'We must set fearless ambitions for the world we want to create'
Reflecting on our time at Anthropy and how business can be a force for good
On Wednesday the 2nd of November, a small cohort from the B Lab UK team headed to the Eden Project for the first Anthropy gathering. Billed as an alternative to Davos, it promised over 1,000 UK leaders from business, civil society and policy coming together to change the narrative of Britain. The unusual location of the conference offered us a constant reminder of why we were there — to keep people and the planet front of mind in all decisions. Panel discussions took place in the biomes meaning we were surrounded by nature as we listened to difficult conversations and posed challenging questions. Having the opportunity to explore the biomes after these conversations kept us grounded and gave us the space to digest those challenging conversations.
B Lab UK had a space at Anthropy for businesses to learn about the B Corp movement, the Better Business Act, The power of business and Boardroom 2030 — actionable ways that businesses can create a better, more harmonious future — the ultimate goal of the conference. We asked the team on the ground to share what they took home with them and will apply to their work.
Handing over to the team…
Annie, Head of Growth. A discussion about place-based regeneration stuck with me. We need to think about what rules we’re willing to break, whether they’re social or intellectual rules, because the way we’re operating right now isn’t working. As Head of Growth my role is to diversify the B Corp community in a way that reflects UK society so our movement continues to create meaningful impact in the UK and the rest of the world. The people affected by the decisions we make need to be in the room when we’re formulating plans for the future.
During my time at Anthropy I spoke with aspiring B Corps and business leaders that were hearing about B Corp Certification for the first time. The conversations they had at the event helped them think differently about purpose and the importance of balancing people, the planet and profit. They were excited by the prospect of a framework like the B Impact Assessment that could help them take action following the gathering.
Mhairi, Campaign Manager for the Better Business Act (BBA). I was energised by the mentions of the BBA and the B Corp movement across so many of the conversations we heard, recognising these as ways for businesses to become part of the solution. We took the power of business to Anthropy — a guide to action for businesses to support people and the planet in the cost of living crisis — and it was a popular read for people visiting our space. We partnered with BBA coalition member Iceland to produce the guide, Managing Director, Richard Walker spoke at Anthropy about the work they're doing to support customers through the cost of living crisis.
Mary Portas lit up the room during her keynote as she shared inspiring words about the power business can have to make real change in the world. She spoke of us being in ‘our plastic hours’: the rare but crucial times where ruptures in society create opportunities to act. Mary shared her belief in business being one of the main societal structures that can create real, concrete change for the future — and said it can, and should, be a force for good — this energised the audience and left them feeling hopeful for what the future of business could look like.
I spoke with many people who were passionate about the true need for the BBA to create systems change — and who were excited to be able to take immediate action by spreading the word or getting their business behind the campaign. Hearing this, especially from big businesses, filled me with hope that businesses are ready to change the landscape of UK business.
Meg, Content Coordinator. As one of the younger people in the room at Anthropy, the conversations about involving young voices in decision-making resonated with me the most. Whilst there were panel discussions about amplifying young voices, I’d have liked to see more people my age, or younger, at the conference as we’re the ones that’ll be affected by action that’s taken — or not taken. In the same week as Anthropy, Collins Dictionary declared permacrisis the word of the year. This word came up repeatedly at Anthropy and is something I find myself troubled over on a day-to-day basis, as do many people and in particular young people. I joined B Lab UK because I’m passionate about businesses stepping up to play a part in resolving this state. There was a diverse array of businesses at Anthropy, including businesses that I’m yet to see take meaningful action. As I travelled back from Anthropy I felt hopeful that the thinking and formulating would turn into action by these businesses.
Daisy, Business Sustainability Specialist. The location of the Eden Project provided an incredibly profound physical and mental space to immerse ourselves in a biodiverse regenerated landscape and open our minds. A discussion in the rainforest biome highlighted the importance of setting fearless ambitions for the world we want to create, rather than limiting the possible by constraining ourselves within unambitious achievable objectives. Anthropy provoked many emotions and I realised that to achieve our mission of every business existing to benefit people and planet, we need to lean into this emotional response, rather than withdrawing from it. Emotions are an innate part of being human, and having more deep and uncomfortable conversations will disrupt the mindset of business leaders to make real commitments to change. The setting of the Eden Project was a brilliant reset of goals and priorities, and I am committing to seeking out more local initiatives. For me, it’s important to continually refuel my work to allow me to think big.
As we wrapped up the conference, our feelings were mixed — we felt hopeful and inspired whilst also feeling overwhelmed with the urgent situation we face. We’re having the same conversations that have been taking place at COP and other conferences for a number of years. While thinking and formulating is crucial, it’s time for action. As Sarah Walker-Smith said during a ‘Future of Britain’ panel discussion “We’ve talked a lot about collaboration today. Collaboration is defined as an act. It’s not about talking or thinking, it’s about taking action. The future needs to have a quality of action”. The B Lab UK space got busier as the conference went on — businesses were keen to learn more about B Corp Certification and the Better Business Act, giving us encouragement that more businesses than ever are ready to step forward.
As a team, we’re taking some time to reflect on the conversations during Anthropy and embed the thinking in our activities for next year. For now, we’re in conversation with the DFN Foundation — a charity on a mission to transform the life outcomes of young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Founder, David Forbes is keen to speak to the B Corp community about the importance of this. A diverse array of businesses showed interest in joining the B Corp community — Annie is connecting with them to help them on their impact improvement journey so they too can become a B Corp. We’re also following up with a wide range of businesses and policymakers to talk to them about the Better Business Act and opportunities for collaboration. We all felt, like Daisy, that taking some time away to hear different perspectives and share our learning was important to help us refocus on what we need to do next.
Watch our round-up of Anthropy in photos and videos.