The Color of Money

The Color of Money
Photo by Mackenzie Marco / Unsplash

It's interesting, the broad spectrum occupied by the color green: from the verdant hues of nature to the dollar-bill shade of Benjamins and other denominations that fuel the engine of our economy.

Of course, these two often come into conflict, nature and money, and perhaps nowhere is the ick factor greater than when the two collide at companies trying to dress up their reputation through greenwashing.

There's an intriguing case of greenwashing being adjudicated in the court of B Lab, the nonprofit organizing body that runs the certification process for B Corps, companies that are certified as achieving a certain level of social and environmental impact. B Lab is being pressured by Clean Creatives and other B Corps to decertify four B Corp certified subsidiaries of Havas, a multinational advertising agency, because it is working with Shell Oil Company. Havas pitched the business even though potential conflict with its agency certifications was foreshadowed, which we wrote about last summer.

You can read the complaint from Clean Creatives here. My agency Oliver Russell is one of 900 agencies that have taken the Clean Creatives pledge.

As it currently stands, B Lab has completed an initial review of the situation and is elevating the matter to the next stage with a formal investigation process. Among the issues being considered are whether Havas and its B Corp agencies have exceeded the limit on clients in controversial industries, such as petrochemicals, to potential misrepresentations by the company on its B Corp certification assessment.

B Lab has earmarked several industries as possible red flags in certification: fossil fuels, defense, firearms, gambling, hazardous materials, pornography, prisons, and tobacco industries. Each instance where companies work with concerns in these industries is considered and weighed when a business goes through the certification process. Potential findings could include decertification, suspended status with remediation mandated, or certification upheld, among others.

We had our own quandary with petrochemicals at Oliver Russell. I expanded on this in the same issue of Godspeed last summer that foretold the potential dispute between Havas and B Lab. After many deliberations, we decided to "decarbonize" our client base by resigning a large convenience store account and taking a significant financial hit to our agency.

You can rationalize your way to almost any decision, say in this case that you're robbing Peter (Big Oil) to pay Paul (say, nonprofit donations, for instance.). You can certainly greenwash your way to faux sustainability, pulling the wool over the eyes of your customers, employees, and investors – at least in the short term.

The B Corp symbol, like those of other valid certification bodies, is shorthand in the marketplace for a set of business values that are adhered to via actual performance. So, the question in my mind is: Should a B Corp be involved with any of the industries listed earlier? A pragmatist might argue the issue isn't black and white, that the color green is actually a sea of gray, where trade-offs and compromise are realities in our quest for a sustainable world.

For me, this checks the box for "lucre." I'd argue that climate change is too pressing, the consequences so devastating, the fossil fuel story far too duplicitous for any of us in the advertising industry to participate in applying lipstick to this petrochemical pig. But then again it IS the advertising industry.

What do you think? What would you do if you were B Lab? How would you handle it if you were Havas?

Godspeed, friends.


For the color geeks out there: There is indeed a color for "US Dollar." And further into the weeds: It has the hex code #6B8068. The equivalent RGB values are (107, 128, 104), which means it is composed of 32% red, 38% green and 31% blue. The CMYK color codes, used in printers, are C:16 M:0 Y:19 K:50. In the HSV/HSB scale, US Dollar has a hue of 113°, 19% saturation and a brightness value of 50%.

💬 Quote of the Week

“If January is the month of change, February is the month of lasting change. January is for dreamers… February is for doers.” Marc Parent

💥 Quick Hits

A single small map is enough for a lifetime - Looking to reduce your carbon footprint by traveling less but still want to explore? Perhaps a new perspective will help you do it closer to home.

Artificial intelligence and poets - You all know we've got a thing for poets here at Godspeed. But why does Silicon Valley have a thing for them?

It's right around the corner - The annual B Corp Champions Retreat is next month in beautiful Vancouver, BC. You can get your tickets here.

🤔 Trivia Time

Since restructuring into a series of trusts and nonprofits in September of 2022 and committing all its profits to philanthropy, how much has Patagonia generated in contributions to conservation and political causes?

  • $16 million
  • $24 million
  • $71 million
  • $83 million

Today's trivia answer can be found at the bottom of this newsletter.‌‌‌‌‌

Find the Most Meaningful Work of Your Career

Our partner One Work has you covered with meaningful work that goes beyond a paycheck, a cubicle, or a weekly team Zoom call. You'll find purposeful jobs like those below, along with many more at the One Work job board.

Pattern Energy - If you reside at the confluence of connection and community, perhaps this job is for you: managing the community engagement program for a leading renewable energy company. Public Engagement Manager, REMOTE.

Patagonia - Ready, set, apply! Digital Marketing Specialist, Sausalito, CA.

Warby Parker - This B Corp job has cool specs plus a vision for how business should look in the future. Staff Web Engineer, New York, NY.

Trivia Answer

According to the New York Times, profits from Patagonia operations have enabled its affiliated nonprofit, the Holdfast Collective, to contribute $71 million to conservation and political causes since September 2022. That's sixteen months, give or take, which amounts to the neighborhood of roughly $37,000 donated every day.

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