So what is all the Buzz about? My first peek into the world of B Corp was in 2016 at the
Summer Fancy Food Show in NYC. We met face to face with Andy Fyfe, the Director of Equitable Growth at B Lab, and came away enlightened. At the same show I literally bumped into a life sized walking Tony's Chocolonely - the"slave free chocolate" , already B Corp certified and spreading the B love. This was the moment our quest for certification began.
I recently wrote about our own personal B Corp journey, for Jordan Buckner at Food Bevy. Here's what I had to say.
In 2017, at Zen of Slow Cooking my business partner Meg Barnhart and I achieved our goal to become a Certified B Corporation. It’s a rigorous, evidence based process, but well worth the time and effort. As founders of a small enterprise, we couldn't overlook the importance of being the champions behind B Corp motivation within our business to bring us to the next level. I recommend that today’s leaders go through the assessment as it will help them understand how they can offer a level of inspired leadership. This article covers the pros, cons, and the process behind B Corp certification.
What is a B Corp?
A certified B Corp is any for-profit entity that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency as set out by the certifying body - nonprofit B Lab. By certifying as a B Corp, you are demonstrating a commitment to use business as a force for good. “We need an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economic system for all people and the planet.” - B Corp
The Path to Certification
The Business Impact Assessment “The BIA”
Key Point: In a nutshell, to achieve B Corp certification, you will require between 80 and 250 points on the BIA, from 100-150 questions. The BIA is how you work out your notional score.
“As a rule, businesses will know the answers to a third of the questions, they’ll be tentative on the next third, and they’ll need help on the last third – I’m here to act as a forest guide in those latter stages,” says Andy Hawkins, Founder at Business on Purpose.
To get started, B Corp offers the free Business Impact assessment tool on their website. This is a confidential tool which allows you to self-assess your business’s impact in all aspects of your business within the framework of these 5 areas: governance, workers, community, environment, and customers. Each series of questions are tailored to your business size and sector. You don’t have to finish it in one sitting, you can complete the questions over time.
Key Point: There are some legal requirements to becoming a B Corp around business type and governing documents.
Once you are confident that you can achieve a verified score of 80+ then you are ready to submit your BIA for review by B Lab team. This sets off the back and forth between you and a member of the B Lab team for you to provide supporting documentation.
Key Point: If your business is designed to create a specific positive benefit or outcome for one of its stakeholders, it may unlock more points on the Impact Business Model score. In general, an Impact Business Model “IBM” is extraordinary.
The Pros and Cons
Genuine Commitment and Resource Investment
I believe that the decision to become a B Corp needs to be either driven and / or very heavily supported by the founders / C-suite executives in a business who are engaged with the overall philosophy.
The resourcing will depend on the size of your business and your growth stage. If you are a start-up (you need a minimum of 12 months trading) then it will be easier to incorporate B Corp values into your growth, rather than larger companies who have a bigger task in re-evaluating policies. Either way, the level of investment will be proportional to your size as a business. At this stage it’s key to communicate your B Corp goals and stimulate your workforce, bringing them along with you.
The benefit is that once certified the B Corp Certification opens up more doors to better opportunities and product / service placements. You will also attract prime talent into your organization, resources who are more likely to align with your values and be invested in your future. You then unlock access to an entire community of other B Certified businesses via the B Hive.
It's a Non Linear Process
Not all areas of the BIA framework are created equal! You will find areas in which you score well, and others more challenging. You will be required to go away and gather documentation to support your answers, and thankfully there are organizations popping up with experience who can guide you towards unlocking points within specific areas of the BIA.
The benefits of preparing this information for the BIA stands your business in good health for the future. You may have identified improvements in processes, documented previously undocumented procedures, and created some new best practices. At the very least you will have a playbook for recertification.
The B Corp world is buzzing and more people are joining the community than ever. Even when you have your documentation in place you may be waiting 6+ months before full certification. Turn this into an upside. It allows you time to plan your communications and launch of your new status!
So you’ve achieved the gold standard, now what? This is a joyous moment to be celebrated, make the most of the hard work and new status. You have a benchmark and need to plan to improve your score for next time because recertification takes place every 2 years. Continue to weave those B Corp values into your future.
Business Impact Assessment
Timeline and Process
Fees - US non refundable $150 one off submission fee + annual certification fee revenue dependent
Fees - UK non refundable £250 one off submission fee + annual certification fee revenue dependent
Impact Business Models
Examples of B Corps
Zen of Slow Cooking - A spice manufacturing business with a specific social impact model and providing employment for adults with disabilities.
Imago - Executive coaching and organizational consulting firm
Patagonia Inc - American retailer of outdoor clothing, founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973
Look out for my follow up article: Three things we learned after becoming a B Corp in 2017: a tactical response.