What is a B Corp?

Launched by non-profit organisation B Lab in 2007, the ‘B Corp’ movement aims to unite, inspire and recognise socially, environmentally and legally responsible companies.

Companies become certified B Corporations by first passing B Lab’s stringent assessments on performance, legal accountability and public transparency and then by sticking to the same values for the long term.

More than just a badge given to those who tick certain boxes, it’s a commitment to use business as a force for good – one that’s already been made by more than 3,800 organisations across the world.

Holly Tucker MBE, founder of Notonthehighstreet, is currently working towards achieving B Corp status for her business Holly & Co. She says: “Some of the brands that I most admire are B Corps – Cook, Patagonia, Toms, Abel & Cole, to name just a few. They stand for something bigger than the product they are selling and, for me, that is going to be fundamental to business in the future.”

Is B Corp status right for your business?

B Lab itself says that by becoming certified, organisations have the chance to lead a movement, build relationships with like-minded companies, attract better talent, improve global impact and amplify their voices.

And although certification takes time, commitment, and often organisational change, many companies who go for it do so because their values already fit the B Corp vision.

“When I first heard about B Corp I instantly realised our ethics and values were already intrinsically aligned with those of certified B Corp organisations,” says Lisa Lawson, founder of Glasgow-based Dear Green Coffee Roasters. “We were inspired by the business practices of many companies who had already achieved certification and wanted to meet the same high standards.”

B Corp is the most stringent independent verification for both social and environmental performance. We knew it would give us a benchmark and the momentum for improving our sustainability actions even further.

Donald Moore
Chair, Rowlinson Knitwear

So if the values already exist, what good is certification? Donald Moore, chair of B Corp-certified school-wear manufacturer Rowlinson Knitwear, explains his company’s thinking: “Our decision-making was already based on care, trust and doing the right thing as an employee-owned business with a positive workplace culture. But B Corp would make us even better, as it’s the most stringent independent verification for both social and environmental performance. We knew it would give us a benchmark and the momentum for improving our sustainability actions even further.”

Before you start your journey

If your own values fit well with those of the B Corp movement and certification is appealing, start by shedding any misconceptions about certification just being a PR or marketing opportunity.

“It is a lot of hard work and you may find that financial investment needs to be made in how your organisation operates to allow it to grow sustainably,” says Hannah Cox, founder of betternotstop and qualified ‘B Leader’ – someone trained by B Lab to help businesses on their own certification journeys.

“It can highlight areas in which your business is falling short and may force you to look at how you can create sustainable solutions around how you run things. It’s tough, but the rewards of being a B Corp definitely justify the hard work and time that goes into becoming one.”

Holly Tucker agrees that businesses should begin their certification journey with their eyes open. “We hope to become a certified B Corp this year - and I would urge anyone considering it to look into it. Many think it’s just for big brands, but it really isn't.

“That said, it is an in-depth process, so before you start on your B Corp journey, it is vital for you to consider if it is right for you. The process really probes you to think deeply about all elements of your company – from supply chains to staffing and HR. As a business for good, your purpose must run deep, and from the very core. I urge every small business to really look at the heart of your company and to ask yourself the hard questions first.”

The steps to certification

B Lab breaks the B Corp certification process down into three stages: Business Case, Legal Change, and B Impact Assessment (BIA) – and they’re best approached loosely in that order.

Part one: Build your business case

This is a journey that no individual within a business can make alone; it has to be a team effort. So first make it clear to yourself and everyone around you why B Corp certification is right for your organisation.

Sell the fact that it’ll allow you to protect your company’s mission while helping you trade with like-minded businesses, increase sustainability and improve your impact on the world. And tailor the objectives and benefits to your audience, as each will have their own priorities.

“Choose someone in your business to lead on this project and act as the ‘B Corp Champion’,” advises Cox. “This could be you or someone else in the business who is interested in sustainability – but the more influence they have, the better.

“Involve your team through the process, too. Explain to them why you want to be a B Corp, inspire them to provide thoughts and feedback on the areas of the business they think need more attention. This’ll be key to getting everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Part two: Understand the legal change

For a business to be certified, it must build B Corp’s values into its legal structure – this ensures companies are committed to long-term accountability and not just short-term box-ticking.

According to B Lab: “B Corps make this legal change by updating their Articles of Association, reincorporating as benefit companies and benefit corporations, or making other structural changes.”

It’s vital, therefore, that you understand what this means for your business; what must change, and what needs to be amended in your own documents for you to pass the B Corp Legal Test. And this too should be a central part of those early conversations with your organisation’s key decision-makers.

Part three: The B Impact Assessment (BIA)

The B Impact Assessment (BIA) is B Lab’s online platform that evaluates how your company interacts with your workers, customers, community, and environment. Eventually, you’ll need to submit your entry to be formally assessed by B Lab’s board, but it’s also a useful tool for seeing where you are as a business right now and what might need to change.

“I’d recommend doing a dry run of the B Lab impact assessment early on to see where you are; at the very least it’ll be a lesson on how to do business better,” says Lawson. “I learned a lot and updated many company policies as a result. I can now set targets for the business with more understanding of impact.”

Once you’ve gone through the assessment process the first time, you’ll be able to build a plan for making the necessary legal changes. And when that part of the plan is complete, you can recomplete the assessment and submit it to B Lab, where your score will be marked against an 80-point bar for certification.

“Starting the verification process during lockdown was daunting,” adds Lawson, “but the B Lab team were incredibly supportive and in a year where there weren’t a lot of gains I managed to refocus, refresh and keep business interesting, inspiring, positive and enjoyable.”

Paying for certification

This long-term commitment does come with a fee – albeit a relatively small one, paid annually.

Your fee will be determined by your business’s annual sales, and there are 13 brackets; a company making £149,999 or less per year will only pay £500, while one making £1bn or more will pay over £50,000. You’ll also be required to renew your certification every three years by being assessed again.

SMEs will likely be at the lower end of the fee scale and, according to Lawson, the hard work and small costs are more than worthwhile: “The process is lengthy but it is achievable and rewarding on so many levels. My company culture of putting people and planet before profit means the profit tends to look after itself, and being part of the B Corp community means I’m supported on that onward journey during a time of an unknown economic outlook.”

Download the key takeaways

How to become a B Corp (PDF, 43.5KB)

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