By Kevin Chin, CEO and Founder, Arowana
Long before the COVID-19 crisis began, the call for businesses to ‘make a difference’ across communities has been resonating with consumers. In 2018, a survey by Futerra – a consulting firm that champions sustainability and is a certified B Corporation – revealed how nearly nine in 10 consumers (88%) want the brands they support to commit to a greater good. That is, to transform businesses into an avenue for improving consumers’ “environmental and social footprint”.
Fast forward to 2021, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives and livelihood of individuals, families and communities makes the call to sustainable practices all the more urgent.
No longer are business owners acting for the benefit of the enterprise alone, but are seeing more clearly how every decision has a ripple effect on the wellbeing of the people who depend on them – from their employees, to their customers and partners, to the wider community.
B Corps as champions of social good
Businesses certified as B Corporations – of varying scale, industry and region – are paving the way for sustainability and the greater social good to become the battle cry of a world struggling to bounce back from crisis.
In the face of current challenges, the COVID-19 crisis has become an opportunity for enterprises to come together for their communities – all this has served to magnify the positive impact of B Corp values in the real world.
Whether in the UK, Asia, or Australia, we’re seeing more companies express their interest to get certified. In reality, of the tens of thousands of companies in the world today, only about 3,500 can call themselves B Corps. The selection process is so rigorous that only a third of all applicants are given the status.
But while it’s not easy to get certified, the businesses that do get certified continue to make a mark by transforming business into a force for good as our examples show.
Choosing to unite – instead of competing – with one another
When the pandemic wreaked havoc in 2020, B Corp companies created the Financial Resiliency Task Force, an initiative that helps smaller businesses access capital amid the economic downturn.
Apart from this, the B Corp-certified Sundial Brands also launched a US$1m fund to support women of colour whose businesses have been affected by COVID-19.
Meanwhile, over in Kenya, B Lab East Africa launched a digital hub that provides enterprises with information and other resources on how to ensure business continuity and community health and safety during the pandemic.
Many B Corps also adapted their businesses to provide much-needed PPEs, hand sanitisers, and cleaners to other organisations. These include Aisle, All Good, Beau’s Brewing Co., ChicoBag Company, Eagle Protect, EarthHero, EcoLogic Solutions, Fairware, and MaCher.
Under any other circumstance, these companies could be considered fierce competitors. But they chose to come together to help each other weather the storm of the pandemic.
People first before profit
Economic hardship stemming from the health crisis prompted businesses across the world to consider reducing staff, wages, or work hours to survive. However, in the UK, data from PwC showed only 33% of B Corps adopted a furlough scheme to cut costs – a figure significantly lower than the national average of 66%.
Salary cuts were also rampant across the global market, yet when it came to bearing the brunt of these cost reduction measures, 47% of B Corps opted to slash their executive team salary voluntarily compared with just a fifth of senior management teams in other organisations.
Businesses faced tough decisions throughout the crisis. When B Corp companies, however, were forced to scale back operations and reduce their workforce, the decisions were always predicated on dialogue and transparency.
New York City-based Luke’s Lobster, for example, fosters a culture of transparency at work – more so when the management had decided it was time to shut down most of their restaurants.
“Our employees have a very good understanding of how the business works and how we make decisions,” co-founder Ben Conniff said in an interview. “When you understand how the business operates, you can have conversations about layoffs in an honest and transparent way.”
At the end of the day, the point of every decision in a B Corp business is to put people first before profit even in the toughest of circumstances.
Goodr, a B Corp-certified sustainable food waste management specialist, arranged for families to receive free groceries and student meals. Meanwhile, New Belgium created a relief fund to support workers in the food and beverage industries. High Park Brewery and Intrepid Travel also came out with a limited-edition “B Corp beer,” with proceeds having been donated to Food Banks Canada.
And Luke’s Lobster – despite facing difficulties of their own during the pandemic – launched a feeding programme for healthcare workers.
COVID-19 also posed some serious challenges for us in Arowana. However, we stayed true to our DNA of looking at crises as presenting opportunities. At the start of the pandemic, we focussed on protecting the safety and wellbeing of our staff.
We have a saying at our company that “for an enterprise to grow, its people must grow”. If your people are unwell, then there will be consequences for the state of the union, performance, and prospects of your enterprise. That is why we prioritise the physical and mental health of all our team members globally. The health of our people underpins the health of our enterprises.
We launched several initiatives to help our team members as we go through the pandemic. These included engaging with our chief neuroscience officer, Dr Tara Swart Bieber, to provide them with proper support. We also recruited a company that our people could confidentially talk to.
We’re happy to say that that across the group, we did not let anyone go because of the pandemic. In fact, we’ve recruited more staff over the course of 2020 and so far in calendar 2021.
Facing the challenges of a post-COVID world
COVID-19 has taught us lessons on resiliency amid these difficulties. Yet, for B Corp businesses that have long espoused values such as sustainability and solidarity, this language of empathy we are seeing across the wider community today has always been the grammar of organisational practice.
The fundamental objective of B Corps is to deliver a triple bottom line encompassing people, planet, and profits. The global pandemic has jolted awareness amongst business leaders and societies at large that there are severe consequences of operating unsustainably and with a one-dimensional lens.
To be a B Corp is to prioritise the benefit of all stakeholders and not just shareholders. It’s about having sustainability as the backbone of the organisation and operating with a social license.
Our philosophy of serving the greater good of the community has helped us navigate the issues of COVID-19.
With a triple bottom line mantra, B Corps are well placed to engage with a 3-dimensional lens to help communities recover from the biggest ongoing impact of COVID-19. That is the economic damage that the pandemic has caused at individual and family level, especially in non-OECD nations.
B Corps are poised to invest in and scale up business models that build back livelihoods, help the planet to become more sustainable, and generate profits.
About the Author
Kevin Chin is the Founder and CEO of Arowana, the award-winning global B Corp certified group that has a number of operating companies and investments, including in electric vehicles, renewable energy, vocational & professional education, technology and software, venture capital and impact asset management. Arowana’s purpose is to grow people, companies and value.