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News > Old Oakhamian Stories > Helping businesses become a force for good

Helping businesses become a force for good

Jessica Ferrow ('04) is the co-founder and director of the climate impact agency, Twelve.

Growing up in Indonesia awakened Jessica to sustainability issues, a passion she has carried throughout her life. After studying Law & French at Leeds University and realising that a future in law was not for her, Jessica embarked on a career in sustainability and environmental action.

A temp agency in Bristol got her a 3-month administration role with Natural England, which provided a foot in the door to the world of sustainability. Various roles in the industry in Bristol followed suit and she worked her way into the niche of sustainability communications. After a brief stint in a London agency, Jessica decided it was time to try self-employment and returned to Bristol to become a freelance consultant.

After a few years of working solo, she met her now co-founder Ellie Austin, and they launched Twelve in 2018 – the year global scientists sounded the alarm and said global society has until 2030 to reverse catastrophic climate change. Twelve now works with various household name brands (including Pukka, Unilever, Depop, eBay, Finisterre and Edgard & Cooper) to help them respond meaningfully to the climate and ecological crisis. This includes helping these businesses with sustainability strategies, greenwash-free communications and achieving the much-coveted B Corp certification.

Twelve helps companies navigate their way through the climate crisis. A company might come to us and say, “We know climate change is a problem, we know we need to do something, but we don’t know what - help us!” So we’ll be their guide on the road to climate action. We’ll look into what they’re doing as a company, identify emissions hotspots and help them set ambitious targets and take meaningful action. You can think of us like a critical friend; we’ll help companies, but we’ll also challenge them - and be honest about whether they’re doing enough.

We work with lots of wonderful, purpose-driven brands – who make everything from pet food to baby food and herbal tea, clothing and even mattresses. We help them take actionnot just on carbon and climate - but also on other pressing sustainability issues like packaging, human rights and supply chains. This can involve anything from training senior leadership teams to finding new ways to engage employees in the green agenda. It’s one of those jobs where no two days are the same and I love it!

The B Corp certification is a hallmark for ethical and sustainable businesses. It takes a deep dive into every aspect of an organisation and awards points across five categories: governance, environment, community, workers and customers.

It’s a very popular certification and many well-known and loved sustainable brands carry it - like Ben & Jerry’s, Pukka Herbs,

Patagonia, Finisterre and The Body Shop to name a few. The idea is that business can be a force for good in the world, and this certification is a way of showing that as well as making a profit, a company is making a positive impact.

Ellie and I are both trained B Leaders, which means we’re qualified to take companies through the B Corp process - which isn’t for the faint hearted! It’s incredibly thorough and gets into the real finer details of how a company is run. It often takes companies well over a year to gain certification – and involves making lots of little changes to their business model and providing vast amounts of evidence - and we’re with them every step of the way.

People come to me all the time and ask, ‘how do I get a career in sustainability?’, and my answer to them is to start where you are. Whatever you’re doing, you can put a sustainability lens on it. Graphic designers can make the choice to only work with brands making a positive impact, architects can prioritise using sustainable materials, people working in advertising take a stand against selling people things they don’t need. Even artists and musicians have a large role to play in helping people emotionally connect with the challenges in society (indeed they always have). I’m seeing a lot of young people entering the workforce and saying that they only want to work for B

Corps and other purpose-led businesses because they want to know that their work is making a positive difference.

I believe it’s about changing mindsets. Once people realise that business can be about a lot more than just making money it really opens up a world of possibility. When I was leaving school it seemed like the only way to work on climate issues was by going into government or charity work. And while those are much-needed and valid career paths – it’s no longer the only option. There are some amazing businesses out there really making a difference to everything from food waste to plastic pollution AND making a profit at the same time. Capitalism has historically been responsible for much of the destruction of our biosphere but as a system it’s so entrenched in our society it’s probably here to stay for now. B Corps are showing a way to make capitalism work for everyone, rather than just trashing our planet to make a small number of rich people even richer.

We can’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Every tonne of carbon not emitted means a better future for everyone. There are some truly troubling reports coming out from climate scientists today about the state of our planet. It’s not just about ice caps and polar bears but all ecosystems and people and societies too. People everywhere are already being impacted – just look at the heatwaves we experienced this summer and the floods and fires around the world. The burden is increasingly being borne by those with less privilege and now, young people are increasingly suffering from eco-anxiety, which is not something myself or my peers had to confront when we were at school.

In all of this, it’s important not to lose hope, and instead find ways to take action where we can. If we only focus on the extremes or doing things perfectly, then we won’t win this thing. People think that climate change is either win or lose, and that’s not true. Every tonne of carbon dioxide that doesn’t get emitted into the atmosphere is a win. That’s why I’ve dedicated my career to trying to make a difference. As well as feeling like we’re on the right side of history, it certainly makes life interesting. I work with brilliant people every day and I can’t imagine doing anything else.


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