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Better Know a B: Leap

Leap’s studio operates, jammily, near the sea in Cornwall, where they create things they believe in. They believe what they do needs to make change for good; every time. Matt Hocking, founder of Leap, chatted to us about his business and their B Corp certification.

SD | Tell us a bit about the history of your company?

Well, I had quite a corporate background in terms of the design work I had been doing, and then in 2000, just after I’d bought my very first house in Torquay, I went for an interview at the Eden Project. I went down with my portfolio, and they were a bit puzzled by all the corporate work I’d been doing and sort of asked “Why are you here?” Well, that’s who I’ve been working for, give me a chance, any designer worth his salt can embody the brand. And before I’d gone off site they had called me to say that I’d got the job!

It was a 50% pay cut, but by that point I was hooked - as a kid I’d always loved two things, space and nature, and the Eden Project is like a combination of those two things.

It was awesome - I was a little disenfranchised with design, but the work was coming quite easy and I was earning well, but it didn’t seem to have any connection. At Eden I learned what I could do to effect change and make Eden’s design output more green.

In 2001-2004 I talked with printers, and I learned what was good paper, and what great print techniques were, and I learned that great paper didn’t need to be a premium item. And I got to sit in talks with Ray Mears, be in reception with David Attenborough, got to work with the Peruvian Potato Foundation, in India, Cornwall, and I loved it.

And the people! I’d just come back from Tibet and on an all-time high, it would take me about 2 hours to get across site because it was an absolute hug fest! We would have BBQs on the beach after work, we would surf together. In many ways it was a halcyon time.

But then I met a lovely girl. She worked for the Soil Association, she got offered a job in Wiltshire, and so we moved up to Wiltshire - I was in love so didn’t think too much about it. But I started to realise that once you’ve been working at Eden trying to find a job like that again can be very hard. So I realised quite quickly that I needed to do my own thing.

I had always been good at jumping and handstands, so I called myself LEAP and the agency was born. Our motto is graphic design with the environment in mind, and because sustainability then (2004) was a bit of a hook for some people we started winning projects. We won an 18-month contract for Recycle Cornwall, trying to get people in Cornwall to recycle more. That went well and they offered me other work. We worked on the whole national Real Nappies project and people started to hear about us. Over the years we’ve worked with Global Action Plan, South West Tourism, Gas de France, Carbon Companies, Good Energy – and the clients still love the same things about us. That we challenge them to think more sustainably, and that we make sure every aspect of the business is looked at environmentally.

SD | Why did you become a B Corp?

I had ISO14001 and Investors in People, but I felt that to some extent those had been tick-box exercises. I had first heard about B Corp in 2008 and had seen some work by Free Range (a US B Corp), who I liked. Of course as a designer I liked the logo, and to me the B Corp certification has curiosity at its heart. We want people to ask us about what the B Corp logo means, to ask us ‘What is a B Corp?’ in the same way Free Range piqued our curiosity.

I was looking for something to try and make sure that we were steering our creative boat in the right direction, and the B Corp certification – with its focus on continuous improvement - was the right certification for us.

I believe that design is a huge changemaker – I personally believe that design is more powerful than environmentalists, politicians, education – everything – because we’re at the coalface of everything that is put out into the world at a consumer level. And we need to put ourselves at the heart of those important discussions taking place within businesses about how we choose to design the world around us.

And of course we were excited to become a B Corp because it’s something the whole team got involved in and wanted to do.

SD | What excites you about being part of the global B Corporation movement?

In short, community and the joint sense of purpose. You can earn from each other, you can see these profiles of businesses around the world and be inspired, and you can even reach out and contact these B Corps around the world.

As a design company with a laptop we can work anywhere in the world, and we have worked across the world on all sorts of different projects. The lovely thing about design is that clients come from all over the world, and we hope through B Corp that we continue to grow our international client base with companies that value the way we work.

SD | Can you tell us a little bit about the impact that your company is hoping to have/is having in the world?

We’re focused on using design to reduce environmental impact, and to create awareness of how our sector can alleviate social and environmental impact, whilst still doing what the client needs – namely hitting their target audience and getting good ROI.

But we also want to educate the clients around understanding their approach, for example with their supply chain. ROI for us is not just a financial metric, it’s also about helping to transform the way our clients do business so that they are more environmentally and socially conscious and sustainable. The change we’re looking to bring about is bigger than just bottom line, it’s triple bottom line.

And it’s especially exciting to hear from our clients about how they have changed their own processes as a result of working with us. We had one client who implemented a digital invoicing system after experiencing our own paperless approach to billing, and they called it the Leap billing system. So in a very real sense, the example we set for our clients and the way we challenge them to rethink their own processes is also a hugely important part of the value that we feel we bring to our clients.

Ultimately we look forward to a world where all design has environmentally and socially sustainable thinking at its heart, and where clients then pick the agencies they want to work with based on the quality of the design work and the relationship.

Sometimes people ask us whether we’re worried that more and more agencies are displaying some environmental credentials. And we just say absolutely not. We often go in and freely share the things we’ve learned over the last decade on this journey with other companies because we want to see this stuff become the standard.

SD | How did your other staff react to the certification?

The team were incredibly excited. There was a slight sense of relief because the assessment is very challenging, but with that there was also a renewed sense of purpose. As we were going through the BIA we sort of chatted our way through the questions – we have an open-plan studio so it was great that the staff were involved in the process. Our staff really live and breathe this stuff, so it was a good moment for all of us. And of course, it’s always nice to have the right badge – as designers we like wearing sexy badges!

SD | What has changed in your organisation as a result of taking the B Impact Assessment?

What was really good about taking the assessment was that as we were answering the questions we were seeing things that we did do, but also seeing lots of things that we didn’t do. So through taking the BIA we were asking ourselves ‘Could we do that?’ and ‘Should we do that?’ and ‘Is it worth us doing that better?’ – all important questions.

One of the joys of B Corp is the process of questioning yourself, revisiting the reasons you started the business and continue to be passionate about the power of design.

We loved the question about 360° feedback, and though we were doing that within our team, we weren’t doing that with our clients. So we thought, well actually that would be really cool.

It opened our eyes that on a social and environmental level there’s always things that can be done, and by becoming a certified B Corp we can also show others – in a simplified format – that there are things that they can do as well.

SD | What does the year ahead hold in store for your company?

We started the year with a lovely bunch of commissions: an educational campaign about the environment for Surfers Against Sewage; a strategic plan and associated documents for Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – getting to put these into balanced, lovely print, looking at how much energy waste and water is used in the process, is a real joy; and we’ve also been working with youth leaders from Young People Cornwall. They are 11-19 year olds and we’ve run a co-design day with them to help them shape their own services for Youth Services Cornwall.

SD | Who is your B Corp crush?

I had seen and used in my own presentations The Story of Stuff video, which is produced by Free Range. They were the first company I noticed who were a B Corp, and they would be my B Corp crush. Those guys made me think that I’m although I’m a very small version of what they are I was a B Corp at heart too.

SD | It’s 2020, 5 years since you certified as a B Corp, what does the movement look like?

I get the feeling that B Corp is on the cusp of becoming much bigger globally, that it will keep multiplying now. Longer term I’d like to see the movement become something natural, where there is not even a question anymore about whether businesses should do this, where it just becomes natural for businesses to measure what matters.

SD | What is inspiring you at the moment?

Well, 10 years into the Leap journey I need nourishment as well. So the B Corp movement is inspiring me, but also music festivals and travelling sustainably.

View the B Impact Report for Leap

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