Our B Corp certification journey

A journal by Next 15’s Senior M&A and Sustainability Manager, Nick Chapman.

15/09/2021

“[…] nothing is ever only good and nothing is ever only bad. Everything is somewhere in the middle.”
― Will Hill, After the Fire

In the long days and nights of the pandemic, we have all had time to reflect on our purpose. What is our impact on our personal and professional lives, is it good or is it bad? When faced with a barrage of uncertainty and existential threats, it is human nature to think in this black and white way and we tend to reject the grey, the nuance, the complexity, the interconnectedness. The reality is that there is good and bad in everything or, in other words, ‘everything is somewhere in the middle’.

For Next 15, this has come up a lot in recent times. We have recently launched an Ethics Group, with representatives from many of our brands to explore whether the work we are doing for our clients is aligned with our values. Are we doing more good than bad and how do we encourage positive change?

As always, the starting point is data. 2 years ago, I would have been unable to tell you what proportion of our clients were in sectors perceived as socially and environmentally contentious, such as tobacco and coal, oil & natural gas. So, inspired by Futerra and their client disclosure reports, we began tracking our revenue by sector:

What does the data show and how are we using it?

This has provided us with the tools to have informed, engaged debates and crucially add some flesh on the bone around how our values translate into choices we make about which clients and projects to work on. 

It is by no means as simple as analysing client sectors though. There are projects we work on which involve pivoting clients away from ethically contentious activities, for example within the energy sector. Client sector analysis provides one pillar in the discussion but there are several others, including the true intentions of management and the project impact, including our authority to influence decisions, as advocated by the Purpose Disruptors. These issues are, more often than not, highly complex and require more than just a gut feel to reach a conclusion on any specific project.

Our Ethics Group is currently used as a sounding board for these decisions. Agencies bring the tricky and grey area choices for a wider discussion. The group is collaborative as we want to use this as an opportunity for shared learning. We’re trying to build some frameworks for making these choices and use as much data as possible. For example, what information is publically available about the possible impact of the project, and can its source be trusted? 

The learning curve is steep in these early days. Not only are we discovering the complexity within some of these decisions but also learning that feeling uncomfortable is a symptom of positive change. If every decision feels comfortable, then we probably aren’t moving to change things quickly enough. Change involves accepting the reality that good is not always perfectly good and bad is not perfectly bad.

This is a call to action for all of us when making these ethical decisions: to ask critical questions, to research, to innovate and to work towards incremental change – some more urgent and existential.

Nick Chapman, Senior M&A and Sustainability Manager, Next 15

13/07/2021

“We have long believed that our corporate culture was a vital asset. What Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests brought into focus was the importance to our people, and our customers, of living our values and actively committing to continual improvement…our commitments in this area are and will continue to be significant.”
Tim Dyson, Next 15 CEO, April 2021)

I’m Nick Chapman, Senior M&A and Sustainability Manager at Next 15, and every month I will be updating you on our journey to becoming a more values-driven organization. We hope that these posts will reveal our successes and failures as we face up to the biggest task of all: how to bring purpose into everything that we do: from how we treat our people, how we impact the environment, how we operate an inclusive supply chain, how we achieve good governance and how we deliver work which has a positive social and environmental impact. We hope that by being honest and authentic in everything that we communicate, we can make it feel achievable for others: you can learn from our mistakes and that ultimately this becomes the norm for every business, no matter its scale.

We recently held the first meeting of our B Corp Champions group, which brings together representatives from each of our 20 businesses as well as various head office staff (a group of 43 in all from our total staff base of over 2000). After over a year of road-mapping our ESG initiatives, it was an exciting moment to unveil our plan with our businesses so that they can help us embed every action and ESG becomes a lens through which we scrutinise everything we do.

We chose B Corp as our framework for several reasons, the biggest of which was that we believe it to have real substance. B Corp was talking about the centrality of ESG way before the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement shook the world. B Corp provides a detailed and robust checklist, which gives countless ideas for how to become better, so it was a no-brainer for us to work with them.

Our first session focused on our future plans. There were many excellent questions raised, including ‘How has the pandemic shifted employer responsibility for emissions produced outside the office?’ and ‘How can we support our communities better whilst we continue to experience financial growth?’. It brought home to me that people think differently and it is that diversity of thought that drives success. One of the key lessons of Matthew Syed’s excellent book, ‘Rebel Ideas’, is that if you surround yourself with people who think alike, even if the experience may feel more comfortable, you will have the same blind spots. It reinforced that the more stakeholders we engage, the more varied and impactful our initiatives will be. I was also excited to hear the extent to which our businesses are keen to go above and beyond our group initiatives and share them so that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Future blogs will focus on one of the B Corp sections: Environment, People, Customers, Communities and Governance, and at least one initiative we are implementing. Until next time.