Nathan Gilbert, former Executive Director at B Lab Europe, recently joined the iceberg and became part of the South Pole team. We caught up with him to find out what this new calling means to him, and in the process we revealed some surprises about what the last year has meant for pursuing profit for purpose.
After 10 years at B Lab you're now joining South Pole and we're very excited to have you on board. What is B Lab exactly, what were you responsible for there?
B Lab is the non-profit behind B Corp Certification. For those unfamiliar with B Corp, it's a certification designed to be a comprehensive measurement of a company's social and environmental performance. It also requires legal accountability, and the whole objective is to create a positive impact through business activities. But more than just issuing a sustainability certification scheme, B Lab's mission is to create a more inclusive and regenerative economy by identifying and empowering a community of leaders to demonstrate a better way to do business.
In the last ten years, my role at B Lab was focused on supporting the scaling of B Corp around the globe. What started as a small community of USA-based B Corps quickly grew to a global movement of over 4000 companies in over 70 different countries. In leading this global growth, and most recently as Executive Director for B Lab Europe, I forged close relationships between individuals and networks and grounded this diverse group of stakeholders in our shared objectives and mission. This required navigating a wide range of business complexities, expectations, and norms that oftentimes are challenging to align.
Why did you get into this field? Why is it your personal mission to make businesses part of the solution?
I have always been compelled to work in public service and to support others. During my studies I became passionate about the topic of sustainability and the urgent need to address climate change. What inspired me about B Lab was the aim to generate not just increased social and environmental impact in business, but also to ensure our economic system works for all people and the planet by changing the rules of the game.
Getting involved in this work was something that helped answer the question, “what do I want to contribute to every day of my life." For me it's really about impact. I want to contribute my energy and effort to an organization that aligns with these values and drives positive impact.
How did your experience at B Lab shape you professionally? What strengths are you bringing along with you to the iceberg?
Over the years at B Lab I was able to better understand many of the challenges and complexities that organizations face, which aren't always immediately visible. My experience and ability to connect, understand, and empower individuals across an organization really allowed us at B Lab to create a more empowering and uplifting space for everybody involved.
I'm excited to bring this experience and ability to navigate and address complexities across companies to my role at South Pole, along with how to create cohesion and alignment towards a common goal.
2020 was a tough year and it's still difficult to see the light on the horizon. Have companies had to reevaluate their commitments to profit with purpose over the last year?
There is no doubt the last year was an extremely difficult year for a lot of companies. At the beginning of the pandemic we expected that companies would no longer prioritize sustainability or even their B Corp Certification because business priorities shifted.
However, our initial assumptions proved to be wrong. It was the exact opposite of what we expected. Interest in, demand for, and excitement about B Corp was higher than ever. Despite being a difficult year, people increasingly began to realize that how they operate and that what they prioritize goes far beyond the bottom line.
We have also seen this in the climate space where more and more companies are realizing that they aren't going to go back to how business was done before. The rationale for investing in a more sustainable economy is now really at the forefront and on the minds of many CEOs around the world.
So is it fair to say that this is a silver lining of the pandemic? That businesses have been given the space to turn inward to look at things like their environmental footprint?
As businesses turn inward, the best thing to do is transform. What happened in 2020 is that many businesses realized the necessity to reinvent themselves, to address negative externalities, to prioritize impact and team wellbeing. Two of the biggest priorities in business now are the climate crisis and JEDI issues (justice, equity, diversity and inclusion).
The pandemic didn't create the space for this shift, but rather accelerated it. There was already a positive trend going into 2020 where more and more companies were talking about and taking action on climate. Even more, there was a mainstreaming of a narrative that business must play a more active and positive role in society. As we slowly come out of the pandemic it's exciting to see the many ways in which businesses have been reinventing themselves and the next steps they'll take to become a force for good.
And within this context, this massive shift, why did you choose South Pole to enable you to make a difference? And if we were to have this same interview in 10 years from now, what will success look like to you from your time with South Pole? What mark do you want to leave on the iceberg and with all of the companies that we work with?
Why South Pole? It comes back to the question of impact. Quite simply, South Pole is one of the organizations where I feel I can have the most impact on one of the biggest challenges that we're facing. After having met some of my colleagues around the world and seeing how dedicated and experienced they are, I know I've made the right choice.
In 10 years from now there are two things that I would like to reflect on. First, I hope that our climate ambition and net-zero commitments have been realized. I want to look back and know that we were at a critical moment in time to address climate change, and that at South Pole we were a powerful enabler for companies all over the world to be part of this journey and make real, credible action.
Second, I want to look back and feel proud knowing that the team that we built to achieve this objective did so in a collaborative, inclusive and even familial culture… and had fun along the way!