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Becoming a B Corp – What you need to know

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By Donald Moore, Chair of B Corp, Rowlinson Knitwear

The business landscape is evolving. Many organisations are no longer focused on shareholder primacy and profits, but want their businesses to be forces for good, economically, socially and environmentally. Driven by social responsibility and the ethical consumer, these organisations are becoming B Corporation (B Corp) accredited to prove their commitment to both people and planet. As the highest independent verification process for social and environmental performance, becoming B Corp accredited is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, the B Impact assessment process for achieving accreditation is gruelling, with only 330 companies in the UK achieving the standards necessary. Donald Moore, Chair of B Corp schoolwear manufacturer Rowlinson Knitwear, provides his insights on how to tackle the stringent process of becoming B Corp certified and explains why you should even bother.

What is B Corp and why join the movement?

Businesses  cannot continue to behave as though their actions have no repercussions, from keeping people in poverty through to accelerating climate change. Governments alone cannot be relied upon to enforce change, which is why organisations must step up and take action to redefine business success for the benefit of people and planet. 

By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end,  positively impacting their employees, communities and the environment. Yes, it is morally the right thing to do, but taking this approach is also smart for business. For example, paying the real Living Wage and treating colleagues with value and respect naturally leads to higher levels of engagement, greater productivity and lower staff turnover. By cutting unnecessary waste and greenhouse gas emissions from the supply chain results in greater efficiencies and cost savings. And on top of this, other businesses and end customers are increasingly wanting to deal with companies that have strong ethical values.  

By joining the B Corp movement, organisations are agreeing to abide by an overriding ‘force for good’ philosophy and a strict ethical code which is the gold standard for good business. Every company that applies to become a B Corp must go through the B Impact Assessment, which evaluates how the company’s operations and business model impact its workers, community, environment and customers. From the supply chain to charitable giving and employee benefits, B Corp certification proves that a business is meeting the highest standards of verified performance.

A candid view – why you can’t apply half-heartedly

If a business is serious about improving how it operates while becoming more sustainable, then becoming B Corp certified is the only way. And it doesn’t allow for green washing or a half-hearted attempt at improvement. Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, is quoted as describing the B Corp process as, a wildly exacting process, or as he puts it: “It’s ****king hard. It makes the Inland Revenue look like pussycats. They are properly in your laundry drawer, getting into your pants, having a good look!” 

The B Impact Assessment covers five key impact areas including governance, workers, community, environment and customers. And this is far more than a box ticking exercise. The assessors require evidence that responsible practices are being followed through, whether this is worker compensation, diversity or corporate transparency. 

Those that apply need to be just as concerned with doing the right thing as making a decent profit – both elements have to be balanced. So if the organisation is still dancing to the tune of shareholder primacy, it’s likely to be really hard to achieve the B Corp standard. 

How to get your business B Corp ready

For those organisations considering B Corp certification, they must take a candid look at their business. Does it have strong values and ethics which colleagues understand and demonstrate? Are the company’s values embedded into the workplace culture and all business operations? Does the company have a positive impact on its colleagues, community and the environment, and in what ways can improvements be made? 

Before starting on the time intensive B Corp path, it’s important to get the ‘buy in’ and time commitment from the right people in the business. Plus, how to make changes to the company’s legal structure will need investigating, as the requirements around being a B Corp must become part of the company’s legal obligations.

Above all, every single colleague will need engaging with the B Corp process and what it stands for as it’s a new way of life, not just a one-off accreditation. The philosophy will need explaining, celebrated and integrated into the DNA of the business, across every department and every location. 

The application process – what to expect 

Once the business is as ready as it can be, the first step is to complete the B Impact Assessment online. This is completely free of charge to all businesses and no information is sent to B Corp, unless it’s decided to continue the process and formally apply for B Corp certification.

The company’s score consists of two ratings, one for Operational Impact (how things are run day-to-day) and another for the Impact Business Model (how money is earned), and to become a Certified B Corp, a minimum of 80 points is necessary. Most organisations take the assessment and realise that they need to make some changes with their business model and operations, perhaps needing to formalise their policies. That’s okay because the business doesn’t have to submit the test until it’s ready.

Plenty of time must be allocated to the verification process to field questions and provide further evidence. And careful consideration should be given to the level of input needed from people across the business. After all,  the whole point of becoming a B Corp is to identify ways for improving the company’s positive impact, so working with colleagues in all areas, from HR and finance through to logistics and fulfilment, will help to get the most out of the process. 

The verification stage is the most vital part of becoming a B Corp and shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, it’s quite typical for an individual to spend a number of days providing evidence on a certain element which only increases the company’s score by half a point! 

It’s best to aim for 10-15 points above the required 80 when doing the B Impact Assessment as this gives some breathing space should points be lost during the formal verification process.

It’s tough but it’s worth it!

It’s hard work becoming a B Corp, and so it should be! Organisations can’t make the necessary changes to the status quo if they’re given a certificate and a pat on the back because they plant a few trees and hand out bonuses at Christmas. Making a real difference requires strict accountability, transparency and a laser-sharp focus on using business to reduce poverty and restore the environment. It’s a growing global movement and is the future of business. So, can you really afford NOT to become a B Corp?

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