73 Media is on the final stretch of its journey to becoming a Certified B-Corporation.
Managing director Ed Tranter tells Emily Wallin what it means to be socially and sustainably responsible, and how there are small steps every events business can do to improve their footprint.
For two years 73 Media has gathered data and ranked their scores to show they are meeting the highest standards of social and environmental performance.
Certification by B-Corporation is a lengthy and finely detailed process of demonstrating that a business is not only as sustainable as possible, but also a force for good in terms of governance, staffing, community and customers.
Force for good
Despite heaping extra non-profit making events onto himself and his team, managing director Ed Tranter is convinced the extra work has been worthwhile.
He says: “Doing this in the past two years has been horrendous. I hate the word but we did a pivot into digital events. I never wanted to run a digital event in my life, never even considered it, but it was either move into digital or go bust, so that’s what we did. We created a new part of our business that we are going to keep and we’re very passionate about. But whilst that was going on, thinking outside of just keeping lights on and thinking about how we can make a difference was very important for me.
“Every single person was worrying about their jobs and families. It had a profound impact on people’s mental health and positivity as we moved through to a better place. We would be doing events for people with no money in them at all, just to help a charity or a local organisation.
“That adds workload to everyone when we’re all trying to get through really tough times, but actually it was the right thing to do.
“The shift is being outward focused. For me to say ‘we’re going to do 10 virtual events for charities, recording, setting up, editing, doing all the graphics and design and running them and then not charging anyone for any of it,’ that was quite a big ask, especially in something we had only just learnt how to do. But it was amazing.”#
B-Corporation is a global initiative to rank businesses governance, diversity and sustainability. For Tranter social justice was an important as the environmental benefits.
“We talk about sustainability, which might mean sourcing everything from much closer to the venue, or not having carpet, that’s really important stuff. But, social justice is a huge part and parcel of what sustainability is about,” says Tranter.
“Doing the right thing and working with the right kinds of suppliers – not just working with people because they’re cheap or driving price down, but giving everyone a fair price for the work they do.
“It’s a lot of work, it’s been a two-year journey to get to this point. It really challenges you on governance, how you treat your staff, the makeup of staff, gender pay gap, having really clear policies on working from home, what we consume as a business, is our energy 100% renewable, how to do our recycling. When people are working from home, have you got a list of the kind of products we would prefer they use at home, because we know the origins of the company?
“A big part is what do you do for your community, how do you make a difference? How do you use your business as a force for good.”
In order to qualify, businesses need to score at least 80 points on a detailed survey measuring all of their impacts. 73 Media scored 93 and is now waiting for the final verification of their results to achieve official certification.
The transparency required reaches from light bulbs and toilets to Tranter’s personal chocolate stash.
“We had to legally change our articles of association as a company to put in statements that bind us to the commitment B Corp companies make,” he says. “It’s a big thing to do.
“One of the things we have to have is transparency in the workforce. You are committing to providing a report once a year, saying ‘this is how we’ve acted, this is who we have dealt with, this is our social justice’.
Tranter is keen to stress that the challenges should not be seen as too daunting for others wanting to make a positive change.
“The important thing is everyone takes a step,” he says. “People look at the scope of the problem, look at how much there is to do and just think ‘this is massive, I can’t even begin’.
“Making sure your energy provider is 100% renewable is such a simple thing to do, it takes one email and it’s all done for you, but that’s a huge thing. Then within your building how much of the time is the heating and electricity on? Have you got smart bulbs? Everything we have is very low energy. Have you got toilets with the double flush? That water waste mounts up. The cleaning products that are used? If you’re in a serviced office you can just ask the company what products they use and are they sustainable? It’s simple questions like that but those things make a massive difference.
“For the most part it is more expensive, you can’t get around that. If you want to buy a shirt from Primark and think it’s genuinely okay that they can sell you a shirt for £2.50 and think back to what has been done to whoever made it, it doesn’t take a lot of brains to realise that’s not reasonable.
“If you spend a fairer amount of money, it is not ruinous.”
Through the charity Toilet Twinning 73 Media helps provide sanitation in developing countries and has planted 20,000 trees through ForestNation.
“We went through a UN accredited process to find out how to do that,” explains Tranter. “Our first forest is in Tanzania, so it also provides work and we can work out how many hours of work the community is getting from it. We can measure how much oxygen is being released. It’s a detailed and ongoing process by the end of this year we will have reforested 80 hectares, which isn’t huge, but is a decent area and it’s a measurable way to show what we’re doing.
“It’s a tangible thing. Clients really love that. Sift followed the same example, Nineteen Group are now doing it with Manufacturing and Engineering Week. All these little things added together become a huge thing. That’s the key element.”
“On the agency side we get asked all the time ‘what’s your sustainability policy?’ It’s increasingly a factor in sponsorship and engagement. We’ve had clients choose us over other agencies because of that single thing.”
Tranter implores other events businesses to think about what they can do and adds that the effort makes ethical businesses more attractive to work for.
“If every event organiser went out to their team and asked ‘how can we be proactively helping our community, making a difference, thinking about sustainability, how can we be better, who would like to volunteer to be part of a panel?’ People would be biting your arm off.
“The gains you make if you’re transparent from a staff perspective are huge. They want to buy into a company ethos where they do good. That culture is a really great selling point for recruitment. It genuinely matters and its increasingly important for bringing new people into the industry. Something like this gains you a lot of support and engagement from your staff.”
Has Tranter hit the holy grain of perfect sustainability? More of a work in progress he concludes.
“I’m certainly not trying to be holier than thou, he says. “There’s a lot of things I could be better at. I’ve got such a sweet tooth. I always try to buy [fairtrade and paper-wrapped chocolate brand] Tony Chocoloney – but if they’re not around I’ll still scoff a Mars bar. There’s always work to do. I’m not 100% perfect. For me and for us as a business it’s about doing what you can do. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.”
This feature appears in the May issue of EN, which is packed full of features on sustainability and the green heroes of the exhibitions industry.