For companies looking to prove their ethical credentials, becoming a B Corp is seen by some as the holy grail. The B Impact Assessment awards companies a score determined by their social, environmental and governance practices, and has over 5,800 certified members, with 150,000 companies using it to guide their practices.
Becoming a B Corp is no easy feat, and maintaining it is just as difficult. The rigorous assessment changes every three years to meet higher social and environmental standards - with companies required to re-submit if they want to keep their accreditation.
I had the opportunity to talk to three crucial players in their B Corp journeys - we discussed what was involved, the big changes it brought, and whether it was all worth it…
Firstly, why did you want to become a B Corp?
Charlotte Hamill - COO & Partner, Born Social: In the world of agencies, success is measured by clients, commercials, award wins etc. Of course those are part of our ambitions, but what’s missing is the definition of leadership in a holistic sense. Being an industry leader culturally, operationally and environmentally is a priority, and we wanted a way to properly measure what that looks like. Becoming a B Corp was on our radar for a long time, and last year we decided to go for it!
Georgie Monaghan - Marketing Director, Propellernet:We were already operating in a very people and planet-focused way – the B Corp certification commits us to that formally. It’s so difficult to get but it ensures that we, as a business, hold ourselves to the highest levels of accountability when it comes to making business a force for good. Further, it’s proof that no matter what your industry or your size, we can all have an impact on making things better for our wider community, our people and our planet.
Lynn Dickinson - Director of Responsible Business & Partner, Emperor:Achieving B Corp status Certification evidences our track record in responsible business and commitment to continuous improvement which we believe is key to being future fit.
How does being a B Corp actually affect the business (internally and externally)?
Georgie: When you become a B Corp, you have to consider every decision you make across the business in the context of those values. Not only do you owe this to your core stakeholders across your triple bottom line, but also because failure to act in a way that is befitting a B Corp could lead to your certification coming under review.
Lynn: From a talent perspective, at Emperor our approach to responsible business is key to our success, it ensures that we can attract and retain talented people who want to work with companies that share their values. It’s important for us to communicate more specifically how we are addressing the issues that people care about. For example, investment in professional development, creating a culture of belonging and reducing carbon emissions. We also want to attract and retain like-minded clients and our approach demonstrates authenticity and a depth of understanding that leads to positive partnerships.
Charlotte: We’re future-proofing our client profile. We know it won’t be long before most clients are prioritising sustainable suppliers. We won the first pitch after becoming certified, and the client explicitly said that they loved that we are a B Corp. On the talent side, there’s this old idea that a smallish subset of people want to work for a sustainable company, and those people will choose an NGO, or company whose brand is very much sustainability, but I just don’t think that’s true. I think it’s something that the majority of people want, and it needs to be embedded into every single business!
Amidst much positive press around B Corps, there’s been concern over some recent certifications, and the standards of companieswho are already certified.
What are your thoughts?
Georgie: When you go through the certification it doesn’t mean that you’ve arrived and you can put your feet up - you’re just on the path. In terms of the uproar around certain businesses being included, I’m actually pleased to see them there as it means they are on a journey of committing themselves to improving their imprint on the world. I’m also happy that B Corp is so transparent about the processes around certification, and reviewing companies who may be falling short.
Charlotte: People can have different views on this. From Born Social’s perspective, we haven’t done this just for the logo - the work that it will make us do, the changes that it will make us make will benefit the planet. I think it’s right that there is a focus on the standards required to be certified, but I don’t think we can expect every business to be getting everything right immediately.
Lynn: Transparency is key, and B Corp has been undertaking a review of its standards in response to the current landscape and stakeholder engagement, and a significant update will be rolled out next year. A journey of continuous improvement and ambition is fundamental to any organisation in the sustainability space, and this is no exception!
And finally, what’s your top advice for those who may be considering becoming a B Corp?
Lynn: Complete the assessment erring on the side of caution and be confident that every aspect of your score can be backed up by evidence. Don’t see certification as ‘job done’, being a resilient business requires continuous improvement and a clear approach to stakeholder value creation.
Georgie: Do it! But don’t just do it for marketing reasons, it’s crucial to embed it into the centre of your organisation and everything you do. It’s not just about vanity.
Charlotte: There will never be a ‘good’ time to start the process. The more you grow and the more you evolve your own operations, it only becomes harder to implement these changes. Make sure that you’ve got a clear vision that explains why this is an important part of your future. I also believe strongly that these standards will soon become legislation, and businesses will have to operate in these ways - so get ahead of the law! Don’t see it as a quick fix, sustainability in every sense is meaningful, and being a successful B Corp is for the long haul.
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