B Corp or not, every marketing and comms agency can take climate action right now

B corp certification can make every business better, writes WorkforClimate director, Lucy Piper. But agencies and comms professionals can take effective climate action right now – with or without a certification.

The UK’s B Corp community has been getting a little hot under the collar lately.  

With B Corp-certified Havas taking on the Shell account, 26 communications and advertising agencies have called on B Lab (the company that issues B Corp certifications) to strip several agencies with ties to fossil fuels – including Havas, Tam-Tam/TBWA and MSQ – of their certification. 

Lucy Piper, director, WorkforClimate

“There are B Corp agencies working with the fossil fuel businesses that derive 95%+ of their revenues from fossil fuel, and that % has been growing,” said Chris Norman, founder and CEO of GOOD Agency (the UK’s largest and highest-scoring B Corp agency), in light of the Havas news. “They are also working with the businesses that enable and fund these fossil fuel companies. This is ambiguous at best, disingenuous and hypocritical at worst.” 

B Corp certification requires an organisation to meet the highest possible ethical standards, and prioritise positive impacts for people and the planet alongside turning a profit. So making nice with the forces that are compromising the safety and stability of our future would, you’d think, run a little counter to the B Corp philosophy.

B Corp is doing a lot of good, no question. But as Chris Norman rightly points out, even the world’s leading ethical business certification is a work-in-progress. The B Corp certification process offers us a framework for an alternative to the ‘profit at all costs’ business model, and provides us with the blueprint for a system where businesses are designed to serve society and the environment. It’s a glimmer of a future where CEOs are no longer beholden to quarterly profit reports.

However, the comprehensive nature of the audit process means that many corporate leaders might feel intimidated to take on the challenge. And we don’t have time to waste when it comes to mitigating the worst impact of climate change – we need companies to take action now, starting from exactly where they are. 

Fortunately, every single creative, marketing, PR and advertising agency, no matter its size or ethical persuasion, has the potential to have an outsized impact when it comes to moving the dial on climate. Creativity, innovation and influence are the critical ingredients required in solving wicked problems, and they are the currency of the communications industry.

So what steps can your agency take today that can make a difference? There are the operational things like switching to renewable energy and decarbonising supply chains; there’s corporate cash and investment decisions that you can make (*such as divesting from fossil fuels and deforestation and investing in clean energy infrastructure); there’s using your influence to advocate to clients about the ways they can take action on climate.

Of course, if you really want your agency to have an impact, then saying no to working with fossil fuel companies is a no-brainer. But deciding who you work with goes beyond turning down the Shell’s of the world; if your client is paying you to make ads that sell gas-guzzling SUVs to inner-city parents doing the school run, then essentially, the better you are at your job, the more you are fuelling the climate crisis (to paraphrase the founders of Purpose Disruptors in the UK). In the same way that financed emissions track the investors enabling the fossil fuel industry, the new advertised emissions framework provides a metric to measure the impact of the work that we make. Perhaps we should think about our creative work in terms of ‘emissions enabled’ instead of sales targets or category growth?

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift our economy to benefit people and the planet. For creatives and communications professionals who hang their hat on shifting behaviour at scale, the climate crisis should be the work of your life. It’s the largest open brief in history, and so far only a handful of agencies are stepping up to the plate. 

In the UK, GOOD Agency and others like them are raising the bar for agencies everywhere. In Australia, the likes of Good&Proper (WorkforClimate’s agency partner), Harvey, Compass Studio, Huckleberry and more are bringing their ethics to work in a manner that should put the bigger, better-resourced agencies to shame.  

Pursuing B Corp certification is probably the most robust way of ensuring your company is striving to achieve the highest standards of social and environmental performance, but you don’t need a certification to make better decisions about how your agency shows up in the world. This work might not be as sexy or as instantly marketable as a shiny new certification, but the impact – when executed meaningfully – is exponential. And it’s available to all agencies, right now. 

There’s a real goal to shoot for here, too. If we can reach true net zero, experts predict that temperatures will stop increasing in as little as three to five years. And if we stay at true net zero, temperatures will start coming down within three decades.

Taken together, our ideas, ingenuity, innovation and bravery are the most powerful renewable resources we have at our disposal. For agencies, creative and comms professionals, it’s time to stop sweating the ambiguities and start using those brilliant minds to move on climate as if our future depends on it.  

Lucy Piper is a proud ex-adland employee and the director of WorkforClimate, an NGO that helps employees turn their organisations from climate laggards into climate leaders. 


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