Much has changed within Planit since becoming an accredited B Corp in 2020, particularly after becoming a majority Employee-Owned Business towards the end of last year. With the renewed emphasis this model brings to joint responsibility and collective action, we gathered interested colleagues to form B Corp Working Groups in the approach to our upcoming reaccreditation.
We have an active Working Group associated with the five B Impact Assessment Areas: Governance, Environment (both Practice and Project), Customers, Community and Workers. Each has a dedicated Director, and is led by a Steer. Having established our current standing, groups identified areas within which we could realise most benefit for the business, people and planet; planning and instigating initiatives. Some of this suite of wide-ranging initiatives will be implemented in full prior to reaccreditation, others establish our intent and set a programme for action going forward.
As through our commissions, collective work has had many interconnected benefits. It has provided opportunities for some to understand more about how the practice operates, allowed deeper permeation of B Corp aspirations into our work, steered which areas we focused on, and drew in a wide range of perspectives to determine the practical action we take.
As Dominic Fitzsimmons, Principal Landscape Architect explains: “B Corp is a great way to empower the employees of a company. It gives everyone a strong sense of purpose to all pull in the same direction. By making every day, for every employee, as rewarding as possible we can help to deliver on our goal of leaving the world a better place than we found it, through design.”
B Corp has provided a framework to help us structure and prompt continual improvement that benefits people and planet in balance with profit, but the work under this banner takes forward long-held practice values. It encourages and stretches existing aspirations and aims.
Taking the team along with them, and prompting support across the practice, each group shares their work and progress through our Weekly Team Newsletters and associated Rise and Shine sessions. We’ve brought together an overview for you here.
A fundamental part of the shift to an Employee-Owned Business is around governance. Since transition, our Trust Board has been established alongside our Operations and Strategy Boards. The combination of becoming B Corp accredited and employee-owned allowed us to consider in detail our mission and purpose for the long-term and we are now embedding our mission statement into the fabric of our governance structure. This Mission-Aligned Governance ensures we continually consider all stakeholders in our decision-making — not just shareholders.
To embed our wider social and environmental commitments into our business we’ve been refining our Mission Statement as part of the Change The Plan(it) process over the last year, consulting with the wider team as we work towards finalisation. Social and environmental responsibilities are being integrated throughout, from Role Profiles and our Personal Development Plan goals, to Trust Board reporting criteria, Codes of Ethics and Supply Chain management.
This Working Group consists of Founding Director and Chair Ed Lister, Director James King, and Landscape Architect Mark Moss. Having expressed an interest, Mark’s inclusion in the group has given him considerable insight of the inner workings and decision-making factors.
As the Environment Impact Assessment area is so wide ranging, we split into two groups: Practice and Projects. Within the Practice Group Georgina Baines, Josie Bacon, Julia Torr and Matt Stirton are looking at the wider impact of Planit and its studios. Their focus has been on Planit’s operational impact; from day-to-day decisions such as the paper we use, through to monitoring and reducing our carbon footprint to realises our pledge to be Net Zero Carbon by 2030.
This group’s most significant goal is to produce an Environmental Management System (EMS) that helps us achieve our environmental goals through consistent control of our operations. This is a live document that will be reviewed and updated annually. It will develop and adapt to meet our evolving aspirations and practice objectives. Environmental Reps in each of our five studios helped gather information via a Studio Questionnaire, feeding into baseline analysis alongside the Accounts and Support Teams. This provides the foundation against which can measure, informs our plans and enables setting of targets.
Studio Co-ordinator, Josie Bacon, tells us why she joined a B Corp working group: “I believe B Corp acts as a brilliant tool to help Planit remain socially and environmentally accountable as a business. It encourages us to continually improve and to ensure we are part of the movement working to secure a liveable future. It also provides a community of likeminded people to help us along the way. In our working group we’ve been looking specifically at our footprint as a practice, focussing on areas such as our commuting, energy use and how we can reduce the impact our buildings have.”
The other half of the Environment Working Group focuses on the project work we undertake. For many of the team, this is the most direct way in which we interact with B Corp, through the schemes we work on, the people we work with and how we want to make the world a better place.
One of the areas of work for this group, consisting of Ben Musgrave, Georgina Baines, John Willerton, and Tim Foxford, is understanding the type of projects we undertake, who it’s for, who it might benefit and environmental performance. Tracking this over time enables us to establish our direction of movement and improvements made.
Another aspect is improving our use of the Climate Positive Toolkit. This simple tool provides a useful means of testing and exploring the carbon implications of project’s design decisions. We are working with its creator, Pamela Conrad, to incorporate the materials and elements we regularly use. Beyond this, an Environmental Opportunities Assessment is being developed, looking to maximise realisation of positive impacts, including how they are tracked and communicated throughout the life of project. This work complements our exploration and research into more regenerative practice.
“For me, B Corp is all about challenging the way we do things and making us better designers. Works towards our re-accreditation, we are considering every aspect of the business and the move from simply ‘doing less harm’ to adopting a mindset of leaving the world ‘better than we found it’. This step change in how to do things is not going to happen overnight. The projects (for the most part) define us and what we stand for — they say who we want to work with and why. This may change. Our next steps will be critical and honest appraisal of just how much ‘good’ we do in our work, and what knowledge / experience / resource we need to go beyond this — defining our ‘tools’ for the next 25 years.” John Willerton, Principal Urban Designer and Environment, Projects Steer.
We don’t refer to clients, organisations, consultants and communities we work with as ‘customers’, and many of the impacts and ‘beneficiaries’ of our commissions are not direct, but indirect, which makes definition and measurement in these areas more complex. Within the Change The Plan(it) process that accompanied our transition to Employee Ownership, we carried out an external perceptions study and a longer-term aim of this group will be to instigate mechanisms for gaining ‘customer’ feedback.
The current focus of this group, which includes Anna Couch, Danny Marsh and Richard Line, is Data Protection both through an array of measures and Cyber Essentials recertification, and GDPR related procedures. We’ve been working with a GDPR specialist to refine our policies and privacy notices, informed by a fact-finding exercise, to ensure we have robust measures in place. Next week, all will receive training from Director-level, through roles for which GDPR has a specific-relevance, to the wider team, so all understand their role in protecting personal data.
Throughout Planit we have a team that wants to give back, and there are numerous self-initiated and project-related initiatives and volunteering activities that take place across every studio. As part of the Community Working Group, Ben Young and Kevin Redhead explored this, to inform a more strategic approach to the practice’s Civic Engagement and Giving. Whilst it might seem acquisitive to be capturing and mandating our collective altruism, such activities require time, and as the resource our business sells, this can have some significant financial considerations across the practice. As such, it is vital for us to get right and ensure we are more effective in this area in the future. We currently finessing analysis to finalise our proposal.
Internally, we want Planit to be a practice where we support each other and pave the way for a better workplace. It is acknowledged that with degree plus master-level entry to professions in Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, there are significant entry barriers to the industry. Whilst we have employed one of the first cohort of Landscape Technician Apprentices, there is much more for us to do. Responses to an anonymous internal Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Survey set a baseline to measure against and indicated areas within which we should look to improve. Led by Caleb Jones and Victoria Ellenbogen, in conjunction with Principal for People Alison Halsall, a wider group of Studio Reps is developing initiatives to provide awareness, education and training opportunities; challenging perceptions, encouraging inclusivity and representation, to support all.
“The practice has always been socially-conscious and motivated to benefit communities. The Community Working Group has come together to raise awareness of the value we bring and show the team how they can be involved in future.” Ben Young, Standard Practice.
The Worker’s Impact Assessment Area evaluates our contributions to our teams, financial security, health and safety, wellness, career development, engagement and satisfaction; also recognising business models designed to benefit workers. Since becoming an employee-owned practice last year, there have been changes to our governance and operational structure to ensure Planit is run in alignment with our mission and purpose, for the benefit of our stakeholders and in accordance with our B Corp values.
Workers Steer and Principal for People, Alison Halsall is developing a People and Culture Strategy for 2023 and beyond, which will build on the value we already place on our team members. This will revolve around several priority areas, including those recognised by B Corp. We want to have engaged, happy, healthy teams with the opportunity to fulfil their potential and do their best work. B Corp is a framework that supports this aim, but we’d be doing these things anyway!
On a practical level, Dominic Fitzsimmons and Louise Fountain are enhancing our New Starter’s Induction process, drawing on suggestions from those with recent experiences, and working with Graphic Designer, Molly Deakin to create a New Starter Toolkit. This will be complemented by Planit Handbook. The induction process is the first step within a comprehensive Learning and Development programme Alison is establishing for the whole team that supports our business objectives. The groups’ work is overseen by Andy Roberts, Director for HR.
Alison tells us how the Workers Group aims to go beyond: “At Planit there’s a genuine sense of community, we enjoy what we do and want to help each other. Our people are talented, driven and passionate. It’s easy to say ‘people are what makes us special’ but being part of B Corp is a great way to prove that we mean it. B Corp isn’t just a badge, it’s about providing the evidence to stand by our words. The process is tough and going through the assessment is an opportunity to delve into how we’re doing. As a result, we’ve empowered our team to become involved in initiatives.”