Julie Richards of the strategy and delivery team explains why we have become the first major media organisation to achieve B Corp status, and what it means for our commitments to the climate: Guardian, January 2020
What does it mean to be a B Corp organisation? Why did we decide to sign up?
The Guardian has always been a purpose-led organisation, and this year we committed to focusing on that even more. B Corporations are companies that value purpose as much as profit, so it felt like a natural fit with our own values. Being a B Corp means a few different things: it’s a way of having a rigorous, objective view of where we are doing well and where we need to work harder when it comes to our environmental and social impact. It’s a way of demonstrating to our readers what type of business we are and it’s also a community of like-minded businesses that want to share ideas and encourage each other.
Why is this a significant step?
A lot of companies are talking about the idea of “purpose” at the moment so it’s important to us that we can demonstrate to our readers that we are doing more than just talking – we are actually acting on things like our working practices, how we recruit, our environmental performance and how we support local communities. We believe we are the first major media organisation to become a B Corp anywhere in the world so we are proud to have taken this step.
How many B Corp-certified organisations are there worldwide?
There are currently about 3,000 certified companies globally. The certification started in the US and around half of all certified companies are based there, but it is growing quickly in Europe and beyond. The outdoor clothing brand Patagonia is one of the best known B Corps, the Body Shop recently certified and food company Danone is in the process of certifying all of its subsidiaries. There are also lots of smaller companies doing everything from law to teabags to wetsuits! It feels like consumer and business attitudes are changing really quickly and people increasingly want to know that companies are behaving in an ethical way.
What are we committing to, and in what timeframe?
We have committed to being carbon neutral by 2030 and we already have a target of eliminating the gender pay gap in the top half of our organisation by 2022. We’re already doing a lot of work to be a more diverse and representative employer, which will continue to be a priority. We’re currently working on a plan for what other specific improvements we want to achieve by the time we get reassessed in three years.
How will our success be measured?
The B Corp assessment measures our performance across five areas – governance, workers, community, environment and customers. We have to recertify every three years so we will be able to track our progress. We have also announced environmental commitments, as set out in the recent climate pledge. Is that tied to our B Corp status?
Our climate pledge was really driven by our reporting on the severity of the climate crisis, and the strength of feeling among our readers and our staff. We believe that the world is in the grip of an environmental emergency but too many governments and businesses are not taking meaningful action to address it. The biggest way that we can play a role is through our reporting, highlighting the impact of the climate crisis on communities around the world and helping our readers to understand the issue. But it was also important to us that we held ourselves to account and made a commitment to improve our own performance. The more companies that commit to net zero, the more momentum there will be to develop solutions, and hopefully the more pressure it will put on governments to take meaningful action.
How will we reach net zero emissions by 2030?
We are currently in the process of doing a full audit of our carbon emissions, both within our own operations but also across our supply chain. We hope to complete that soon and then identify where we can make the biggest reductions in our footprint. One of the things we will be looking at is how we reduce the amount of air travel. We’ll also be looking at things like where all our energy supplies come from and how we could reduce emissions associated with our printing operations. For example, we previously switched the packaging for some of our weekend papers from plastic to compostable materials, but we are now looking at other alternatives that are easier to recycle.
In what other ways will we reduce our carbon footprint?
Our priority is to reduce the emissions that we cause. We will also look at ways that we can offset the emissions that we can’t remove. We want to approach that in a really thoughtful way as there are a lot of conflicting views about the merits of different offsetting options, and growing cynicism about the ways some companies are using it as a way of appearing green instead of making meaningful change to the way they operate. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it, but we want to make sure that we support schemes that are verifiable and have a real benefit.
How can readers get involved?
You can encourage the companies you buy from to become B Corps – it’s a rigorous certification and if all major companies did it then everything from labour standards to environmental performance would be a lot better! You can advocate for the government to implement stronger corporate standards so that companies are obliged to consider the long-term impact of their actions on employees, the environment and society alongside the impact on shareholders. And we hope that our climate pledge will inspire readers to take action in their own lives, whether it’s taking fewer flights, shopping more locally or reducing the amount of plastic in your life.
Julie Richards is the delivery portfolio director at Guardian News & Media