the brand’s part, but I have faith that this diligence is an indicator of willingness to take on change and pay dues to the agencies who work hard to live and breathe their sustainability pledges.
Elsewhere, existing/longstanding partnerships are also opportunities for change. At Tangent, our commitment to sustainable product and system design, paired with a culture that keeps sustainability at the heart of the operation, means we feel empowered to proactively discuss the matter with clients, and suggest routes to bring sustainability into the work we do, whether the client does or does not overtly request it.
Our most recent work with UK Power Networks is an example of how a relationship can bring about positive change from a web sustainability perspective. Aware that, like all operators in the utilities space, there are NetZero commitments as part of RIIO-ED2 that UK Power Networks will have to meet by 2050, we prescribed a scope of work that not only fulfilled key deliverable like reduced page load times and operational cost savings, but also left room to suggest changes and optimizations, including slashing carbon emissions.
In this case, our implementation would have seen carbon emissions from the platform drop by as much as 44%. To contextualise this, 2022's Storm Eunice drove 3.2 million users to the site. At that time, our solution could have saved the equivalent carbon emissions of 9 flights from London to Copenhagen, from homepage visits alone. Given the average user visits approximately 4.5 pages per session, the realistic carbon saving potential is astronomical. All unlocked by a longstanding relationship and mutual commitment to sustainability. And well rewarded too, as this project claimed a digital transformation gongat this year’s Drum Awards.
As many brands are appointing agency partners who share their passion for sustainability, B Corp status is one of many ways of demonstrating this. Keeping sustainability close to the heart of operations at agency level and, by extension, using the parameters that B Corp prescribe to keep us all on a unified path to improvement, represents an informed benchmark for the industry and beyond.
We are at the beginning of our B Corp journey and making solid progress, but are as inspired by the notion of improving our own credentials as we are to support our clients with theirs.
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