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Examining the power of B Corp and why it’s in vogue for the advertising world.
By Leah Montebello
“I can confidently say that we have been more successful as a result of becoming a B Corp than we would have been otherwise… it has given us credibility in front of clients to show we know what we are talking about” Xavier Rees
Havas London was one of the first major advertising agencies to become B Corporation certified back in 2018 and sets an example to other agencies of how to do business.
As an industry that is inherently competitive, the potential within advertising is immense. Not only does Havas’ certification mark a shift away from viewing client accounts as the only vehicle for change, but it also signals to the market that you can be both profitable and sustainable in equal measure.
Speaking with Xavier Rees, CEO of Havas London, and recent Agency of the Year Winner for Campaign, it is clear that they are champions of B Corp and fully embrace their philosophy of people, planet and profit. “I knew I wanted to run my business better, but I knew I wasn’t interested in profit at the expense of everything else. What B Corp does is give you a framework to do this. They can be the expert, so you don’t have to be”.
A balancing act
Certified B Corporations are businesses that balance purpose and profit, and ultimately view business as a force for good to make the world a more just, inclusive and sustainable place. Founded in 2006 by Jay Coen Gilbert (AND1 founder and climate activist), there are nearly 4000 B Corp companies worldwide, including the likes of Danone, Ben & Jerrys and, of course, Havas London.
To become certified, a company must achieve a minimum score of 80 points out of a possible 200 based on social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. The initial stage of the process is a free B Impact Assessment and Disclosure Questionnaire, which runs through specific impact areas. This is a relatively rigorous process and interrogates the company’s internal structures.
Sarah Pearl, Senior Consultant and B Leader from Green Element, the Environmental Management Consultancy and one of the first companies to become certified in the UK in 2016, explains, “I think the rigour of the process really depends on the size of the organisation. For instance, it will take a lot longer for a bigger company to become certified because they have complex management structures and will take longer to get ‘sign off’ at each stage”.
Pearl continues, “Larger companies will have to unravel a lot of different policies and modify Articles of Association. This can long-winded, but ultimately important, process”.
For instance, it took Havas London two years to complete the process end-to-end, with one member of staff dedicated to managing this process for nine months to meet the relevant requirements. As Rees explains, “The first thing I did was sit with my management team to get their buy-in. I was pleasantly surprised when I got their unanimous support and it made the whole process a lot smoother with sponsorship from the top”.
Indeed, in order to maintain a B Corp status, companies must commit to using their profits and growth to a “greater end” and also thrive for continual improvement, which requires reassessing their status every three years and improving their score. “I really like this part of B Corp because you don’t just get the certification and that’s it, you just get on with business… It has to become part of how you think about your organisation and it has really changed the way we function at Havas”, Rees says.
He continues, “The conversations used to be about commercial performance from creative production and profit. Now we see people, profit and planet as a key lens to frame our discussions, and we are a very different company than we were three years ago”.
Pearl echoes Rees’ point: “Sustainability is a massive journey and there is always room for improvement. You can’t just complete everything overnight. You are always emitting and you can therefore always improve”.
Shift towards certification
As consumers, we are more conscious than ever before about sustainable business. Whether it is questioning our procurement methods, or better managing talent, responsibility and accountability is synonymous with success. In fact, Deloitte’s Global Millennial Survey 2020 showed that millennials had changed their daily and personal routines in hope to improve the planet, including 64% cutting their use of single-use plastic and 50% reducing their purchases of fast fashion. This echoes the 2018 findings that saw almost 40% of millennials viewing the goal of business as to “improve society”.
This is interesting from an agency perspective as it shows how sustainability is becoming deeply embedded within the consumer and client psyche, ultimately influencing strategy. There is also a sense that if companies don’t start shifting towards transparency, then they will be left behind, especially as more agencies become certified.
For instance, global creative production giant, MediaMonks recently laid out their goals for B Corp status within the S4Capital 2020 Annual CSR report, deeming it as a way to “shape and bring our sustainability efforts to the next level”.
As Regina Romeijn, VP Business Strategy of MediaMonks tells us, “What we like about the B Corporation assessment is that it’s assessment based on walking the walk instead of talking the talk”, and she estimates that the process will take a year and a half to complete. Romeijn continues, “it is not enough to green-wash or to only make a few changes. It needs to be a change that comes from the core”.
Like Havas London founder, Victor Knaap, CEO of MediaMonks, acknowledges the centrality of collaboration in certification: “This is not a one-person job and there isn’t a magic button to solve it but rather a complex mosaic of solutions that will help us do better”.
So whilst Havas London currently have the competitive advantage, “I don’t really want it”, Rees confessed. “I’d rather compete on other things, like the work we’re doing or the pitches we win, and we should all be focusing on making this industry as sustainable as it can be”.
From Havas London’s perspective, B Corp has had a positive impact on talent, reputation and growth. Rees says, “I can confidently say that we have been more successful as a result of becoming a B corp than we would have been otherwise”.
Not only have they been able to attract and retain better people, but they have also won work and progressed through pitches because of their B Corp status. “I’m staggered that three years on, people are still talking about our B Corp status and the demand for conversation has been brilliant. It has changed our position in the marketplace and has given us credibility in front of clients to show we know what we are talking about with our credentials”, Rees explains.
With environment and social issues on everyone’s agenda, B Corp offers a valuable way to quantify sustainable practices: boosting brand and profitability and driving confidence in a better tomorrow.