Can I be honest? We thought becoming a BCorp would be a bit of a doddle. We’re a small team. We know our purpose and try hard to live it. We said on our website years ago ‘we believe that all businesses have a fundamental responsibility to protect and enhance the lives of the people who work for them, the societies we serve and the planet we share’. And we have lots of right-on employee policies and masses of pro bono time given to causes we care about to show it.
Well, all of that smug self importance didn’t cut much ice with the BCorp boys who assessed us. Let me confirm that when the BCorp movement says:
certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose
boy, do they mean it. To make the grade we had to think far more deeply about every aspect of how we run our business and treat our people, our clients, our suppliers and the wider community and planet.
Be the change you seek in the world
When the BCorp movement declare that, they hold to the belief that “we must be the change we seek in the world; that all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered; and that, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all” there is absolutely no fudge in judging aspirants against that yardstick. And achieving that standard is bloody hard.
But not impossible. There are now more than 3000 B Corporations across more than 65 countries, from Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia, to Natura and The Guardian as well as smaller companies like us.
How did we become a BCorp?
The BCorp assessment measures a business’s performance in five areas – governance, workers, community and the environment – using independent standards of social and environmental performance. The assessment process was a real wake-up call. It made us think about our own assumptions and about our impact and our role. We Certified successfully, which is amazing, but we had to make changes; and we recognise that we are not ‘done’ – it’s an ongoing process of improvement.
So, if it helps, here are a few of the things that made us a Certified BCorp:
We’ve always enjoyed working with charities, not-for-profit and educational institutions and have always been happy to give our time away. As a BCorp we are now formally committed to donate at least 5% of our yearly hours to pro bono work for these organisations. Actually, when you add it up that’s a hell of a lot and we’ve needed to work out how to choose where we work and how to evidence our impact. Previously it was all a bit random.
We believe in the power of research. We sponsor global research into purpose with our partners at Cambridge University. We have also established a Community Interest Company through which we channel an increasing chunk of what we earn as a business. Our CIC is committed to investing at least 60% of profits to support charities, research and education in purpose and socially responsible business.
We’re committed to reduce our environmental impact but our approach has been somewhat sporadic. BCorp has declared a climate emergency and it’s incumbent on us now to consider every aspect of our impact both direct and indirect. If we can’t walk or cycle, we take the train. If we really have to drive or fly, we offset our carbon. We also try not to buy stuff we don’t need and, if we do have to upgrade technology, we recycle the old.
We don’t set hours or restrict holiday time for our people or run control over peoples’ lives. We take as much time off as we need. We do not judge others on their hours but on what they contribute to our purpose.
There are lots of areas we’re simply awful at. We’re not a diverse team. We think we recruit brilliant people with the deepest level of experience and expertise. But it probably means we just recruit a lot of people who look like us. And is the diversity of ownership or opportunity driving our decisions on who we choose to work with? We are getting there on our own environmental impact but haven’t really started on our supply chain. If we organise an event do we select the caterers on their carbon impact?
And that’s the trouble with BCorp. You start with a cosy set of assumptions that you are one of the good guys and suddenly find yourself going through a process that asks the most searching of questions and in a community that are way ahead of you.
There are 3,000 BCorps now and the number is growing exponentially. What will it be like when there are 30,000 or 300,000 businesses acting as if people and place mattered and striving to do no harm and to benefit all. And is that really so radical an aspiration? And if it is what hope for us? It’s certainly a future we are happy to work towards. If it’s a future you believe in too, please consider becoming a BCorp. I can’t claim it will be easy. But I can promise it will make you a better business. And make the world a far better place for our children.
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