Planet before profit

Metro examines the growth of the B Corp movement and looks at how firms can prioritise their environmental and social impact

THE shift towards kindness in people, planet and profits has gained great momentum this year with more companies seeking sustainable business models. One of the ways of proving your business’s sustainable credentials is to certify as a B Corporation or ‘B Corp’.

Certifying as a B Corp is a symbol that your business is having a positive impact on communities, employees and the environment.

B Lab, the organisation that awards the certification, was founded in the US in 2006 and took root in the UK in 2013.

There are now 425 B Corps in the UK making it the second biggest B Corporation community in the world, as well as the fastest growing. It represents more than 40 industries, in excess of £4billion in revenue and covers some 22,000 plus employees. High profile B Corps include The Body Shop, The Guardian, Jamie Oliver Group and Ella’s Kitchen.

‘This year, B Corp has really taken off. During the pandemic people have had more time to sit down and look at it. It is also coming from consumers as well who are putting the pressure on companies,’ explains sustainability adviser Nancy Hyne of True Horizon.

What is a B Corp? Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance together with public transparency and legal accountability. The aim of the movement is to ‘build a more inclusive and sustainable economy’.

The certification process measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance from supply chain and materials to charitable donations and employee benefits. At its core, it is a commercial philosophy which rejects maximising profits at all costs and instead focuses on profits which protect people and the planet.

‘The traditional idea for a company can lead to societal and environmental damage and risks turning businesses into death machines. But business should be a life machine. B Corp formalises and codifies this process,’ says James Perry, who founded B Lab UK after certifying Cook, the frozen meal business he co-owns. Certification focuses on three key requirements.

The first is a company’s performance in relation to workers, communities, environment and governance.

The second is the requirement to embed legal articles within a firm’s constitution which promote the interests of workers, communities and the environment.

The third step is a declaration of inter-dependence which re-enforces that a business will work in collaboration with others.

What are the benefits? Certification can be used as both a marketing and recruitment tool.

‘Most people do it out of conviction. But it is an effective way of attracting and retaining talent, particularly younger talent who want to work for purpose-driven businesses.

‘It is also good for future-proofing as you have to get ahead of trends coming our way — like Net Zero,’ says James.

It also enables businesses to share their ethical ethos with customers, suppliers and collaborators.

‘It is a really simple way to say I am conscious of the way I do things and I want to work with people who share those values,’ says Nancy.

Well-supported: Audrey Migot-Adholla of Yala Jewellery

For Audrey Migot-Adholla, founder of Yala Jewellery (yalajewellery.com), one of the benefits of B Corp certification has been access to a community of like-minded companies to collaborate and share ideas with.

‘The process was quite daunting but the B Lab team are brilliant,’ she says. ‘Nothing in the questionnaire is designed to catch you out and you can ask for help at any stage of the process.

‘It’s within B Lab’s interest to help companies achieve certification, so there’s plenty of support available.

‘It has given me a solid road map of areas to improve in my business and shows that profit and purpose do not have to be mutually exclusive.’

How do I achieve certification? The first stage is to carry out a free impact assessment via the B Corp website to benchmark your company’s current performance.

This measures factors such as diversity on company boards, staff wage, energy consumption, employee benefits and opportunities for underserved populations.

‘At Cook we employ people returning from prison and recovering addicts as our way of serving the community,’ explains James.

A change programme can then be put in place with support from the B Corp community and advisors.

‘You submit your application to B Lab and then have 45 days to prepare. B Lab then do a call with you and ask you to evidence 10 to 15 things from the impact assessment,’ says Nancy.

A business must have at least 80 points to achieve certification and this is reviewed every three years.

If a business is a start-up is can apply for pending B Corp status which can be upgraded to full certification once a year of performance has been measured, so long as it meets all the criteria.

The benefit of this is that it enables a company to build in the processes from the ground up rather than make considerable changes after years in operation.

The free impact assessment has filtering questions which reflect the size and type of business, and the annual certification fee ranges from £500 to £50,000 depending on company revenue.

And even if a business does not apply for certification they can still use the assessment tool for free to evaluate their impact.

bcorporation.uk

‘It is a great community’

Carbon minimal: Sophie Swallow, left, and Effie Dower of Sleep Thief

AS AN environmentally conscious mother-of-two and owner of an organic baby wear brand, it made sense for Effie Dower to seek B Corp certification. The 32-year-old from Islington set up Sleep Thief with Sophie Swallow, 36, after the pair met at antenatal classes. They began trading in 2019 and were keenly aware of their potential impact on the planet.

‘We looked at the fashion world churning out clothes and we wanted to take a slower approach. We wanted to stop fast fashion and think about our impact on the environment.’

Effie was introduced to the B Corp community via a networking event and was immediately inspired.

‘It is a great community and they don’t mind passing on contacts and networks — which, in the fashion world, is hard to come by. We have met an amazing range of people and we are really looked after.’

As a start-up, Sleep Thief currently has pending B Corp status and has been working hard to meet the assessment impact requirements. This has included changing its fabric supplier, creating an ethical marketing policy and setting up charity initiatives. The company has ensured its carbon impact is minimal and is dedicated to manufacturing in Britain. The organic cotton is sourced from Portugal but spun in Leicester, with the factories, dyers and embroiders all within 15 minutes’ drive of each other.

sleepthiefbaby.com

‘I’m the youngest CEO of a B Corp in the world’

AT THE tender age of 17, Lysander Bickham established a B Corp business selling eco-friendly subscription boxes containing environmentally friendly cleaning products and cosmetics.

The Hammersmith sixth former (above) believes he is the youngest CEO of a B Corp in the world with his company Leo’s box.

To meet the required 80-plus score Lysander had to focus on the company governance and adopt a new legal framework and articles of association. He describes the process as even harder than completing his GCSEs.

‘It is exceptionally difficult but that is a benefit of the certification because it shows that this is not an easy certification that any polluting company can join.

‘The support within the process was exceptional as you are partnered up with your own individual analyst who helps you ensure that you have the necessary paperwork to back up your score.’ Lysander is proud to be part of a small group of businesses helping to build the new B economy.

‘I think Covid has shown us that our world needs to change and that there just is not enough trust in either business or government.

‘B Corp is there to help show the potential for a system upgrade and to understand one of the best ways to save our planet is already gaining traction through business becoming a force for good once again.’

leosbox.co.uk