About Sumthing

Who we work with

published on
July 30, 2023

We’re often asked about which companies we would and wouldn’t work with.

On the one hand we’d like every business to chip in, but on the other we want to avoid being used as corporate greenwashing instrument. Here we’ll describe our current thoughts on how we develop and build Sumthing’s B2B customer portfolio.

We won't claim it’s perfect but at least it’s a starting point, a moral compass of sorts, that we’ll keep adjusting as we go. And we already know that there’s a bunch of cynics who will nitpick and disagree. But if we’d listen to the cynics, we wouldn’t have started in the first place. 

An inconvenient truth

Let’s first take a step back. The world is a complex place, where the line between good and bad is sometimes more nuanced than populist media lead us to believe. What we can all agree on: we need a huge overhaul of the way companies run and how we live our lives. But there’s a connection between the way business are run and the way we live our lives. To illustrate this, let’s think of an imaginary company. One that we’ll probably all have encountered, regardless of how sustainable our lifestyle is:
Introducing HammerTime Inc., a company that produces hammers.

This company will be involved in taking metals out of the ground, melting them into hammer heads and cutting down trees to add handles. From an ecological point of view we’d be better of without this company, but from a societal point of view it might be handy to have hammers around. Otherwise it would just be sticks and stones. So who’s to blame here? 

The point is that it’s not just the company or the consumer, the entire system has to change. If you're interested in this topic, we really recommend Kate Raworth's Donut Economics.

towards a regenerative & distributive economy.

We’re optimistic people and definitely think the system can improve, but getting there will take time. A lot of time. And so waiting to make positive impact until there’s no more negative impact is not an option. By the time we’d start making positive impact there’d be nothing left to restore! 

So this illustrates our dilemma; who gets to make positive impact already and who first really needs to get their act together?

Navigating the dilemma

We find the solution to this question in a spectrum that we plot clients onto, ranging from dream clients to clients we’ll outright reject at the front door. A quick but important disclaimer: although we carefully consider each client we simply don’t have time to be as thorough in our client due diligence as we are in our project due diligence. So we’re swinging with publicly available information here.

Dream clients

So far the best description we’ve come up with for who we want to work with is: ‘People who can, and want to, leverage their business to make a difference for nature’. For us there’s a lot of meaning hidden in that little sentence, so let’s unpack;

  • Making a difference means being intrinsically driven to get genuine results, not just checking a box. Sustainability is a dot on the horizon these people are racing towards, but haven’t reached yet. They factually and publicly share progress and setbacks or mistakes, and take big steps to reduce negative impacts and boost positive impact.
  • A real difference isn’t fleeting. It’s something that lasts, preferably so the children of our children get to enjoy it. The people we work with play the long-game.
  • A difference is proportional to who’s making it. If a hard-working solo-entrepreneur allocaties hard-earned revenues to plant a 1000 trees, we’re happy to make it happen. But if a multinational comes with the same order, we’d challenge them (hard) to step up.
  • People that really care about making a difference, immediately think of how to get customers, employees and suppliers involved. They’re willing to take risk when it comes to their brand, but would never take risk when it comes to the planet.

This is no day dreaming. These people actually do exist, and the good news is that more and more of them are noticing the movement ! If you’re one of them, we’d love to hear from you. 

The no-brainer rejections 

There’s a few things that if a company is involved in, it’s a definite no-no: denying the climate emergency, disputing indigenous rights and titles, failing to uphold human rights, fair labour practices or health & safety commitments, complicity in domestic or international corruption or bribery and dumping (toxic) waste.

There’s a few industries that are so bogged down in these issues that we’ve chosen to avoid working with them at all, including Tobacco, Arms & Defence, Oil & Gas, Mining, Iron, aluminium & steel, Chemicals and petrochemicals, Old growth logging and For profit prisons.

The grey zone and the importance of red flags

Between the nightmare and the dream client, there’s a big grey area. In this grey area we tend to find companies that have a huge reach and budgets. And inside those companies are people that want things to work differently, but there are also people who don’t. For us a few of the red flags are when companies have been proven to;

  • Cover up previous mistakes rather than admitting them publicly and making amends.
  • Overstate progress in reducing negative impacts to create a ‘halo-effect’ for their brand.
  • Structurally prioritise short-term quarterly growth over long-term generational growth.
  • Face law-suits or are mired in headline-making scandals. 

The more of these red flags are present, the less likely we are to work with them.

If we do decide to work with them, it’s even more important that we focus on an essential part of our work: to create relevant, factual and bullet-proof communication by building alignment in these 3 things;

  • Who the company (truly) is
  • What positive impact they're trying to make, and how that relates to any negative impacts they haven't been able to reduce yet
  • How they communicate about that

We take care that companies adhere to the guidelines we provide. For example; we’re fine with a company pledging to ‘plant a tree for every order placed’. It’s factual and to the point. But if that brand claims to be ‘the most sustainable brand in the category, reforesting at unprecedented scale’ for the same effort, we’d end the collaboration then and there. 

If you’ve made it here, you probably see that this topic is important to us, and that we're also still learning. We're very open to discussing this with our community, so please reach out if you have any comments/suggestions for us!

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