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Certified B Corporations - what you need to know and where you need to start


This article was written by Desmond O'Brien who is the Head of our London Office. For any queries relating to themes in this article, please contact Desmond directly via email at desmond.obrien@nigelwright.com or via telephone on +44 (0)207 242 0427.

Last week I hosted a dinner for MDs and CEOs from the Food & Drink sector. The topic I selected, after hearing so much about it and engaging with it personally, was certified B Corporations and how business can be used as a force for good. As the evening progressed, the more we unpacked the sub-categories of the B Corp movement (which is all-encompassing) and the more it became apparent just how badly the world needs a new type of business leader – someone who pursues more than just profits, a role model with greater purpose.

For those unfamiliar with the B Corp movement, there are three basic requirements to achieve the certification:

1) Verified Social and Environmental Performance – overall impact on workers, community, customers, and the environment.

2) Legal Accountability – considering the impact of decisions on all stakeholders.

3) Public Transparency – sharing an impact report publicly to build trust.

B Corporations must meet rigorous standards to fulfil the criteria. Any company, big or small, can gain the B Corp certification if they apply and meet these standards, but as those who’ve gained the certification know, it is not easy.

Examples of notable B Corps in the UK include Innocent Drinks, CafeDirect, and PROPER. The CEOs from all three of these companies participated in our discussion last week and described their reasons for joining the movement. They also told the room about the benefits of becoming a B Corp and explained why it is so important.

For some of our other attendees (we had twelve) it was their first exposure to the topic. For those people, and to the new converts (myself included), there were similar questions about the impact on employee engagement, the difference between equity and equality, and how to make a difference and a profit at the same time. What emerged after much discussion was that the impacts are almost exclusively positive. It also surfaced that not only is change necessary, but it is happening already, whether we like it or not.

When talking about the effects of big business on the environment one CEO at the table reminded everyone this is the first generation of leaders who cannot say they didn’t know, and it is the last generation of leaders who can act before it is too late. There appeared to be consensus that everyone at the table would be more likely to succeed from a sustainability perspective if they were part of a community of leaders working towards the same goals. Shared goals would also have a positive impact on employees, their communities, and the socioeconomic issues confronting society more broadly.

The benefits of shared goals extend beyond strength in numbers. There are plenty of businesses doing good for their communities who have not even considered going B Corp. There are an equal number doing good for the environment and their employees. So why spend the time on such a challenging certification?

One aspect is overarching and goes beyond the business world. Government(s) have been failing us in more than just obvious ways. The widening of inequality, anti-immigration rhetoric, the other dreaded B word in Britain – all these topics receive a fair amount of press in the UK (to varying degrees depending on your newspaper of choice). The connection to the B Corp movement exists because for a long time the governments of the developed world set sensible policies for business to play within. Businesses would then make as much money as they could within those boundaries. With the absence of sensible policy (and politicians) it is incumbent upon the business community to take much more of a lead in our society, particularly when it comes to defining acceptable behaviour for corporations.

How refreshing it was to hear business leaders genuinely concerned about the ramifications of their decisions. How inspiring to listen to people with influence talking about using their voice for good in a measurable, transparent way.

The other benefits of joining the B Corp movement include attracting and engaging employees, increasing credibility, building trust, and being part of a wider community of leaders. There is also the undeniable benefit of generating more press for your efforts. Notably, none of these benefits are a threat to a company’s profitability. If anything, the opposite is true.

For those of us yet to attain CEO status, what can we do to make a difference?

First, check out the B Corp website, read the handbook (second edition was released in 2019 and it’s a quick read), and talk to your current business about the B Corp certification. Champion the issues that matter most to you and raise awareness in your company and in your community. I received two notes last week from leaders who are doing exactly that. I am doing the same at Nigel Wright.

The soundbite from the dinner I have spent the most time reflecting on was from Douglas Lamont, CEO at Innocent Drinks. When asked by the room what comes next in this movement he replied “there are about three million companies in the UK and about three thousand certified B Corporations in the world. We are still at the very beginning.”.

Whether the B Corp movement is already on your agenda or you are brand new to the topic, remembering that we are only at the beginning of this journey is essential. It forcefully holds a spotlight on the need for change, and of equal importance, the need for urgency.

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