We’ve committed in 2020 to work towards our B Corp Certification. While we aren’t there yet, we are keeping a public record of our progress, in the hope that it keeps us accountable and inspires others to consider new ways of defining ‘good business’.
This quarter, we’ve had a really strong focus on changes that are focussed around the ‘Environment’ section of the B Corp assessment. As such, we’ve implemented three large changes;
Sometimes, trying to do the right thing for the environment feels like it depends on a lot of external factors - things that are out of our control. We certainly felt this when we started going through the audit requirements in this area. Much of the criteria was related to our office building and daily operations, which was rented from an external party. Not owning the property meant we didn’t have total control over what changes could be implemented, and every change required approval from the real estate and/or landlord.
While our previous location was right in the hustle and bustle of town, and a stone’s throw away from the beach, it unfortunately did not do us any favours during our assessment audit. Couple that with a landlord unwilling to accomodate the changes we needed, and we felt quite stuck, uncertain of how to proceed. We assume that many other businesses have found themselves in a similar situation - and it feels really disheartening.
If you’re in an older building, or have an uncooperative landlord, how far can you really get with making the necessary updates and changes for a more energy efficient office? Or, how can you collect the data necessary to set new targets to reduce wastage and emissions?
Luckily for us, our lease was ending at our old establishment; which meant we could entertain alternatives. With the B Corp assessment in mind, we naturally gravitated towards Habitat as our first choice. Habitat is a environmentally considered commercial area within the Industrial estate, and they describe themselves as;
“ ...the best of old-school Byron (community, creativity, respect for the environment) with the latest in design and thinking (renewable energy, car sharing, hybrid live + work spaces)...”
Accredited green building design (done by our new neighbours at DFJ architects) that makes use of natural light, airflow, and sustainable design elements to reduce operating costs & their associated emissions
Rainwater harvesting and waste-water management and recycling
Embedded energy network (solar panels, Tesla batteries)
Improved waste management (composting in our garden beds)
Being part of a more socially minded environment - Habitat was designed around a live-work-play concept which fosters more connection with other businesses & people, and creates a healthier and more invigorating space for our staff to work in.
The move and fresh start also inspired us to make some other changes in our daily operations with our new standup desks sourced from a local supplier (after giving away all our old office furniture on Marketplace), switching to a plumbed-in water cooler rather than previous bottle deliveries and signing up for eco-friendly, palm oil free & reduced plastic cleaning products from Zero Co.
Originally, we started our carbon footprint tracking using a complicated spreadsheet that had to monitor everyone's movements to, from and in the office - day in and day out. We soon realised that in an attempt to be exact with our calculations, the effort required by our team to upkeep this level of tracking and transparency was going to be really, really laborious. While we were willing, we did have concerns about the time required to keep this up.
In some companies, this level of detail would be considered necessary; to avoid greenwashing and to fully comprehend the total impact of the business. However, we soon realised that as a small business, and as a majority service based company, we didn’t really have that many emissions regardless. The bulk of our emissions come from electricity, or electronic products purchased. Not to mention that despite the detail we were going to, the additional insights from this information was negligible.
We also came to realise that sadly, in many emissions reducing scenarios there are not many alternatives available, nor the infrastructure to support changes. For example, when we looked at how we might reduce commuting emissions - due to the lack of public transport in regional NSW: encouraging staff to take the bus not really an option.
We spent hours of additional work and head scratching trying to account for every possible scenario. Considerations such as how to calculate emissions when working from home - was it really more efficient? What about working in shared spaces like a cafe or library? Are we responsible for all emissions when carpooling with others outside the business?
We weren’t sure about how to account for all these edge cases (or ‘new normals’ from the remote working changes in the past year). We began reading white papers about formulas to account for this, and despaired that we’d have to update the formulas anytime anything in our working situation(s) changed even slightly.
Pathzero is a web based carbon emissions calculator, designed for small to medium sized businesses. The benefit of Pathzero is that it simplified our tracking and calculations, meaning that hours of data collection and input could now be done in an hour or two, once a month.
This is because it utilises a wide variety of data from other businesses, and it provides estimates based on your industry. These estimates can be used to fill in any gaps in your tracking, cross referencing this with your number of employees and location. Pathzero also allows you to purchase your carbon credits once you’ve figured out the final emissions, keeping all the tasks together in the one interface.
We initially had two key concerns about using a program like this. Our first concern with a tool like this was that if we were using industry averages, was that really accurate enough?
However, we discovered you can refine your data as much as you like, but if you’ve missed tracking something religiously for whatever reason, you can simply use the benchmark data for your industry (with a few key exceptions, such as electricity). This meant we could easily track our main emissions, while allowing us to avoid those really granular tracking details that weren’t really pertinent to our operations, and barely caused emissions.
We also decided to add a 5% buffer to our projects at the end of the financial year to take into account any mistakes, or times where we might be above average, to ensure we really are living up to our ‘carbon neutral’ status. It’s our first time around the block, so we’re expecting (and trying to account for) some small human error margins.
Our second concern was around the quality of the emission-offset projects. As an agency, we weren’t well versed in what qualified as a good offset program, and the initial research we undertook showed that not all programs were created equal - with many many carbon offsetting projects had controversy surrounding their effectiveness.
As such, the benefit of Pathzero’s carbon credits was that they support projects that meet a gold-standard certification. and we don’t have to research different projects ongoing, or calculate how much is required to offset our recorded emissions. The program allows us to not just to record our emissions more efficiently, but also to offset & pay immediately, with confidence in the projects selected.
We will still continue to track emissions with a goal to ultimately reduce them year-on-year, as we understand that reducing in the first instance is the most important (long term). Offsetting shouldn't be seen as a 'get out of jail free card'.
As part of our B Corp commitment to ‘giving back’ to the local community, and also supporting our mission statement of providing a ‘positive impact’ to people and planet, the 1% for the planet framework once again seemed like the easiest and most efficient option to help us fulfil this criteria.
Having charities that are vetted was a really important factor for us. We didn’t want to have to research charities every quarter, so this was a contributing factor with why we decided to go with 1% for the Planet. They have many local charities that appeal to our team’s varying social and environmental interests, plus it also allows us to not only donate our money, but also our time - something we’re planning for our first community and environment projects in 2021.
As you can see, simplifying and streamlining our time has been a big part of our decision making process. By partnering with other experts, certification frameworks and utilising specialised tools, we’ve reduced the mental load and difficulty level for our team. This isn’t just to be lazy - we know from experience the easier it is to implement, the more likely we are to stay committed in the long term. The longer we stay committed, those results will generate the most impact… so, no need to reinvent the wheel every time.
Another reason for relying on a certification framework is that we are not the experts in validating the performance of a charity. We want to be sure that our donations are contributing to projects that meet the highest standards, and not being misused or misappropriated in any way.
This process is still a learning curve for us, and we are aiming for gradual, yet consistent progress. For our next quarter, we are wanting to focus on how we can be involved positively within our community. Working alongside others is always an opportunity to learn new ways of approaching change, solving problems or creating solutions.
We hope that sharing our decisions, ideas and processes helps others on similar journeys. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions regarding the above, have your own B Corp stories to share, or have insights on sustainable business practices you think we might benefit from.