Standing in the bleak torrent of 24-hour news at the moment, you’d be forgiven for not noticing that we’re right in the middle of B Corp month. But if you’re involved in business in any way (starting one, running one, working for one, or even just buying from one) and interested in a more equitable, sustainable future, then B Corp certification is something that needs to be on your radar.
What does B Corp mean?
A B Corporation is a business which envisions a global economy which uses business as a force for good, aiming to help ‘accelerate a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.’ B Corp certification measures a company’s holistic social and environmental impact, as well as public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. Working towards B Corp certification makes any company take accountability for all stakeholders and aspire to do no harm and benefit all – everything from its travel policies to supplier partnerships to all that ESG encompasses.
It’s a good examination which makes real business sense. It encourages you to think more holistically about the way you operate – and identifies inefficiencies, waste, ways of working which don’t build the strongest partnerships and policies which don’t strengthen the business for the future. It drives home that sustainability and equity are inextricably linked in the transition to a more regenerative economy.
Why should UK-based SMEs think about becoming a B Corp?
Any company that’s serious about sustainability should pursue B Corp status. With so many companies pursuing purpose-led strategies at the moment, the process easily weeds out those who are genuinely concerned with sustainability and those who are just paying lip service to it. It guides leadership to rethink their entire approach to business.
B-Corps reap numerous benefits: they build trust with consumers, communities, and suppliers; attract and retain employees; and draw mission-aligned investors.
How can they do it?
While the official criteria for becoming B Corp certified is available on the organisation’s website, in short, a company has to demonstrate high social and environmental performance; make a legal commitment by changing their corporate governance structure to be accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders; and demonstrate transparency by allowing their performance information to be made public.
The way that a company is certified varies according to factors such as revenue, company size, sector, industry and ownership structure. There’s a free-to-download Small Enterprise Guide for companies with less than 50 full time employees and which generates less than $5 million (around £3.8 million) in annual revenue; and the Small-Medium Enterprise Guide for those earning more, or which have between 50 and 250 full time employees.
Change is about behaviour – not just stats
Vast, complex-seeming concepts like sustainability or more emergently, regeneration, net zero and carbon positive can feel intimidating; and it doesn’t help that they’re often discussed in terms that are paralysing or incomprehensible. But like any individual looking to make change, any company wanting to make positive steps forward has to think about the simple behaviours that make such changes possible; rather than box-ticking, numbers or statistics.
Space Doctors has been working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to help the UK government reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 by specifically targeting heating through considering the behavioural contexts around heat. A key aspect of the project was to address heat loss in domestic properties, looking at everyday habits such as using saucepan lids, or leaving doors open while the heating is on, as well as structural issues like encouraging double glazing and improving how homes are insulated.
It’s those small changes in our own behaviour — and in helping to recognise, modify and change the behaviour of people around us — that make the huge differences.
Vast, sweeping changes can seem daunting. But when you break things down to smaller, more manageable, people-focused behaviour changes, things make a lot more sense and feel a lot more achievable. That’s one of the impacts that B Corp certification has on businesses.
A process – not an end goal
My agency, Space Doctors, achieved B Corp status in early 2021 because as an agency advising on future business and brand strategies, we wanted to lead from a place of clarity in our thinking around the new economy. The process of getting to certification wasn’t all easy: while it did validate some of the practices and processes we already had in place, it also forced us to take a deep dive into all aspects of our business.
B Corp status ensures that you’re meticulous when it comes to tracking, accounting for and monitoring behaviours which are meaningful to your business, with the intent to be better in pursuit of environmental and socially progressive goals. On one end of the scale, that means looking at how your company can improve around recycling, reducing waste and limiting travel; it might also mean new procedures relating to partnering with ‘green’ service providers; clear diversity and inclusion policies.
The effects of the pandemic have revealed to many of us just how adaptable and agile our businesses (and ourselves) can really be: we can rethink why and how we travel and we can make the working day more flexible. As we face the spectre of conflict and rising inflation, we need more than ever to ensure that movements towards a regenerative future are not put on hold.
Enshrining these behaviours in your governance now might be more important than ever for all our stakeholders, wherever they may be.