Make your business a force for good: Seven top tips for B Corp certification
More than 4,000 businesses have certified as a B Corp, with the mark widely recognized as the highest standards of purpose-led business and sustainability. Here, edie outlines seven top tips for joining the B Corp community.
B Corp Certification is arguably the most powerful way to make that change happen and build credibility, trust, and value for your business. More than 4,000 businesses across 153 sectors are now meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
With this in mind, edie hosted a one-hour webinar on B Corp certification last Thursday (7 October), answering FAQs about the process. The session was hosted in association with sustainability consultancy and edie’s B Corp partner, Seismic. It also featured guest speakers from PZ Cussons, B Lab UK and edie’s own publisher, Faversham House.
The session is now available to watch on-demand, in full, for free. However, this article rounds up seven of the speakers’ key takeaways, which should inform and inspire you wherever you are on your purpose-led business journey.
Build the business case and get board-level buy-in
The webinar started with a presentation from Seismic’s co-founder and chief impact officer Amy Bourbeau, who outlined some of the main benefits of becoming a B Corp.
These include brand differentiation; appealing to investors; joining national and global communities of like-minded organisations and attracting and retaining talent. To this latter point, Borbeau said: “As I am sure we all know, millennials and Gen Z employees are very driven by their values and want to work with organisations that are aligned in that way. Also, the next generation up are wanting a shift; many are working in traditional, for-profit businesses and are wanting a shift to something a bit more meaningful”
Depending on the size, location and sector of your business – as well as the current challenges and priorities of the board – these benefits will need to be contributed to the board in different ways. Product-led firms may be motivated by the possibility of securing major new contracts with increasingly sustainability-minded retailers, while industries experiencing staff shortages post-lockdown may be more swayed by the talent piece.
But all speakers recommended that professionals seek top-level buy-in to make the certification process as smooth as possible. As PZ Cussons’ chief sustainability Joanna Gluzman summarised: “Get buy-in from your chief executive. Without that, nothing will move.”
Start the assessment ASAP
Borbeau and B Lab UK’s director of programmes and engagement Kate Sandle both highlighted the fact that the B Impact Assessment tool is free to use and that its full completion will take six to eight weeks for most organisations.
While 4,000 companies have certified, more than 100,000 have used in, Sandle said. In other words, you can use it for free, to baseline your company’s current baseline, with no pressure to make a payment or to certify.
The tool adapts the questions to your organisation’s specific context, including size and sector. Sandle explained how, with “rigorous” questions relating to a range of issues, professionals can “expect to ask themselves those questions you’ve maybe never asked before, or codified.”
Faversham House’s chief executive Amanda Barnes added that the Assessment can be “completed at a pace that suits”, advising listeners to “break the process down into more manageable phases”. Practical advice is provided via an online Knowledge Hub.
Don’t view the assessment as a box-ticking exercise
There are a great many certification schemes out there, and edie’s networks of sustainability professionals often speak of the challenges of knowing which ones will truly help to avoid greenwashing externally and embed purpose internally.
Barnes said she has “been very much pleasantly surprised that the Impact Assessment is not a box-ticking exercise”.
She said: “It taps into something much more fundamental, which I suppose is a definition of who you are as a company.”
For Faversham House, she explained, the Assessment has prompted changes in how editorial teams ensure they are representing a diverse array of voices and amplifying meaningful stories; in how suppliers are engaged to deliver products and services with sustainability built-in; and in how the company’s people policies are structured overall. Businesses must be willing to look at the gaps between their current baseline and the 80 points needed to pass the Assessment, Barnes said, not as a need to tick boxes but an opportunity to think differently.
B Labs UK’s Sandle said one of the main mindset shifts needed to get businesses away from shareholder primacy, so they serve all stakeholders properly, is to shift to long-termism. In the short-term, credible foundations for delivering future ESG improvements must also be considered alongside the need to turn a profit.
Sandle summarized: “Really think about the future. Because if we think about what we need to do, the challenges we face, we need to future-proof our businesses.”
Identify and leverage your organisation's superpower
The 80 points needed to certify through the Assessment will come from action on a mix of issues, but speakers agreed that businesses will inevitably perform better in some areas than others.
As well as using low-scoring areas to identify targeted measures for improvement, they said, high-scoring areas can be used to hone in on your organisation’s built-in purpose and ability to effect positive change.
PZ Cussons’ Gluzman said: “[Box-ticking] is the wrong way to approach the B Corp framework. The way I believe it’s meant to be approached is deciding what our [biggest opportunities] for positive impact is.”
Businesses should consider, she explained, how they are already enacting positive change through their products and services; through collaborations in their sectors or their local areas and in the way they treat employees and suppliers.
Although top-level buy-in is essential, completing the Impact Assessment will likely require information relating to all parts of the business, it was noted. Moreover, making the changes needed to certify in the first instance, as well as to recertify, and to look beyond recertification, will likely require action from employees in different departments.
Gluzman emphasised the importance of ensuring that “everybody feels that they have a stake in this journey and are enthusiastic and inspired by it”. This feeds back to the talent attraction and retention piece raised by Seismic’s Bourbeau.
Faversham House’s Barnes added: “I’m finding that the journey to becoming a B Corp is just as important as the certification itself.
“Literally everyone has been playing a part and that has been generating a lot of positive energy in the business, after a very tough 18 months.”
Once you've certified, shout about it externally
In order to certify as a B Corp in the UK, businesses are required to amend their articles of association with a commitment to considering all stakeholders during decision-making – not just shareholders.
This stance, Barnes said, represents businesses “really pinning their colours to the mast” – something that is likely to appeal to consumers, investors and potential partners.
Bourbeau agreed, emphasising the importance of avoiding greenwashing or purpose-washing in external communications. She said: “There’s a lot of noise out there around buzzwords including ‘sustainability’, ‘impact’ and ‘purpose’. I think a lot of us find it difficult to understand who is genuine and what is real.
“Being a B Corp helps to provide that stamp.”
B Lab UK’s Sandle also discussed how joining the B Corp community can help businesses speak to policymakers with a unified voice. This is particularly important in the time of the Covid-19 recovery.
Understand that purpose-led business is a continual journey, not a one-off project
Harking back to the points made about avoiding box-ticking, B Corp certification is not permanent. Businesses will need to recertify every three years and, in that time, the topics and questions addressed by the Assessment may well change.
All speakers highlighted the importance of continuing to strive for progress once the first assessment is complete.