Sustainability. It’s up there with Innovation and Engagement as one of the buzzwords which companies have incorporated into their core business principles over the past 5 years. Why bother? Do they genuinely subscribe to the notion that higher ethical values make a business better? Or are they just trying to appease customers and employees who have bought into the growing notion that we (the human race) need to be more considerate to our surroundings and resources?
Well at the most fundamental level, we need to make sure that the business is financially sustainable. A business with no revenue and ultimately no profits is no business at all. So when we consider in what other ways twentysix is capable of practising sustainability, the P&L sheet will always be sitting at the back, rustling away quietly.
For the sustainability-shy amongst you, here’s a quick intro to what it means for businesses. It means they care about more than just the bottom line. Sustainability is what companies subscribe to, ensuring what they do or make doesn’t have a detrimental effect on their environment now or in the future. There is no one single definition, which can cause problems when it comes to regulation, and sustainability leaders in industry have been able to interpret it on their own terms. Cynics can rightly note how this allows businesses to pay nothing more than lip service to the notion. But by and large companies see sustainability as an opportunity to develop non-financial value in the business that can reward its balance sheets in the long term.
Commonly, sustainability is considered to have the most relevance to 3 key areas of a business: – environmental, social and corporate governance. Let’s see how twentysix is faring:
twentysix is a digital marketing agency, so it straddles both the physical and virtual worlds. Both matter.
In the real world there are air-conditioned offices in Leeds, London, Singapore and New York. There are over 100 desks occupied by employees tapping and clicking away at their computers, calling clients on the phone, drinking tea and coffee, playing on the Wii (lunchtimes only of course). All of these activities use up energy and resources – does anyone take any notice? Any responsibility for reducing them? Our General Manager Steve Reedman would probably paraphrase my local Grocer and put it as ‘A Little by Everyone Helps’. Steve practices what he preaches with vim: a shining example to everyone in the office. A small glance at his daily activities would reveal:
If he finds something in the bin that shouldn’t be, he puts it on the culprit’s desk. As he’s very fond of saying, at twentysix recycling is not an option, it’s a policy. Such is his commitment, when we were a smaller agency he used to take all the office’s recycling home, and go to the recycling plant each weekend. These days we have big recycling bins for the building which encourages all the other tenants in the building to take a more sustainable approach as well.
Behaviour in the virtual world has less tangible ways of making a difference. The individual programmes which our business depends upon – Photoshop, Office etc – don’t need very much power to run. Nor do browsers, nor OS. But still every few months it sounds as if the office is more like the SS Enterprise: calls of “we need more power Scotty” abound, with our IT Manager saying “I’m giving it all she’s got Captain”. Actually, he doesn’t. He tells us to stop sending 10mb files on email. To other people in the office. 20 other people in the office.
The energy that powers our computer-centric businesses is sucked up by servers and data centres sitting in souped-up sheds all over the world. For every £1 spent on IT hardware, another 50p is spent on energy to run the devices. “Ouch”, say the business coffers. Making IT more sustainable is tied up with two simple objectives: less energy and cheaper energy. This is where big players in IT have long recognised a need to improve their approach. Google, our friendly behemoth, sits at the top of Greenpeace’s ‘Cool IT Leaderboard’, with its investments in renewable energies giving it some serious brownie (or should that be greenie?) points. At the other end of the spectrum twentysixers turn their computers off at the end of the working day. As we sleep to replenish our batteries, millions of devices left in Sleep mode will only continue to deplete theirs.
With our clients and offices spread across the globe, smarter ways to communicate are needed. Meetings are carried out with video conferencing facilities. This saves us from taking excessive trips by air, whilst retaining some of the extra value you get from a face-to-face: the smiles and frowns, wild gesticulations and even more subtle body language that give meaning to what might have been a muted response otherwise.
Diversity is the lifeblood of any creative agency. Employees are judged on their talent, expertise, skills, quality of work and performance, never ever on how they look, their gender, age, race or sexual preference. Social inclusion is the default. This attitude is so ingrained in the agency ethos that I completely take it for granted. Reflecting on it and making comparisons with less progressive businesses (I point no fingers but you know who you are), I feel damned lucky to work in an environment where there is no pressure be a particular peg duty-bound to fit into a prescribed hole. Although I do confess to a little disappointment in those colleagues who choose not to bring in birthday treats when it’s their turn. I know I know – cake provision is not part of anyone’s job descriptions.
Not central to the question of social concern but always worth a mention is twentysix’ substantial contribution to improving the female presence at board level. Only 3% of FTSE100 companies having a female chief executive. The agency might not be in the FTSE100 (yet) but with Gail Dudleston as twentysix’ CEO her presence at boardroom level makes me proud.
Gail echoes my sentiments: “At twentysix, our people are our business. It is the talent that we employ that makes our business successful. Our agency culture is centred on freedom, flexibility, trust, encouragement, responsibility, initiative & pro-activity – individuals & groups taking the initiative to drive new ideas through the agency for the benefit of our clients.”
The matter of who runs the agency is inextricably linked to who they answer to. Stakeholders in larger corporate companies invest in the business for a financial return alone; the needs of that business and its employees are peripheral. At twentysix, we fundamentally believe happy people are productive people and we listen very carefully to our people to make sure they have a happy and positive working environment. This is what drives our business forward.
Our CEO Gail Dudleston also believes that “a fish rots from the head down. This means lead by example, do unto others as you would have done to yourself, be Braveheart – at the front of the charge, get involved, show you care, be passionate, curious, responsible, honest entrepreneurial, deliver to your promises (to staff, to clients, to your boss, to stakeholders, to your team) and remember to have fun!”
You don’t come 49th in the Sunday Times 100 Top Small Companies without catering to employee welfare and morale.
If twentysix want to show that they are taking environmental, social and governance issues (ESG) seriously, then they need to be integrated into the way the business operates and into its proposition to clients.
How can we help our clients?
As more brands and businesses recognise the importance of having a sustainability policy, we should be able to integrate it into their digital marketing mix. Strategically, we can work with marketing to review and understand what the business stands for in terms of sustainability, and how it might resonate with their audience. We can then feed it into the communications plan, ensuring customers and potential customers make the connection between our business principles and theirs.
The unassailable growth in digital over traditional marketing channels is, in itself, a step towards being more environmentally sound. Fewer mail shots and brochures in this world ease the strain on paper production as well as recycling plants. Meanwhile at the online coal face sits Social Media. It is where honesty and transparency can engender trust amongst consumers. As long as the message is something that resonates, and sustainability rings louder and truer than ever. The audience is listening.
You can read twentysix’s policy on Environment, People and Ethics on their Group’s website.
The feature image that accompanies this blog was created by Luke Cocker.