What does ‘B Corp’ mean?

This article is an edited transcript from the podcast – Easy Being Green? Lessons in sustainable business. Listen to the audio version on AnchorSpotify or Apple Podcasts.

Gousto. Hevea.  Hello Earth Agency.  Ecologi. Drop Bear Beer Co. Bared Footwear. Boody. Weleda. Onya. Maker’s Mark.

What do all these businesses have in common?

Along with more than 4,700 other businesses across 78 countries around the world, they are all B Corps. But what does that mean? What is a B Corp?

March is B Corp month, so what better opportunity to dig a little deeper into this initiative, and find out more about the ‘B’ logo that has been popping up on meal boxes, marketing agency websites, ecommerce product packaging, asset manager and financial planner email signatures, design studios, beauty brands and so much more over the last 15 years.

What is B Corp?

In 2006, the non-profit network B Lab was launched, with a mission to “inspire and enable people to use business as a force for good”. B Lab has since grown to be an international network that creates standards, policies, tools and programs that shift the behaviour, culture and structural underpinnings of capitalism. Basically, a network that is leading the business world towards balancing planet and people with profit, with the aim of moving our economy towards one that benefits all, not just the wealthiest few.

B Lab certifies B Corporations. To become B Corp certified, a business must meet “high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability”.

How does a business become B Corp certified?

To achieve B Corp certification, a business must first be a for-profit company with at least one year of operations under its belt. The next step is to complete a free initial assessment, called the B Impact Assessment (BIA).  This is a confidential online tool that is tailored to a company’s industry, size, sector and location, and it used to measure a company’s impact on its workers, communities, customers and the environment – from its supply chain, to its carbon footprint and inclusion policies.

The BIA contains around 200 questions, and responses are verified by B Lab’s independent Standards Team. It’s a diligent process and may require multiple team members or sectors of a business to curate and input the necessary data.

To qualify as a B Corp, a company needs a minimum score of 80 points from the BIA; however, often businesses won’t achieve this score on their first application, which is why more than 150,000 businesses are currently measuring and managing their impact using the BIA, but only 4,700 are currently B Corp certified.

If a business doesn’t quality for the accreditation first time, that’s ok. The BIA is also a framework for measuring and improving the impact of an organisation and can be used as such, even if you are not intending to become a B Corp Certified business. If a business doesn’t make the minimum requirements to be a B Corp on its first BIA application, it can apply again once it has made improvements.

“It’s rare for companies to achieve a verified score of 80+ points initially and most are subsequently required to make improvements based on the policies and practices highlighted in the BIA. There is no such thing as failing the BIA – companies simply go back and use the tool to improve,” says James Ghaffari, Director of Growth and Product, B Lab UK.

“B Lab UK shares knowledge and best practice tips via email throughout the Certification journey, and resources and guidelines about the process can be found on our website, and also on the Knowledge Base. Support can also be found from B Leaders and B Local Groups,” he adds.

What areas are measured by a B Corp certification?

The BIA measures a company’s impact on its workers, community, environment and customers, by looking at its operations, policies and processes in five key areas:

  1. Governance
  2. Workers
  3. Environment
  4. Community
  5. Customers

How often does a B Corp need to re-certify?

Once a B Corp has achieved its certification, it needs to re-certify every three years. This involves using the BIA throughout this time period to keep check on how the business is tracking and if there are areas where improvements need to be made.

The BIA itself is continually updated with the latest best practice in environmental and social standards, which means a B Corp would be wise to be actively using the BIA regularly, to ensure it too is up to date.

Between certifications, B Corps are also required to publish an annual impact report, which can be shared with anyone who has a vested interest in the company – for example, staff, shareholders, directors, board members, customers, partners and suppliers. An impact report transparently demonstrates the progress and future plans of a B Corp.

Should your business apply for a B Corp certification?

Apart from the obvious need to improve standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability in order to ensure sustainability can be achieved for both businesses and the planet, it seems that the old adage “doing good is good for business” is certainly true for B Corps. A survey conducted by B Lab UK in 2021 found that:

  • B Corps saw an average turnover growth of 26 percent between 2017 and 2020, which was higher than the national average of 5 percent.
  • B Corps saw an average employee headcount growth of 14 percent between 2018 and 2021, compared to the national average of 1 percent.
  • 44 percent of B Corps seeking investment found certification helped attract investors.
  • 98 percent of B Corps believe that certification is likely to contribute to future success.
  • 88 percent of B Corps would recommend certifying.

Stephanie Fisher, Founder at Hello Earth Agency, says the company achieved B Corp certification after a period of rapid growth, during an extraordinary time of change.

“We really needed to focus on our commitments to our team and our charitable partners. We recognised the unique mission of honest, sustainable brands, who are working to give their stories the platform and profit they deserve, at a time when the planet needs them the most. The values of our company are cemented in our legal structure and mission statement, and we have been working on building a culture of change.”

Hello Earth designed its Impact Model to drive business, industry and community impact, whilst aligning with global Net Zero and Sustainable Development Goals.

“Like many businesses, we still have room to improve and we recognise that. Achieving our B Corp certification was a huge milestone for us and one we are very proud of. Being B Corp certified holds us accountable – to our team, our clients, our partners and the planet. The work is never done and businesses have a responsibility to keep striving for better,” says Stephanie.

Should we be looking for B Corps when making purchasing decisions?

The difference between a B Corp certificate and many other accreditations or ‘stamps of approval’ out there, is that B Corp takes a holistic view of a business’s impact on people and planet. It’s not just focusing on a low carbon footprint, or an environmentally-positive supply chain, or fair treatment of workers; but a rounded view of the whole picture.

The fact that the assessment process is so rigorous, yet still certification is not guaranteed, makes B Corp authentic and credible. Companies that achieve certification:

  • Make a legal commitment to be accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders.
  • Demonstrate high social and environmental performance, and maintain or improve that performance over each three year period in order to attain recertification.
  • Have to be completely transparent about how they measured up against B Lab’s Standards, as their performance information will be displayed on the website.

What is B Corp Month?

“B Corp Month is an annual campaign that takes place in March. It’s all about celebrating what it means to be a B Corp, and raising awareness of the movement using business as a force for good. For this year’s theme ‘Behind the B’, the focus is on going behind the scenes to uncover what makes B Corps better businesses. You can find out more about what we’ve been up to in the UK on our B Corp Month page,” says James.

As part of the campaign, the first UK dedicated B Corp shop opened in Soho, London. Called “Good News”, the shop acts as a destination to showcase B Corp businesses, to educate and inspire consumers to buy better.

Where can I go to find out more?

If you’re interested in applying to have your business B Corp certified, head to bcorporation.net.

If you are interested in learning which businesses are B-Corp certified and how they scored, head to www.bcorporation.net/en-us/find-a-b-corp.

Source
B CorporationB Lab United Kingdom
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Charli Ferrand Higgins

After a decade working for global and boutique PR and Marketing agencies in Sydney, with clients that included some of the biggest consumer brands in the world, Charli returned to her homeland of the UK in 2017 and decided the time had come to use her professional skills and experience for good. She has since split her time between supporting passionate, purpose-driven small and medium-sized businesses to grow through conscious content marketing, managing and editing the planet-positive content hub Earth Collective (weareearthcollective.com), and hosting the podcast Easy Being Green? Lessons in sustainable business for SMEs.

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