Acts not ads: Clearly moves to become a Certified B-Corp

12 January 2021 | 11 min read | News
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

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Back in September, Clearly published the results of a piece of market research we had undertaken on the topic of ‘brand purpose’. It was to be a significant turning point for us and transform the way in which we both operate and position ourselves as a business.

More than 500 Chief Executives, Managing Directors and C-Suite Executives took part in the research which set out to understand how the coronavirus pandemic will change (if at all) brand and business behaviour as we emerge from the crisis. The results, which were published as a whitepaper entitled ‘The Role of ‘Purpose’ in Driving the Post-Pandemic Economy,’ were then used to raise our profile as a communications agency that has its finger on the pulse of consumer and decision maker sentiment. That was the initial objective, a self-promotional one at that. However it set off a chain of actions that neither I nor any of my senior team had anticipated.

The findings would be a rocket up our backside and a catalyst for action. Rather than allowing the tentative plans of how Clearly could become a more socially and environmentally sustainable business to continue slowly fermenting in the background, as we had done over the previous 18 months, we opted to speed them up, re-evaluate them, and make them more ambitious than they had been previously.

So, what was it about the research that resonated so much with us?

What we found

More than half of the 503 business leaders who took part in the research demonstrated a lack of awareness and understanding as to what is meant by ‘brand purpose’. Indeed, a quarter of respondents (25 per cent) believed it to mean ‘how businesses make money’, while 21 per cent said they thought it describes ‘what a business does’. One in 10 (11 per cent) admitted to having no knowledge of its meaning. That leaves just 47 per cent of leaders able to identify that brand purpose refers to what the business has set out to achieve for the wider good of society.


 This sparked an urgency in us to do two things:

  • Use our voice via blogs, social media and the media itself to reinforce what the evidence would suggest has been lost as to the importance for organisations to ditch the hyperbolic “We’re-sooooo-committed-to-people-and-planet” ads in favour of actual acts, and
  • Clearly communicate our own purpose in a way that is central to all we do and say, and not just something that we’ll get around to doing ‘one day’

Making the pledge

In January 2014, Clearly was founded and one of its pledges was that when the company was financially strong enough to do so, it would commit to supporting sound social impact and sustainable programs in a bid to help the most disadvantaged in society and minimise our impact on the environment. The company is now in a position by which it can put this pledge into practice.

So, from 1st January 2020, 2 per cent of Clearly’s total fee income will directly fund environmental and social impact initiatives, and 10 per cent of the team’s time each month has been allocated to providing pro bono services for causes we have identified as being of most importance to us:

  • Homelessness (I have been appointed as a Trustee on the Board of Julian House – the South West’s largest homelessness charity)
  • Youth unemployment
  • Water poverty
  • Child literacy

Why these four? 

  • Homelessness: There are multiple reasons as to why people find themselves homeless, ranging from drug and alcohol abuse, to mental health and unemployment. As a business, we take mental health in the workplace seriously, we support people at the earliest stages of their careers, and we have links to Julian House (the largest homelessness charity in the South West). There are many synergies between what we do and believe in that make us well-placed to effect a positive change in this area.
  • Youth unemployment: Young people aged 16-23 face the hardest of challenges right now. Escalating costs associated with going to university coupled with mass jobs losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic make it increasingly difficult for young people to get the training, development, and early career opportunities they so desperately seek. The Government’s Kickstart Scheme will help employers like us to create these opportunities for a handful of young people in our area.
  • Water poverty: We all take for granted access to clean water, but 2.1 billion people – that’s 1 in 3 of the world’s population – do not. Water poverty claims over 842,000 lives each year and the effects of climate change and increased disruption in some of the world’s poorest regions are combining to exacerbate the situation.
  • Child literacy: Clearly works in the education and employment sectors – both are inextricably tied to each other, and both can play a part in tackling youth unemployment, homelessness to a degree, and child literacy too. Figures show that 1 in 4 of the country’s children fall below expected standards in reading and writing by the time they leave primary school aged just 11 years. This can and does have a significant impact on how their lives progress in their teenage years through to adulthood and beyond.

First steps

We’ve already made a start with a series of small day-to-day changes too, such as switching to organic and Fairtrade suppliers, opting for recycled paper and printer inks, and switching from EDF to green energy provider Bulb in a move that will see the business reduce its annual carbon emissions by 4.2 tons – equivalent to 5.5 acres of woodland.

Our next task is to replace all existing lighting with energy efficient alternatives, review our existing network of suppliers with the preference to partner with local providers instead, and increasing our investment in teleconferencing technology to replace physical client visits with virtual ones where possible. We’re based in central Bath and a significant number of our clients are located in London, and while staff are to be encouraged to travel via the rail network in a bid to minimise the amount of CO2 these trips consume, each return train journey from Bath to London is still the equivalent to charging 4,081 smartphones.

Furthermore, Clearly has signed up to the Government’s Kickstart Scheme and aims to recruit three young people through it in the coming months. This is in addition to continuing our links with Bath Spa University.

These are all sound initiatives, but Clearly has committed to do more.

Greater accountability: First steps to ‘B’ accreditation

With effect from 1st  January 2021, Clearly brought into effect a range of planned strategies to reduce the company’s carbon emissions and help a bunch of people along the way. To track our progress and the company’s impact on people and the planet, Clearly has taken the first steps to becoming a Certified B Corporation.

Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balance purpose and profit. They 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 business as a force for good.


Back in the autumn, we underwent a series of checks to determine if the measures and actions we already had in place were sufficient to see us become an accredited B-corp. They weren’t. Clearly undertook the B Impact Assessment which benchmarks a company against a set of stringent criteria relating to its impact on workers, community, customers and the environment. We were marked out of 100 with a score of 80 being the minimum requirement to become a B Corp Certified business. We scored 77 points.

So we followed B-Corps’ improvement performance recommendations and undertook the assessment again this month. We scored 87 points and are now pending formal Certification. What matters is with each new initiative implemented, the greater the impact Clearly will have on the environmental and social impact programs we support.

Being an accredited B-Corp is not about ‘brand washing’ á la green washing. Rather, it means that Clearly needs to balance brand purpose with growth. Being a force for good cannot happen without being a force for growth first. And the evidence unearthed in our research combined with others published on the subject of brand purpose point to the same conclusions: consumer attitudes are changing, brands and businesses will be judged on how they act, and decision makers will begin to favour businesses who have a clear social or sustainability purpose over those that don’t*.

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Transparency (and staving off the critics)

There may be some people reading this who’ll be of the mind that we’re just another PR firm spouting a load of bulls*it in a bid to boost our own profile, but with little real commitment or intention to seeing our pledge through. I’m OK with that because we have accountability measures in place and can counter such criticism if it arises.

Each six months, Clearly will produce an environmental and social impact report that details what we have done. For example, we’ll report on:

  • Economic multipliers – amount spent on recirculating capital throughout the local economy through the use of local rather than national suppliers where possible
  • Enhanced local value – total number of pro bono hours allocated to supporting environmental and social responsibility programs in our local area
  • Value of funding to sustainable and social impact programs
  • Number of beneficiaries supported
  • Reductions in both energy consumption and carbon emissions

For a business to be truly purpose-driven, we must be willing to take a stance on what it sees as sustainable and social injustices no matter how difficult or divisive the subject matter, and even if that means making ourselves vulnerable to criticism. Quite frankly, I couldn’t give two hoots if people criticise us – we’re doing, they’re probably not.

“Being a force for good cannot happen without being a force for growth first.”

No fluff PR

Anyone who has seen, read or heard anything that me or my team has put ‘out there’ over the years knows that we don’t do fluffy PR – not for our clients or for ourselves. We simply get on with getting on and that mantra applies to our environmental and social governance (ESG) policy too.

Becoming a B Corp Certified company is not essential, but it will see Clearly become part of a growing community of likeminded business throughout the world who share a common purpose. It will also raise greater awareness of both the B Corp movement itself and the need for other businesses to take action on climate change and social injustices.

Moving towards being a purpose-driven business isn’t just the right and ethical thing to do, this makes good business sense, too. It has been proven over time to create tangible business value in the form of attracting and retaining employees, enhancing brand perception in the eyes of current and potential customers, and positively influencing purchasing and investor decisions which in turn deliver bottom line improvements.

The business case is as water tight as the moral imperative.


Our research found that 61 per cent of decision makers will favour a business with a clear purpose over who that has none, and 80 per cent would be prepared to spend more with that company even if they were more expensive that the non-purpose led provider.