B-Corps: what they are and why they matter

By Pelican MD Michael Bennett

The coronavirus pandemic has already changed the way we think about many aspects of our daily lives; how we travel, our impact on the planet, the way we show appreciation to others, and of course, the way we work.

Thanks to school closures, social distancing measures and rules around self-isolation, many employers have been forced the address the individual needs of employees as never before, and we’ve been given an unprecedented glimpse into what the world could look like if we balanced needs of society and the environment with turning a profit.

This has been an eye-opening experience and proof that a different kind of economic system is possible, the kind of economic system B-Corps have advocated for more than a decade. In a post-coronavirus world, will B-Corp certification redefine what it means to be successful?

What is a B Corp?

B Corporation certification is a private certification issued by B Lab, a global non-profit organisation.

Certified businesses have proven they balance purpose and profit, and consider the impact of their decisions on staff, customers, suppliers, the wider community and the environment.

B Corps are not a small band of artisan sole traders taking on the Gordon Gekkos of the world. They are for–profit companies which ‘commit to create a material positive impact on society and the environment through their operations.’

As of April 2020 there are more than 3,300 certified B Corporations across 150 industries in 71 countries, including:

  • Ella’s Kitchen
  • Propercorn
  • Ben & Jerrys
  • The Body Shop
  • Abel & Cole
  • Hootsuite

To be certified as a B-Corp, businesses must be assessed and prove they meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

Why does it matter?

B-Corps have the potential to positively change the planet.

One of the core aims of B-Corps is to build a more sustainable economy. From tracking greenhouse emissions and energy use to composting and introducing bicycle parking, B-Corp certified businesses are constantly exploring and implementing policy changes related to environmental and community impact.

B-Corp certification helps attract and retain staff.

It’s now widely accepted the emerging workforce expects more from an employer than a decent salary and a pension scheme. Millennials include on their job wish list flexible hours and a boss who puts purpose before profit.

B-Corps are instantly attractive to the current workforce because certification proves they’re ticking these boxes.

Robert Cheetham, CEO of Azavea, said: “Surprisingly, one of the biggest reasons why job seekers apply to Azavea is because they see us measuring our impact and taking our sustainability efforts seriously.”

Does my business qualify?

You can find out by taking an online assessment. This doesn’t just evaluate a product or service; it assesses the overall positive impact of the company that stands behind it. Businesses earn points on the B Impact Assessment by directly addressing a social or environmental need as their core revenue stream and/or by how they do business.

In the wake of the pandemic your score may be higher than you think. The policies being introduced out of necessity because of the coronavirus outbreak are having a positive impact on both people and the planet.

For example, a growing number of firms, including Twitter and BT, are making their home-working arrangements permanent to facilitate social distancing.

This is great news for employees looking to strike the right work-life balance, but also a win for the planet. More homeworkers means businesses can occupy smaller office spaces that need less electricity to run, while the fewer employees travelling to work means less carbon emissions from commuting.

A 2014 Carbon Trust study found this could save UK businesses £3billion a year and more than 3 million tonnes of carbon.

The future for B-Corps.

“Our ultimate vision is that one day there will be no B Economy—just a global economy that aligns its activities toward achieving our common purpose of a shared and durable prosperity for all.”

It’s a bold statement, but the B Corp mission to work towards reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs is one all businesses should align with as we emerge from the pandemic into a new way of working.

Now more than ever we need to see businesses actively trying to put purpose on a level footing with profit – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because there’s a strong commercial rationale for it. In doing this, we’ll be much better equipped to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the world.

Pelican Communications is a specialist in the environment & CSR, food, packaging & logistics and trade association sectors and offers a range of services such as strategy, design, content creation, public relations and people development.

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