In November 2023, we sat down with Elizabeth Heron and Lynn Mackeonis from UK events industry B Corp pioneer, OrangeDoor, to discuss their journey to B Corp accreditation in late 2022 and their current strategy to grow from B Corp to always ‘striving to be the best’.
We started by asking Elizabeth, OrangeDoor’s CEO who founded the organisation nearly 25 years ago and Lynn Mackeonis, its Head of HR & Talent, what the spark was that drove the initial desire to move towards B Corp status.
Elizabeth set out the context for our conversation by stating B Corp accreditation was a milestone on a personal and professional journey that had started many years ago: “It's really important to say I don't think we ‘became a B Corp’ as such. I believe OrangeDoor was always one at heart. Then we discovered B Corp and found there was an association, a group of people that we could join and put a line in the sand that said publicly said: ‘these are our values'.
“When I look back to decisions we made as a business and events we ran even 20 years’ ago, it’s clear we have always tried to integrate B Corp philosophies into our approach. This has always been in our DNA. And, then when B Corp came along, I knew it was the absolute right thing for us to do.”
A new way of thinking for a new world
Elizabeth recalls the OrangeDoor team physically coming back together in its south London Offices after the Covid lockdown had ended and sitting around talking in the office’s ‘creative space’. The agency, like so many other businesses in many industries, had gone through tremendous change through the lockdown period and the team collectively knew there was a need for a very different way of thinking coming out of the pandemic. It was a unique moment to reset the business and rethink the way it worked and what it stood for – what was important to the business and the team. A moment for true change.
What it needed however, was a framework to underpin and support this change. “We looked at ISOs and many other frameworks,” said Lynn. “However, B Corp did ‘the 360’. It did the people, the environment, customers, the business focus, the governance and everything we needed to be that ‘rounded company.’”
Being one of the very first events agencies in the UK to secure B Corp accreditation also meant there was much more than just a commitment to B Corp values needed. As a B Corp pioneer in the industry, there was also a significant leadership role to play, helping to educate clients and suppliers, especially busting some of the more persistent myths of a more sustainable approach to business.
Continued Elizabeth: “B Corp accreditation gave me a platform to stand on when I was in a pitch or talking to a client about why we were making certain decisions around an event. B Corp was a buzzword and clients and suppliers were very interested in what we were doing and why and we were able to talk with authority on this.
“From a supplier point of view, we started asking them more questions,” added Lynn. “Our bigger global clients had been asking us as an SME, questions about our recycling programs, diversity, our beliefs, our values and so on. We started asking the same questions of our suppliers, which is a key part of being a B Corp - passing on that message, making an impact and working with those companies that believe in the same things we do.”
Embracing Values and not just a Vision
However, an authentic commitment to B Corp principles and remodelling a business in a more holistically sustainable way requires more than just commitment at the managerial level, it needs buy-in at every level of the business. This in turn requires consistent, clear and authentic communication with employees and other stakeholders at all times, something Elizabeth is firmly focused on:
“As a lead entrepreneur for a couple of big industry associations in the UK, including WeConnect, a global organisation that supports gender diversity within the tech community … this approach to communicating was always inherently within the business. With B Corp, the big thing is making sure that our people and the communities that we worked with were totally engaged. I knew that for this to be a part of our business that the team had to be with us all the way. Although to be honest, our team were already engaged, we just had to give them to us the ‘lens’ and the framework they needed to do it.
“The communication process was never really a big formal thing”, continued Elizabeth. “It has just become part of our DNA. It gives me such pride and I can't tell you how many times I sit in a meeting and a location is suggested or a supplier or partner to work with and somebody in the team will say ‘ that’s not very B Corp’. There is a constant monitoring and questioning of ourselves.”
And, this view of the OrangeDoor team not just delivering on B Corp principles but personally embracing them and believing in them is a view shared by Lynn, as she discussed the many ways the employees in the organisation are translating and integrating B Corp thinking and values into their personal lives as well:
“The work we have done to help embed B Corp through into all our personal lives, ‘taking this stewardship home’ has also been really important. We’ve embedded it all the way through, and we are really fortunate to have the team we do as they are so keen and passionate about same subject. In meetings, they’re always building on new top of ideas all the time.”
The ‘cost’ is really just a little more mental agility
One of the consistent perceptions of embracing a more sustainable approach to business is the commercial investment required to both transition to a more sustainable business as well as the ongoing costs of seeking out more ways of delivering products and services within the business. However, the experience at OrangeDoor has been quite the opposite, as Elizabeth explained:
“’The cost!’ gets thrown back at me all the time. And, sure, it might ‘cost’ a little bit more mental agility; you might have to approach things in a slightly different way. But we're not finding it's costing us more money ‘to be green’, to be kinder, to work with local communities rather than bringing our own team in on events (in other regions). It's just taking us a little bit more time to think about it and work the process through. And if that what it takes to do the right thing for community, for planet and for people, so be it.
“B Corp is about the balance of three pillars, people, planet and profit”, added Lynn. “Sometimes you have to make a decision that is based on the balance of all three and it can be a bit of a struggle getting the balance. However, consistent explanation of where we sit across the three pillars (with regards to a job or another decision within the business ) really helps to embed the understanding overall.”
B like us and join us!
Living and being true to your values as a business on an ongoing basis – in the way you act, not just in the words you say - can be a challenge for many businesses and is often the source of frustration for new employees who find the business they were promised in an interview is not the business they then walk into once employed. However, for OrangeDoor, B Corp status has also offered a clear point of differentiation in a highly competitive market for talent – something Lynn was keen to highlight:
“One of the strengths we now have with B Corp is during the recruitment process. In interviews, when we discuss all the B Corp elements we offer at OrangeDoor in terms of sustainability beliefs, work/life balance, the framework that we live by and so on, so many prospective employees express at that point they want to work for us; they cannot believe that we are actually doing it – and that we're not just saying we're doing it. It has really made a difference in our recruitment process."
“We have members of our team now, that when we were trying to employ them, we were up against stiff competition and some other great agencies, but they chose us because of our beliefs, our behaviours and what we’re doing. So that has been a big success.”
For all B Corps, there is of course, an operational reality to the work they do – that if you are in business, you are having an impact the environment and there is no getting around this. So the conversation (and the action) is then focused on how you minimise that impact, the environmental footprint and offset it wherever you can. As a global experiential and events agency, the impact of the work OrangeDoor delivers on behalf of its clients was not lost on Elizabeth:
“Operationally, there are difficult and big things to consider and overcome. We put on events around the world - ‘Boom’ - there's our biggest challenge - we’re putting people on planes for example. However, if you really delve into a lot of the information around these really big things, there lots that you can do to mitigate this.
“I'm not just talking about planting trees but also understanding what fuel the airlines are using and what they are doing from an environmental perspective for example. There are lots of challenges in the work we are doing. But we work them out with our clients and have grown up conversations with our clients, with B Corp fully in the middle of the conversation.”
A world of discovery and creativity
Perhaps one of the most interesting and, over the longer term, beneficial aspects of becoming a B Corp from an operational perspective is, as Elizabeth has already alluded to, the mental agility, curiosity and creativity that the team needs to constantly engage to find new or alternative solutions to ensure their events are in line with B Corp requirements. Both Elizabeth and Lynn expressed their enthusiasm for the benefits of this ongoing discovery process for the business and the positive impact it is having on the team and its relationship with suppliers, clients and partners:
“I'm very surprised at how many like-minded suppliers there are out there willing to help”, stated Elizabeth. “In the last 3-5 years, companies have grown from nowhere driven by leaders who are incredibly passionate about the planet and people. There are some incredible and inspirational initiatives across the industry when it comes to recycling, reusing and minimizing waste. It has surprised me is how easy it has been to find solutions wherever we travel, because I thought it was going to be really challenging. It’s getting easier and easier to fine the right solution.”
Lynn supported this sentiment, saying: “If we look back even just five or six years ago, companies we worked for were concentrating on getting CSR policies together. Now we've moved on and ESG has much become more detailed - we're now supplying information about a single event in a small part of a big building. It has become so granular. It's completely shifted from having a policy about ‘thinking and believing in it’ to a report that specifies ‘what we have done’.”
The evolution of doing and delivering
Securing B Corp certification is not the end of the journey, but rather the first step in a business’s constant drive to do more and be better. The challenge then becomes how to evolve and retain all the inspiration, passion and enthusiasm that led the business to achieve certification and translate that into delivering on its promise and values every day. For Lynn, it’s a core part of her operational role and an annual exercise to explore the operational frameworks OrangeDoor has in place and how these can be improved or adapted to meet the changing needs of the market and clients:
“We are currently working on the goals we want to set for our next year of certification. Expanding the information and knowledge we have around our preferred suppliers is a key next step, going a little bit deeper in terms understanding how much more they are doing and what effect and impact they are having. We're also building out a deeper personal development plan process for our team including progression, personal and career aspirations and performance review combined - really starting to look at paving out the ways for the future to retain the best talent we have.”
At a strategic level too – there is an ever-evolving landscape at OrangeDoor regarding the longer-term vision to move the business from B Corp to ‘best practice’. Elizabeth explains: “B Corp needs to consistently run through the DNA of our business. As a business now, we don't think ‘what are we doing for B Corp?’ when we're writing a proposal because everything we’re doing should align to those values. I want to ensure this is ingrained in every new employee that joins our business, every supplier that we work with - this is important strategically. It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm we have for it also panning out through our supply chain as we bring others on the journey with us.”
Communication and collaboration
Real discernible change in business and society only occurs when scale is achieved, and scale is hard to deliver without collaboration. As a B Corp pioneer in the events industry, OrangeDoor is now in the process of working with B Lab – the B Corp certification organisation, to help impart its knowledge, experience and learning to others in the events industry, helping to ensure they can also achieve B Corp status; something both Lynn and Elizabeth see as crucial to it longevity and growth across the industry.
“What I strongly believe, and B Lab also believes, is that it is important to help other people on their journey towards accreditation, but you don't do it for them,” Lynn said. “You consult with them and understand their position they're in; they might need a menopause or breastfeeding policy for example. You then give them the tools they might need to help them think about it, but they have to do it. Because if they don't understand why they're writing it, they're probably not truly believing in it either.
“There is a big help culture in the B Corp community. B Lab itself is always very responsive and come back to you with very supportive and helpful information. If you ask for advice, you will get it. It's a community and that is what B Corp has built itself on. It’s really good supportive network of people for sure.”
Elizabeth expanded on this point around community, by painting a broader picture of the way the events industry is now working together in many other ways more than ever: “I think, strangely enough, COVID did a huge amount for this industry. It bought us all together and created a kindness within the industry because of our shared challenges through COVID, and this has carried on running through until today. A lot of the leaders in the industry now speak very openly and candidly to each other."
Added Lynn: “I think it's really important that we embrace those in our industry who are now also joining the ranks of B Corp and that we continue to work together in this way. I see it as part of our responsibility as a B Corp. To get people to come along on the journey with us, we should be encouraging people to make that impact. Because the bigger the force we are, the bigger the impact we can make.”
B Corp is about action, not just vision and values, not just words on the wall, but tangible actions that lead to impactful change. So, we ended the conversation by asking both Lynn and Elizabeth what the one or two key ambitions or milestones were for each of them over the next 12 months in this regard. Lynn led with her thoughts: “Over the next 12 months, I'd like to help more businesses become B Corp by helping them through the assessments. It’s the ‘extension work’, where we can continue to work with other businesses and share the good news on what they can do; opening up and digging deeper into the B Corp questions and requirements to help them understand how they apply specifically to their workplace - opening their eyes to all the opportunities. My bigger goal is to achieve World B Corp status for OrangeDoor. To achieve this, we have to focus on one of the six categories and be in the top 10%. That would be amazing!”
Elizabeth concluded the conversation with a succinct summary of where she believes B Corp should sit within her organisation in 12 months’ time: “I don’t want B Corp to even be a word in our company. I want our team to just do it, and just get better and better at how they are delivering it and to ensure that it is spread right through the company - from the very first person that walks through the door to the very last person - that they all have the same passion as we do for B Corp.”
So, not a word of expression, or a framework for doing; but rather the heart of a culture; a way of thinking, a way of believing - in B Corp and in always striving to ‘B’ better.