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Behind the scenes of becoming a B Corp

I first heard the term ‘B Corp’ seven years ago in relation to a client we worked with. They were a global management consultancy that invested their time in making economies stronger, societies more stable and governments more effective. It made perfect sense that they’d be a certified B Corporation, and I walked away with the assumption that only big businesses with even bigger goals of making our planet a better place could achieve this prestigious recognition.

 

Fast forward and we’re now at a point where over 1,800 businesses in the UK are certified, big and small, from every walk of life. Even Evian (yes Evian, who produce millions of plastic bottles every day) are certified. So I came to the conclusion that either there’s some serious cases of greenwashing going on, or that the measures sitting behind this certification must be more than skin deep. After a bit of digging, it became clear it was the latter. And there started our journey to becoming a B Corp.

It started with understanding what the hell B Corp is and how you become certified. I won’t delve into the detail here (B Lab – the not for profit network behind the certification has all you need to know on their site), but to summarise: B Corps are a global movement of businesses working together to transform the global economy – using business as a ‘Force For Good’. They do this by prioritising people and planet, as well as profit. To become certified, businesses must go through a rigorous assessment which grades them on how they’re run, how they treat their employees, their impact on the community and the environment, and how they interact with customers.

As a business, you’re given a score for how you answer each of the approx. 200 questions and need to get a minimum score of 80 to be certified (which is also verified via a thorough audit by B Lab). So, it’s never a pass or fail. It’s free to take the B Impact Assessment (BIA), which you can find here), and is the first step in your journey to becoming certified. If you’re just contemplating whether this certification is right for you, I’d recommend doing the assessment – it’s a great way of understanding how your business is performing today, and where there’s room for improvement.

It took us a year and 5 months to become certified, with most of the heavy lifting done within a year - and then 5 months for the verification process. The Clearing’s overall score is 90.2, where the median score is currently 50.9 for initial assessment, so we’re pretty pleased with the result. We’ve learnt many lessons along the way and now have a framework to keep improving our business for many years to come.

If you’re thinking about becoming B Corp certified, here are a few tips we learnt along the way to help you get started.

 

#1 Be clear on why you’re doing it.

This sounds obvious, but your reason should run deeper than ‘because it could give us a competitive advantage’, or ‘because our customers expect it’. It takes a whole lot of time and effort to become certified – and at some points you might want to give up – so you need a reason that’s going to keep you personally motivated. For me, it was about having a structure for measuring our whole business against - and clarity on what being a good business (the best business!) looks like.

 

#2 Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Too often we shy away from asking for help from people outside of our own business, because we’re worried they’re ‘competitors’ or may charge a hefty fee for the privilege of their knowledge. You’d be amazed how many people are willing to offer advice. When we were first contemplating the process, we spoke to a few B Corp companies in our industry (thank you AgencyUK, Space Doctors and Mytton Williams) who gave us a much better understanding of what it would look like to walk in their shoes (including a realistic feel for the time, effort and cost involved). And when we were at the point of committing, we got some invaluable support from Andy Hawkins who’s trained to guide businesses through the processes. You can find out about him and other B Leaders here.

 

#3 Treat it like a project.

As I’ve alluded to, even if you think your business is in good shape, this process will take time. If I tally up the time it’s taken across our business, I’d estimate it’s been around 712 hours / 89 days / three months of time. I realise that sounds daunting, but like with any project, as soon as you split it into a set of activities, with milestones / deadlines to hit and people assigned to different bits, it becomes doable. For us, we started by making a big list of ‘things to do’ – using BIA questions as our framework. We then identified the progress we wanted to make within each month (with key milestones to hit for each board meeting) and held weekly check-ins to keep us on track.

 

#4 Share the vision (and the load).

Linking to my last point, this would not have been possible if there hadn’t been a team of people involved – and motivated. It began by sharing our bold ambitions across the business so that everyone could see the vision we were working towards and buy into it. We then set up teams to drive specific areas where we needed to focus (including culture, sustainability and community outreach) – with people volunteering to join each team, along with one person to take charge of keeping things on track. Beyond that, we’ve kept up regular company updates so that everyone knows what’s going on. And once we became certified, we did a training session for everyone in the business so they understand the full story and what more they can do to get involved.

 

#5 Don’t settle for average.

The great thing about the way the BIA is structured is that you can see what good and what great looks like. It meant that for each question asked, we could ask ourselves what it would take (in terms of level of change, time and investment needed) to get to ‘great’. And if we didn’t know the answer straight away, we did our research. For example, for our company benefits, we researched what other companies were offering and what platforms could support us – and landed on using Juno. For our carbon footprint, we looked at what it would take to become carbon neutral and then stretched it to build a path to net zero, with the help from our climate partner, Inhabit. Some transformation won’t be achieved overnight, but the main thing is that we’ve got something to continuously work towards.

 

#6 Keep moving (forward).

And that brings me to my final point. We may have breathed a small sigh of relief when we were finally certified, but we knew the work wasn’t done. We’ve now made that commitment to be a ‘force for good’ and that means keeping the promises we’ve made and following the path we’ve set. And if that wasn’t enough to keep us focused, every B Corp must be re-verified every three years. And the questions which they’re measured against will keep evolving.

So, if like me, you thought that becoming a B Corp was out of reach, I hope reading this has brought the idea a little closer. And if you’re ready to make the next step, remember you’ve got a lot of people ready to help – me being one of them.