Why health should be a hallmark of future B Corps

Before joining the ranks of B Corps, businesses undergo assessments across a spectrum of ESG criteria, encompassing workers’ wellbeing, community engagement and environmental initiatives. Should health be added to the list?

Crop 1

Since 2007, B Lab’s stamp of approval has been providing businesses with hard-won validation of the good work that they do for their employees, the environment and their communities. While, of course, there are certain ESG standards that every business will need to tick off to gain certification, the assessment criteria leave room for businesses to tread their own path. 

James Mayer, president of Danone UK & Ireland, says his company’s long-standing work championing nutritional health has played a key role in helping it stand out on its B Corp journey. “The beauty of B Corp is that you can demonstrate impact in a way that makes sense for your company. Authenticity has always been really important for us,” he explains, adding that the brand’s mission to “bring health through food to as many people as possible” is deeply rooted in its history.

Purposeful foundations

In 1916, Isaac Carasso moved his wife and three children from Thessaloniki in Greece to the family’s ancestral home in Spain. When they arrived, they witnessed first-hand how malnutrition and disease affected the community. So, Carasso embarked on a fresh venture, distributing yoghurts in porcelain pots through local pharmacies to bring about real change. He soon had a registered brand: Danone. Long before B Corp certification, purpose had been a founding principle, says Mayer. 

Over 7,700 entities are part of the B Corp movement today in more than 90 countries – but making the cut is tough. For multinationals with workforces and supply chains spanning multiple continents, registration can take years. In 2015, Danone joined B Corp, obtaining certification in the UK and Ireland three years later. By 2022, the certification covered 74.2% of its global net sales, and the company aims for complete global coverage by 2025. 

Health isn’t one of the pillars officially outlined in the standards, but Mayer believes it should be. “The health of people and the planet are interconnected,” he says, sharing his hope that opening up the criteria will allow businesses to showcase diverse skills and missions. “Incorporating health into future B Corp standards could only be a good thing. It will encourage accountability from companies looking to make meaningful change.”

The misconception that multinational corporations ‘don’t belong’ in the B Corp movement doesn’t hold… We need businesses of all sizes to be involved

A fresh take on the standards

From household names like Actimel and Activia, Danone is widely associated with healthy yoghurts - a portfolio grounded in the brand’s official health commitments towards consumers. What’s less well-known is the company’s decades-long work supporting babies, parents and patients with infant and medical nutrition through its Nutricia business.

“Our commitment to health extends into a space where our expertise and scope as a leading food company can make a difference in people’s lives across a range of ages and nutritional needs,” explains Mayer. These initiatives span from supplying specialist medical nutrition products to the NHS to pioneering research-based innovations for infants with allergies and building communities for first time parents. 

Nutricia, also operates Nutricia Homeward, a service supporting over 30,000 patients requiring home enteral tube feeding to help them get the nutrients they need. This at-home care not only minimises disruptions to patients’ lives but it effectively reduces hospital visits associated with tube feeding. 

Mayer underscores the pivotal role that over 160 Nutricia Homeward nurses play in providing this essential care to patients, including educating patients on how to use medical devices and feeding tubes so they can safely manage tube feeding from the comfort of their homes. One person the service supports expresses: “I have 100% confidence that if anything goes wrong, it will be dealt with speed, understanding, and care… It’s like having a safety net when walking a tightrope.” 

Whether it’s introducing innovative product-led solutions like plant-based oral nutritional supplements or establishing virtual clinics and online educational resources, the possibilities to make a positive impact on people’s health are limitless, according to Mayer. 

Nutricia Academy, a digital platform offering free online courses for healthcare professionals on subjects like nutrition in cancer and disease-related malnutrition prevention, aligns with the company’s mission to reach as many people as possible. For aspiring B Corps, tapping into unexpected avenues for impact is key.

Why big corporations make good B corporations

Is there a lesson here for other ‘big fish’ looking to join the movement? “We were one of the first multinationals to seek global certification, and we want to prove this is possible whether a company has ten, 100, 1,000 or 100,000 employees,” says Mayer. 

Still, most blue-chip companies are yet to follow in Danone’s footsteps, making up just 90 businesses in the global B Corp community last year. Pessimists might argue that multinationals are simply too big to do good. However, with those 90 businesses employing almost a third of the total B Corp workforce worldwide, their potential to influence change at scale mustn’t be dismissed. 

“The misconception that multinational corporations ‘don’t belong’ in the B Corp movement doesn’t hold. I strongly believe that if we’re to work together to make a real impact, we need businesses of all sizes to be involved to reach a much wider range of communities,” Mayer argues. “We can also use our well-known brands to unlock consumer awareness of the B Corp movement and its value.” 

Beyond consumer awareness, B Corps also have the collective power to advocate for change. Research Danone UK & Ireland carried out alongside Future Health revealed that an estimated 464,000 people who are admitted to hospital have disease-related malnutrition each year in England, with a significant number of cases going undiagnosed. 

The study is part of a project to raise awareness of this critical public health issue, highlighting the importance of preventative measures, like screening and medical nutrition management. As pressure on the NHS and other global health services rises, Mayer believes health will emerge as an increasingly important benchmark. For Danone, this means deepening its commitment to research, innovation, and education in the field - a focus that will grow with the business. 

More than 100 years after Carasso arrived in Spain with a desire to make people healthier, his legacy is alive and well.

To find out more about Danone’s wide-ranging work, visit World food company | Danone