Back in 1979, the idea of not using phosphates in washing powder seemed pretty bananas.
After seeing the damage to waterways and aquatic life caused by phosphates and other cleaning chemicals a bunch of brown sandals and too-short short-wearing hippy scientists in Belgium decided to find a cleaner way. Starting from a tiny shed, they developed a bold new phosphate-free formula and launched ECOVER. Now over 40 years later, that alternative idea of being concerned for our planet and the way we treat it, is a pretty big thing and they were crazy enough for a load of other folks to follow their lead.
Founders like Frans Bogaerts from ECOVER are massive champions for The Future Shaping Media Company for a couple of major reasons. The first is that whole story of being seen as the crazy ones when promoting and championing an idea is something we can emphatically empathise with. Our vision that we can use a bunch of neat, new emerging technologies to protect, manage and monetise individual stories whilst enabling financial sustainability for digital publishers – and that this process delivers better local democracies some days feels like the equivalent of someone saying that climate change is important back in the 1970’s . We are beginning to see signs of a changing narrative a as the concepts of reader revenue, appropriate intellectual property legislation and market regulation are introduced, but when you go up against almost 300 years of a particular type of business model, coupled with 25 years of how the internet has been configured with the various incumbent monopolies and attention economics, folks have every right to think that you are bananas.
The second major reason for having a bit of a company-crush on the guys at ECOVER is that they are advocates of being a B Corp or B Corporation.
Certified B Corps are a relatively new kind of business that balances purpose and profit.
Businesses are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using businesses as a force for good. Ultimately, the organisation is locking in the requirement to deliver beyond the nice sounding mission statements and to submit to regular evidence based tests of its social and environmental impact.
TFSMC (the company behind The Future Shapers) set as one of its key organisational objectives to obtain B Corporation Certification and become a registered B Corp. In Europe B Corp is to business what Fair Trade is to coffee. A certification that rates companies on social and environmental performance, as well as transparency and accountability. It resonates, because that is what we are all about.
TFSMC will be joining an ever-growing community of companies across the world that include ECOVER and the likes of The Guardian Media Group, Patagonia and The Body Shop. B Corps use business to address global problems by forming relationships with stakeholders that provide stability during shifting times, innovation amid challenges, and inspiration for the long term. Even as a small yet growing SME, the rationale for taking such a bold step and legally locking these socially conscious requirements is to guard against repeating high profile platform businesses that set out with aspirations not to be evil, but over time drop this as the nature of their business economics takes over.
It may sound wacky and bohemian but according to a poll earlier in the year the majority of the UK public believed businesses should take responsibility for the planet and people as well as profit. There was a real consensus for reforming the UK economy.
We can see that sentiment echoed in the drive by governments around the world to build back better, with their new high-profile climate strategies. Seventy-two percent of the UK population believe that businesses should have a legal responsibility to the planet and people alongside maximising profits, according to a recent national poll commissioned by B Lab UK. The poll, conducted by Hanbury Strategy in May 2020, surveyed 2,175 members of the UK public on their attitudes toward capitalism and the role of business in addressing environmental, societal and economic challenges during the post-COVID-19 recovery.
Of those who expressed an opinion, 76% thought that businesses have a significant responsibility towards the environment, while 47% agreed that businesses have a responsibility to solve social issues such as inequality, poverty and mental health, compared to 36% who stated that businesses do not have a responsibility for solving these issues.
The public’s expectations of the role and responsibilities of business have evolved. According to James Perry, Co-founder of COOK and a co-founder of B Lab UK: “Our economic model currently runs on a system that’s no longer fit-for-purpose, focusing business narrowly on shareholder returns, and unresponsive to a world of increasingly limited resources. Any meaningful system upgrade must begin with legislation that enshrines recognition of those businesses which declare, in their articles, benefit to all stakeholders”.
Back in August 2019, 181 American chief executives issued a collective “statement on the purpose of a corporation” that abandoned their long adherence to shareholder primacy. Instead, the group — which was organised by the Business Roundtable under the leadership of Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan — pledged “a fundamental commitment to all our stakeholders”.
When we ponder the original meaning of the word “company”today, this invokes images of balance sheets and profit margins. However, the word “company” actually arises from the 12-century French word compagnie, a “society, friendship, intimacy; body of soldiers”, which hails from the Late Latin phrase companio: “one who eats bread with you”. Commerce, in other words, was initially synonymous with social ties.
That original meaning remained in place for centuries. Thus, when Adam Smith, the 18th-century Scottish intellectual, wrote his treatises on the “hidden hand” he saw no contradiction between The Wealth of Nations (about markets) and The Theory of Moral Sentiments (about moral philosophy).
In the late 20th century, however, the meaning of “company” changed with the move to the primacy of shareholder value. This ethos with its accompanying economic and political ideologies lasted for almost 50 years to the early 2000’s.
Some of those who have argued longest to serve a social purpose argue that it couldn’t do so within the pre-existing system. “The global financial crisis woke up people in the streets and in boardrooms around the world to say that we need to look at the system design flaws that produced that outcome” says Jay Coen Gilbert. “The height of lunacy is to seek different outcomes while doing the same thing over again”. The COVID-19 Pandemic has rammed home that message as we are having to do things very differently going forward.
The title of this piece comes from a campaign the guys at ECOVER ran this year. They recognised and appreciated that whilst life had been shit for many businesses, a cleaning business like themselves have done incredibly well. In line with their core values and the philosophies that sit at the heart of becoming a B Corp, they decided not to keep the windfall for themselves. Instead they pledged over £500,000 to a new initiative to fertilise the future by supporting sustainable start-ups and the eco-pioneers of tomorrow. After receiving over 750 entries, the ECOVER team are going through the process with the winners to be announced and showcased early next year.
Here at The Future Shapers we are a long way from being able to initiate this type of initiative. They have over a 40 year head start on us, but we do believe that when life gives you crap, grow flowers and the world will be a better place. Ours is a revolution to return value back to knowledge and just like the ECOVER guys back in the 1970s, however alternative it seems at first, we know we are on the right path.