Becoming a B Corporation is a significant accomplishment. The certification process is rigorous, so companies often require several attempts to reach the minimum qualifying score on the so-called B impact assessment. Getting the stamp of approval from awarding body B Lab is indeed a cause for celebration, but it’s important for any newly qualified firm not to rest on its laurels.
Once certified, a B Corp will join a global community of 6,000 like-minded enterprises that have committed themselves to maintaining high standards of corporate social responsibility. As B Lab points out, accreditation is only “the start of an exciting new chapter”.
Donna Okell is the founder and co-CEO of UK for Good, a consultancy that became a B Corp in March. She believes that her firm has gained “so much more than a badge. To make it work for your stakeholders, you need to be authentic and have impact really embedded into your business.”
Okell would urge any firm that has just gained B Corp status to continue reviewing and enhancing its ESG credentials. She has seen some that have lacked “a courageous improvement plan. Once they get certified, businesses must consider how they’re going to really make a difference amid the big social and environmental challenges facing us. That requires a bit of a mindset shift.”
Going the extra mile
One business that has sought to improve its ESG performance ever since becoming a B Corp is House of Hackney, a designer and retailer of interior decor that gained certification in 2020. Its founders, married couple Javvy Royle and Frieda Gormley, have been working to change their business from a sustainable brand into a regenerative one.
Explaining the move, Gormley says: “Becoming a B Corp was a pretty straightforward process for us because we were already walking the walk. Since then, we have wanted to set ourselves higher and higher targets.”
As part of this, House of Hackney recently wrote legal personhood into its board structure for two non-persons: “Mother Nature” and “future generations”. This means that an independent individual has been appointed to the board to vote in the interests of the environment and future generations in all board-level decisions.
“We’re in a planetary emergency and we must use our entrepreneurial spirit to accelerate our actions and change the way we’re doing business,” Gormley says, calling on other firms to show the same ambition.
Ready for recertification
A policy of continuous improvement is not only an effective way to enhance a company’s ESG credentials. It will also stand the firm in good stead when it comes to recertification.
Every year, a B Corp must submit an impact report updating stakeholders on its social and environmental performance. B Lab states that this document should be published on the company’s website. Every three years, a firm must apply for recertification. There is a risk of losing B Corp status, of course, but that has been a rare occurrence in practice. Most companies treat this as an opportunity to improve their scores.
Investment firm Trillium Asset Management was among the earlier adopters of B Corp, having first been certified back in 2008. As such, it has been recertified numerous times and, after a change of ownership (it was bought by Perpetual in 2020), the business had to submit to a full recertification assessment in 2021.
Its CEO, Matthew Patsky, recalls that this was a complex process that lasted almost a year. This was a learning experience for Trillium, as many of the sustainability practices it had adopted over the years hadn’t been formalised. That made it more difficult to show the assessors that they were happening.
He cites one example: “We print all our documents on 100% post-consumer recycled paper bought from a union print shop. That is our standard – we’ve been doing that since the business was founded in 1982. Yet nowhere was that written as a policy.”
Patsky would advise other current and aspiring B Corps to ensure that all such practices are formally codified in a policy document. This not only makes life easier when B Lab wants to see written evidence; it also helps anyone joining the business to know what’s expected of them from a sustainability perspective. Although recertification can be challenging, “it forces you to take up best practice”, he adds.
Improving your B Corp score
Okell reports that some of UK for Good’s B Corp clients have increased their impact assessment scores by 20 points or more the second time around. Although gaining this many points is “really tough”, she believes that any firm can still achieve a “significant improvement” by obtaining a better understanding of the requirements and making judicious changes to its business model.
Achieving a higher score will prove easier if everyone in the organisation takes some responsibility for making the necessary changes, notes Patsky, who reports that his team is “holding me accountable, every hour of the day”.
He believes that his colleagues would quickly voice their disapproval if the business were to drop below the high standards it has achieved (its impact score is 140.6). This enterprise-wide focus on continuous improvement has helped Trillium to remain a B Corp for 15 years.
In some ways, maintaining B Corp status can be just as demanding as gaining certification in the first place, but Okell stresses that the hard work “will pay dividends”. This effort should embed the movement’s social and environmental standards even more deeply into a company’s culture. With such a solid foundation in place, further improvements should come naturally.