Why 'people and planet' advocacy alone won't drive B Corp adoption

Clearly PR has been a B Corp since 2021. We were one of the earliest PR agencies to gain accreditation. Over the last three years there has been a growing realisation that whilst the B Corp community is great at sharing its stories with one another, real change can only happen if we do so outside of our echo chamber. Here’s why.

9 March 2023 | 5 min read | ESG
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

During B Corp Month, social media feeds and news outlets will be filled with titbits from businesses across all sectors sharing their experiences of being a certified B Corp, what it means to them, how they’re celebrating this month, and ways in which they extol its values in a practical day-to-day sense.

What we are less likely to see are communications that talk of the way in which being a B Corp and a purpose-led business has a positive impact on customers/clients, talent attraction, and business growth.

In other words, the good it does for the business from a commercial perspective, rather than the good stuff that the business does to benefit the environment and society.

This is a missed opportunity.

If the objective of B Corp month is to raise awareness and serve as a call to action for others to join the movement, we need to rethink the way we talk about being a B Corp.

We need to turn the corporate dial up.

It is easy to be caught up in the whole ‘purpose-led’ bubble when fully immersed in it. However, while communicating our stories and experiences to others in the same bubble is great, it does little to engage and ‘sell’ the principle of being purpose-led to those who are outside of it.

Like it or not, there are just as many businesses out there who for whom corporate sustainability and social impact ranks mid-range in their list of priorities. Their interpretation of being a ‘better business’ is boosting bottom line sales and profit margins.

So, how do we reach, engage, and persuade these businesses to want to be part of the charge for change?

A new ‘hook’ is needed

Speak to any business-related journalist and they will tell you that stats and facts grab reader, viewer and listener attention more than anything else. Stating an opinion may be interesting but add a powerful statistic or fact into the mix and suddenly your story goes from being half-decent or even good to great.

This is how the B Corp community can appeal to those businesses whose motivations differ from our own. By communicating and sharing content that talks specifically about the business benefits of being a B Corp and purpose-led business rather than repeatedly banging the same ‘for the good of people and planet’ drum, we can pique the interest of the disinterested.

It all starts by thinking of their customers

Indeed, research conducted by EY revealed that 40 per cent of UK adults state that their buying behaviours have been irreversibly altered by the pandemic to favour ethical product and service providers. For purpose-led businesses, the results speak for themselves.

Two US researchers for Harvard Business Review found that purpose-driven companies “outperform the market by five per cent to seven per cent” each year. Our own research helps to provide a reason for this.

When we surveyed 500 UK CEOs, six in ten (61 per cent) stated that even when economic conditions are less than favourable, they would still choose a supplier with a clear social and environmental purpose over a business that was not purpose-led. And 80 per cent of this cohort said they would do so even if the non-purpose led entity was more expensive.

Do the research findings above reflect your business’s experiences? If so, talk about it on your social feeds and website and do so without fear that others will accuse you of profiteering from being a B Corp.

Such argument hold no basis because the very act of being certified is testament to the fact that you are evidently going above the norm with your environmental and social impact initiatives.

Dominos will fall

For those businesses for whom sustainability and social impact are not embedded in their psyche, the B Corp community needs to clearly communicate the fact that it is a false dichotomy to say that there is a split between profit or purpose, ethics or economics. There isn’t.

It is possible to do good as a business and do well for the environment and society at the same time. There is no need to trade one off against the other. In fact, many of the world’s biggest brands have been acting on this knowledge for some time.

Unilever, for example, has created a list of ‘sustainable living brands’ – products that have been developed in line with a strong social or environmental purpose. In 2018, these brands (including Dove, Knorr, Persil, Hellmann’s) grew 69 per cent faster than the rest of Unilever’s business, delivering 75 per cent of its overall growth.

So, expand your storytelling to go beyond showcasing all the good stuff you do. Try to incorporate stories about all the good ways these actions positively benefit your people and profits. We shouldn’t shy away from admitting that being a better business actually makes the business better financially, too.

In 2021, Clearly PR became only the seventh PR agency out of 4,000+ in the UK to gain B Corp status. We now support other B Corps with their PR and use our status to influence positive change among the clients we have that are not onboard with ESG to any great extent.

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