Being Good is for life, not just for Christmas
One of our core values at Versantus is Being Good. We interpret this in a range of ways: being healthy, happy, kind, and honest. Giving good advice, doing great work, enjoying ourselves doing it. We also interpret in the same way Google used to: "don't be evil". Don't knowingly do things that are morally dubious or downright wrong, do everything possible to avoid accidentally being evil, and take every opportunity to do better.
For a business that's trying to grow it can be hard to stay on the right(eous) path. When ambition is high and margins are tight, how do we cherry-pick the "good" customers who share our ethics and avoid the ones that don't? How do we promote a strong culture that encourages consistent behaviours in our team as it expands, whilst still promoting diversity? How do we work on projects for the right reasons, not the wonga wrong ones? What counts as right and wrong anyway?
I'm proud of most of the choices we've made so far in our ten years of trying to be good. There are lots of things I'd do differently if I was in the same position again, but as an ex-Philosophy student and a lover of Bentham's utilitarianism, I am confident that overall we've done much more good than harm, and the ratio is heading in the right direction most days.
Our good work over the years includes projects in support of refugee rights, better access to education in the global South, return to work coaching for new mums, and lots of projects with local and international charities. We're building a good team by hiring people with similar values but with a diverse background and skills. We invest heavily in training, equipment and opportunity, including for young apprentices and work experience students. We encourage exercise, mindfulness, a good work-life balance (well, good-ish!), and positive community action.
We've also recently been working on projects that are specifically or closely related to environmental issues. We've worked with Badminton Horse trials in their significant efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, helped Swarco Econnect build a world-class electric vehicle charging platform, and we're currently in the midst of a project to raise awareness of the issue of deforestation caused by some of the largest companies in the world.
With the climate emergency now terrifyingly clear and present to everyone who doesn't have their head in a rapidly melting glacier, it makes me happy that we also work on projects that can have a positive impact for the environment. It's easy to get caught in a geekgasm over exciting technology, but - honestly - who else cares? Technology is nothing in isolation. It only matters if it is building a better future for people and planet, and we need to continue to play our part.
Technology is nothing in isolation. It only matters if it is building a better future for people and planet
This year we wanted to do something fun at Christmas to show that we care deeply about these issues. Every year since 2009 we've sent out a Versantus Christmas card to those lucky boys and girls on our favourites list. Sending cards is a declining trend, but we like the feel of a physical card, it allows us to show off our design chops, and it's a great way to bring the team together in a marathon and RSI-inducing mass-signature-writing session.
In October we asked ourselves the question: how can we continue with our festive fun but be more mindful of the environmental impact? How do we reduce the carbon footprint of our cards?
After a lot of discussion, in the end the solution presented itself just in time. After a Parkrun in mid-November, I met a member of the wonderful Oxtrees campaign promoting a tree-planting exercise in North Oxford. With our recent work on the deforestation project it felt like something the team would love to help with.
And love it we did! On a very cold and damp Saturday in early December some of our team and their families joined forces with residents of North Oxford to plant over 500 trees. It was great fun and felt hugely positive.
Then the Big Idea idea came. "Why just plant trees ourselves", we thought. "Why not encourage all of our thoughtful and caring clients to also plant their own?". Let's send each customer a Christmas tree for Christmas.
Why not encourage all of our thoughtful and caring clients to plant their own tree?
We realised that the carbon cost of shipping fully grown trees might be a bit high, so we decided to instead send them a tree planting kit: seeds and instructions craftily packaged in a beautiful origami Christmas card. Very zen, very eco, Very good.
Our head of design, Sam, designed and prototyped the card, including a hand-made seed-holding envelope that formed the branches and leaves of the tree. Version one was amazing, and then his daughter suggested he add a star to the top, and that was it - perfection!
The cards are hand-folded by our team using recycled card printed with plant-based inks. Each card contains three seeds (share with your friends!), and instructions for planting, and with a little love and some time, they will grow into a Norway Spruce tree (Pice abies).
We loved the process of thinking, deciding, and creating these cards, and I think they look amazing. What do you think? Are they good?
As well as planting some trees and some ideas, we also made a small donation to the Oxtrees campaign from Friends of the Earth. Their aim is to double the tree coverage in our home county of Oxfordshire. If you'd like to help them, you can easily donate online. Be good. No, screw it - it's Christmas - be GREAT.