Balancing Profit and Purpose – feat. Wholegrain Digital
We caught up with Tom Greenwood, Managing Director at Wholegrain Digital.
The purpose of our series “Balancing Profit and Purpose” is to feature fellow B Corporations, to hopefully inspire many more to join the movement. We showcase those companies that meet rigorously verified standards of social and environmental performance, those that use business as a force for good. As a collective, B Corps are accelerating a global cultural shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
Alice @ ADLIB: For some background information, who are you as a business and what makes your business offering unique?
Tom Greenwood: Wholegrain Digital is a London based web design and development agency that works with positive organisations to help them use digital technology for good. One of the things that makes our offering unique is our focus on digital sustainability.
It’s a little known fact that digital technology has a huge environmental impact, with annual carbon emissions of the internet similar to global aviation.
We champion digital sustainability and embed it into the work that we do for our clients. In the process we have found that using environmental sustainability as a lens for design and development leads to solutions that are also better for humans, and for the organisations that they represent.
Alice @ ADLIB: What got you interested in joining the B Corp movement and what does being a B Corp mean to you?
Tom Greenwood: We came across B Corp in a few places about 5 years ago and weren’t too sure exactly what it was. I have to admit that initially I was a little sceptical as first, as I’ve seen so many badges and certifications that are used to make companies look good but don’t really mean very much. It was a client of ours who were already certified and suggested that we look at it seriously. I spent some time on a Saturday morning looking at the B Impact Assessment and was immediately hooked. It asked so many challenging questions that made me think. I realised that B Corp Certification is not just robust from a credibility point of view, but more importantly it would challenge us as a business to constantly do better.
Being a B Corp means that not only are we holding ourselves to account to run the business in the positive way that we aspire to, but that we are part of an incredibly supportive community of like minded businesses. These two things combined have inspired us to more fully embrace our own mission and really invigorated us as a team over the past few years.
Alice @ ADLIB: Can you share a little bit about your B Corp story, what the process was like for you?
Tom Greenwood: When we first got certified as a B Corp, I did a lot of the process myself with support from my colleagues Mohib and Rachael. It was a hard uphill struggle and even though we had been trying to run the business ethically for nearly 10 years at that point, we really were not sure if we would manage to get certified. Some elements of the assessment were a bit confusing, especially at first and when we came to submit, the assessors rejected some of our application. Thankfully, they also had a conversation with us to ask us about the business and in the process pointed out that we had missed some sections of the assessment that we actually were doing good work on. They allowed us to update our application and we just managed to scrape in.
In the few years since then, we’ve been inspired to do a lot of new things, including doubling down on our work in digital sustainability, which actually supported our recertification in 2020. Although as a small business we have found it challenging to keep documentation for everything, we are really proud that we have managed to not just remain certified but keep improving.
Alice @ ADLIB: In your case, what does it mean for your workers, customers, community and environmental considerations?
Tom Greenwood: Becoming a B Corp has been a catalyst for positive change within our business. From a team perspective, it has led us to ask deeper questions about how we create more of a collaborative, horizontal culture with less hierarchy. We went as far as creating an in-house team coach role to help us all grow as humans and understand the complexity within ourselves, and each other, that is at the root of so many challenges that we face within our work.
With our clients, we have always had a policy to screen our clients and work on things that we believe in, but becoming a B Corp has given us the confidence to strengthen this commitment and be more bold in talking openly about the type of clients we want to work with. When we work with clients that we truly care about, it motivates us to do our best work and push ourselves further, which is a win-win for ourselves and our clients.
We’ve been doing a lot more activities that are outwardly focused in having a positive impact in a community sense. Before the pandemic we had started using our team away days as volunteering opportunities, so that we could rally together and contribute something meaningful away from the computer. That hasn’t happened in the past year but we hope to soon get back to it.
We’ve been doing a lot of online work to promote best practice for people and planet within the digital sector, including projects such as creating the world’s first carbon calculator for websites at WebsiteCarbon.com, collaborating with fellow B Corp Mightybytes to create a new version of the online resource www.sustainablewebdesign.org and partnering with Business Declares to create the Digital Declutter Toolkit, an online guide for businesses to introduce them to digital sustainability.
Environmentally, we’ve always had a mission to be a business that has a positive impact, which means doing more to protect and nurture our natural environment than to deplete it. Our work in championing digital sustainability feeds directly into this, but we have also tried to push ourselves on an operational level.
We introduced a no fly policy, so do not use air travel at all for business, we introduced a vegetarian food policy for company based catering, and are based in a workspace that uses renewable energy.
We have also been trying to look beyond the limited view of ‘corporate impact’ and look at ourselves as a group of humans. To this end, we have introduced an incentive of 1 extra day of holiday for staff who switch to 100% renewable electricity at home, joined the Climate Perks scheme that gives extra time off for team members who opt to avoid air travel on holiday, and extended our tree planting initiative to link with personal impact, not just our direct business impact. We’ve also enjoyed using the online platform DoNation (a fellow B Corp) to inspire positive changes in our personal lives throughout the team.