Two sustainable strategy experts, Ellie Austin and Jessica Ferrow, have just launched an agency aimed at helping businesses respond to the climate emergency.
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report came out at the end of 2018, it warned that we had 12 years left if we wanted to limit a climate change catastrophe. From there, campaign group Extinction Rebellion took off in the UK, while at the same time, Climate Strikes were initiated all over Europe and the Sunrise Movement came about in the United States. Grassroots action, from the ground up, only highlighted the urgency for businesses to participate too - and leave their environmentally damaging ways behind.
“For the last ten years people have kind of been tinkering around the edges of sustainability,” Jessica Ferrow, co-founder of Twelve, tells Euronews Living.
“When we heard [the IPCC recommendation], I think everyone who was working in any kind of sustainability or activism role - that was kind of the firecracker under the proverbial ass of everybody,” she laughs.
This urgency is the idea that drives climate impact agency Twelve, named after the number of years we have left to make unprecedented changes to every aspect of society. “We have less than twelve years, the time is ticking, we can’t just do these incremental changes anymore.”
“Ellie and I decided then and there that we didn’t really want to work on projects or with clients who didn’t want to make urgent changes,” Ferrow explains. “There’s still a huge amount of work to do. Even brands that are seen as sustainable - a lot of the people in leadership positions don’t quite grasp that urgency.”
The agency works with brands to help them make lasting and impactful changes in the way they operate, inspired by the upswell of support for the climate movement that has come about in the last few years.
“What we’re trying to do at Twelve is bring that kind of activism into the boardroom. We’re saying we want to work with you, hopefully, you’ve had this realisation and understanding, if not we’ll help you to have that, and we'll help you figure out what you need to do.”
A story of transparency
Stories, for Ferrow, are one of the most important ways that brands can let people know the positive changes they are making and inspire others to do the same. Twelve wants to help them get their stories out there, without getting lost in the constant slew of environmental news we see every day.
“We live in this age of information, right. Everyone is completely overwhelmed with the amount of content that’s out there.” The good things that brands and organisations are doing don’t necessarily make it through to consumers, she says. “A lot of people, if that message isn’t puncturing through into their world, they assume it isn’t happening.”
She highlights the example of plastics. Many brands are saying they are limiting their use of plastics for environmental reasons, but it needs to be more than a knee jerk reaction. Switching out plastic might create another problem with even more waste - so the approach needs to be a measured one. It is important to get that kind of transparency to become more common, Ferrow adds, and help consumers understand why changes need to have real evidence behind them.
It also creates a drive for more brands to adopt sustainability, she says. Companies putting their environmental credentials out there, like those using carbon labelling and traceable supply chains, provide an example for others to follow. It can seem overwhelming at first, but Twelve aims to guide brands who are just starting their journey.
Together, Ferrow and Austin put together sustainability roadmaps for all of their clients to help them get where they need to be.
“Once you start doing what you can, everything starts to build momentum and then you realise that people get excited and empowered by it.” Twelve acts as a kind of go-between for brands, linking them to people who can help them make changes with packaging, supply chains and making their offices greener.
A change is coming
For a decade now, Ferrow has been working with organisations on how to make their businesses more climate-conscious, but she has seen a dramatic increase in interest recently. With a younger generation inspired to change the future, there seems to be a growing enthusiasm for eco-friendly, socially responsible brands.
“Now you are seeing businesses that previously would have had nothing to do with sustainability or hadn’t really thought about it are kind of waking up and thinking how do I make my business sustainable, what do I need to do, what does that look like.”
Twelve also helps the companies it works with to move towards B Corp certification. This is a credential that takes into consideration a company’s entire social and environmental performance. “It’s pretty much the most positive thing at the moment that's going on, to build a movement of how business can be a force for good and that encompasses social and environmental aspects,” says Ferrow.
For these two experts, “building back better” after COVID-19 is essential to reaching the IPCC 1.5 degree maximum for global warming. Having a certification like B Corp’s creates a legal requirement for businesses to consider the impact of what they are doing to both the people they work with and the environment. Ferrow says guidelines like these show “how we can put sustainability at the heart of this recovery from this terrible situation that we’re in.”