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“Business can be a force for good, and a driver for growth.” – Bloomberg
“Building purpose into business benefits us all.”
– Harvard Business Review
“Think global, act local: Grow your business sustainably.”
“Sustainable business must be part of any serious post-pandemic strategy.”
– The Scotsman
“Seven top tips for embedding purpose and super-charging sustainability at your organisation.”
All the above are headlines for stories that have been published in various newspapers, magazines, TV and radio outlets over the last few months. You may not have consumed any of them yourself, but I will wager you are all too familiar with the message that each is attempting to convey:
- Businesses must become more responsible and purposeful because it is the right thing to do by people and the planet, and
- Because it helps boost the organisation’s bottom line.
They are of course right, on both counts, and one path that a growing number of businesses are now taking is that of becoming a Certified B Corporation.
But does gaining accreditation as a B Corp actually mean anything to employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders?
Does it reshape how the business is perceived from employer of choice status to preferred product or service provider in their space?
Doing it for ourselves; creating a domino effect
In November, Clearly became only the seventh public relations company in the UK (out of a total of over 4,000) to gain Certified B Corporation accreditation. The process took 11 months and 11 days to complete. It was tough going and to date only around 500 businesses in the UK have successfully met the standards required to become a B Corp. This number is likely to rise this year, and then some.
We didn’t seek to become a B Corp because it would be a good profile raiser for Clearly. Rather, when we started the process, part of the reason was that we wanted – nay, needed – a bloody good kick up the arse and do stuff to become a more responsible business.
The other part was down to simply hoping that if we talk about it publicly and extol the impact that being a B Corp is having on us, this will then inspire other business leaders to follow suit. That in turn would then create a powerful domino effect.
The business rationale for being a B Corp
For some business leaders, the motivation for gaining B Corp status will be born from the desire to run their businesses better – to do so in a way that creates greater value to their people, supply chains, the environment and communities within which they live and work.
Others, however, are more Gordon Gekko about it. They will be all too aware of the mounting evidence that shows how B Corps are reporting healthier year-on-year growth than non-certified businesses.
The number of times the #Bcorp hashtag has been used on social media platforms since the start of January has rocketed.
Could this imply a growing number of businesses plan their own journeys to becoming more environmentally and societally sound?
In fact, until the start of the pandemic, it is reported that B Corps enjoyed a rate of growth that was 28-times faster than the national economic growth rate. As such, embarking on the application process will be viewed as a sound investment by some that will invariably deliver a strong ROI and enhanced profits.
This leaves a sour taste in my mouth, but a recent conversation made me realise that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It has to do with the process.
In a recent Twitter exchange with a fellow B Corp business owner, who runs an incredible drinks brand and is also doing brilliantly well, I posited:
“My view is that wanting to become so should not be driven by the bottom-line gains to be had, but by the desire to truly want to do better.”
“[I am] delighted more and more companies are keen to join for any reason whatsoever as bottom line there are no shortcuts and ethics must be put first.”
I took objection to the “for any reason whatsoever” comment because I vehemently oppose the prospect of financial gain and enhanced business profile as justification for seeking to become a B Corp.
But she was also right by saying “there are no shortcuts”.
Indeed, it is blinkin’ hard to achieve even the minimum standard needed just to be considered. And when you pass that stage, every aspect of how you run your business comes under scrutiny and you are required to provide evidence that what you claim you do towards environmental and social impact initiatives, you are actually doing and can prove it.
So, even if the motivation for wanting to become a B Corp is driven by the promise of greater financial returns, the high standards that must be reached and maintained thereafter in order become and remain certified will have the same impact on people and plant as those businesses who were driven to achieve B Corp status out of a genuine desire to do good, be better.
No matter how much that personally grates me, it is the outcomes that matter most.
A truly inclusive ‘club’
Any business, whether a fledgling entity or a large-scale multinational organisation, can apply to become a Certified B Corporation. Size matters not a jot. It’s what you do with your business from an environmental and societal perspective that matters.
For example, actions could include:
- gifting a percentage of net income to sustainable and social impact initiatives (as Clearly does)
- paying a fair wage to all employees and contractors
- selecting suppliers based on their ethical and environmental credentials
- using only recycled paper and inks
- providing flexible working opportunities for people
- allocating a chunk of time each month to pro bono work for local charitable organisations
The list, literally, could go on and on but you get the picture.
So, what do you think? Should your business seek to achieve B Corp status? If I can share this one snippet for you to add into the mix when considering whether you should or shouldn’t, it is this:
- Being a Certified B Corporation is a moniker of respectability.
- It shows us to be a business that recognises profit must come first because without it we can’t do any good.
- We want to do more to limit our impact on the environment and support those most disadvantaged in society.
- Gaining accreditation is both deeply satisfying and equally rewarding too.
- Our people are proud to say they work for a B Corp and proud that the work they do each day directly contributes to the company’s ESG goals. And
- Clients get great satisfaction knowing that a percentage of every penny they pay us is gifted to worthwhile initiatives.
It feels good. It’s doing good. It looks good, too. It can do the same for you as well.