There are over 1,000 certified B Corps in more than 33 countries. Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Natura are some of the big names. Many of us, however, are SMEs/SGEs trying to make a difference and in some cases aspiring to scale in the way those ‘big 3’ already have.
So a natural question is, what’s in it for us? Emzingo is a leadership development company with social impact built into its programs and services and integrated into the organizational culture. Emzingo and the B Corp movement have a clear alignment in terms of values, which is what drew us towards getting a certification in the first place. In addition to the philosophical alignment on how businesses should operate, there were three main drivers for Emzingo’s decision to join the B Corp community.
- Accountability to our team and stakeholders: By completing the B Corp application process, we were forced to take a hard look at the way we’re running our business, metrics we are tracking, policies we have in place, and the way we hold ourselves accountable. This exercise alone was incredibly beneficial. The certification has now created a natural, annual mechanism to ensure we’re constantly improving our business practices. For anyone reading this who has ever started a company, run a small business, or is scaling her/his enterprise, you know the discipline it takes to step back when the daily to-do list is already a mile long and constantly growing.
- Being part of the movement equals credibility: From Emzingo’s perspective, B Corp is the Fair Trade certificate for service providers. Our social enterprise creates experiences and transforms individuals while having a positive impact on communities. The challenge is that Emzingo is not [yet] a household name like the big guys mentioned at the beginning of this post. Association with B Corp adds an element of credibility when approaching new partners and clients. It also gives us access and a common bond with other certified organizations with which we may want to partner, sell our services to, or support in another way. Consortiums and memberships exist for these purposes. However, Emzingo is confident that the B Corp movement is more valuable to everyone involved because it is built by and around purpose-driven organizations.
- Building the ecosystem: Simply put, we love what we do and think there should be more people thinking the way that Emzingo and many of the other B Corps do when it comes to driving responsible leadership, creating social change, and protecting natural resources and our environment. The question for us was how do we make this happen beyond what our organization can do on its own? We view the B Corp community as part of the answer. This community provides us with the opportunity to support peers and colleagues, build a network across sectors and geographies, and create and live out one of Emzingo’s values, “Encourage Collaboration and Mutual Success.” Our hope is that we can create a multiplier effect by learning from, influencing and collaborating with other B Corp members.
Drew Bonfiglio is the co-founder of Emzingo Group, a people development company focused on leadership development and social impact. He has been involved with Net Impact in some capacity since 2008 when he join the graduate chapter at IE Business School. He has attended and spoken or facilitated at Net Impact national conference and is now a member of the events team for the Net Impact Boston chapter. Drew’s day job and Net Impact provide him the opportunity to focus on the things he is most passionate about: people development and social impact.
Is your company considering B Corp certification? Anne Sherman, Director of Sustainability at Staach, created the business case for and led the teams at Staach through the B Corp certification process. Here she shares her top tips for success.
Before you embark on the certification process:
- Be clear about how B Corp certification can work for you: Becoming a certified B Corp comes with many benefits, and knowing your goals helps you identify the best strategy for engagement. The answer will be different for every company. For some, it helps attract and engage talent or investors; for others it’s about differentiation or generating press. For Staach, B Corp certification provided third party recognition for its existing efforts and a framework to evaluate and improve its performance. The goal is to find alignment with other goals of the business.
- Get to know more about the B Corp Community: The diverse and vibrant community of Certified B Corps can be a major asset before, during and after certification. They will be your peers, collaborators, and hopefully your clients, too! Search through the Community Portal or see if there is a networking event near you on the B Corp Calendar.
- Do the Quick Assessment: This is a great tool that enables you to take the B Corp assessment for a test drive and get a snapshot of your company’s impact. It won’t result in certification, but it will provide you with more insight on what is involved in the assessment process, and give you a rough indication of where your company stands.
- Allocate resources: To successfully manage and improve the environmental and social performance of the business, there needs to be someone empowered to dedicate at least some of their time to overseeing and supporting efforts across the company.
If you decide that B Corp certification is right for your business:
- Remember measurement is just the beginning: Don’t worry as much about where you are now, but use the information to help envision where you can go. Set goals, and make sure you have a combination of long term, big picture goals as well as short term, easy wins in order to keep motivation up.
- Find the right people: Think carefully about who in your company will have the information that you need to complete the B Corp certification. Who it is will vary from company to company but having the right members of your team engaged from the start helps you get the information you need and keeps the process moving. Involving key decision-makers is always beneficial – and will ideally influence broader decisions for the company.
- Inspire your teams: Employees want to feel good about the company that they work for and they can be great advocates for B Corp certification. Get buy-in from your teams early and spend time explaining and helping them to understand the value, and how their work is important to the process. Having your teams on board is also hugely helpful during the certification process and beyond as they will be your troops on the ground, helping you locate and gather the data you need and alerting you to opportunities for improvements.
- Start with the easy questions: The application does not have to be completed in one go. Start with the questions that you know how to answer and create a plan for what you need to do to get the information for the more challenging questions.
- Be prepared to track down data: Expect to do some work to find all the data required for the B Corp certification. Many questions will be easy to answer, but some will require extra research. Staach was in a fortunate position because it already had lots of the information readily available, however Anne still had to spend time identifying and collecting data. Remember to think ahead and set up systems to make the process easier the second time round.
- Make the most of B Lab resources: The B Lab team has so much knowledge and excitement and they never make it feel like a burden when you ask questions. The B Corp Handbook by Ryan Honeyman is a great tool for folks interested in or already using the B Corp Impact Assessment. It’s a wealth of information and case studies from companies who have been through the process and are working to improve their impacts.
- Talk to someone with experience: There is no comparison to talking through the certification process with someone who has been through it. If you don’t already know someone, ask the B Lab team and they will put you in touch with experienced B Corporation leaders, or look for upcoming events and webinars on the B Corp Calendar.
B Corps are for-profit organizations certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,000 Certified B Corps from 33 countries and over 60 industries working together to redefine success in business.
Anne Sherman led Staach through the B Corporation certification process and is a passionate advocate for the value it can bring to a company’s culture and brand. We caught up with Anne to find out what inspired her to get involved with the B Corp movement and the benefits and challenges of becoming certified.
When did you first become interested in sustainability?
I’ve been interested in environmental sustainability my whole life. My father worked on early environmental sustainability efforts in the 70s and so I was always conscious of environmental issues and the importance of protecting the planet.
How did you find out about the B Corporation Movement?
I did a Masters in Sustainable Design at Philadelphia University and learnt about many of the different sustainability certifications as part of my course. Philadelphia is where the B Corp movement first started so I had the opportunity to interact with a number of certified companies and see the value they got from improving their social and environmental impacts and being part of a community working together towards a shared goal.
I was also lucky to have the support and inspiration of my professor, Rob Fleming, who I worked with to develop Quadruple Bottom Line, defining Experience – particularly those which contribute to the improvement of the human condition – as the fourth ‘bottom line’ necessary to establish a lasting form of sustainability. I adapted it for use in business, but the concept is adaptable and is also described in Rob Fleming’s recent book Design Education for a Sustainable Future.
What motivated you to pursue a career at Staach?
The founder of Staach, Seth Eshelman, and I were undergraduates together at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He founded Staach in his senior year and I worked closely with him as he brought his vision to life. I guess I have always had an emotional connection with the company and hoped to find the right opportunity to work there. I reconnected with Seth when I used Staach as an example for the Quadruple Bottom Line tool that I worked on at Graduate School. As part of this process, I identified key opportunities for the company and made the case for a Director of Sustainability, which then became my role.
Why did you decide to pursue FSC and B Corporation Certification for Staach?
From the beginning, Staach only sourced FSC materials but it never formalized these efforts through certification. Becoming FSC certified is not easy and requires companies to go through an intensive audit each year – there really needs to be someone to manage the process. What’s more, between audits, there is lots of training required to ensure that materials are handled and stored in the right way throughout the company’s operations. The benefit is maintaining credible third party standards for our procedures to assure an unbroken chain of custody, as well as being able to use the FSC label on our products, which is really important for effectively marketing our products.
The B Corp certification is more comprehensive as it looks at both social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Staach was in a fortunate position in that the company was already going above and beyond in a number of areas to address its environmental and social impacts. However, the certification provided us with the third party credibility to talk about our efforts and to differentiate us from our competitors. It also provided us with the framework and data to evaluate and improve our performance and an opportunity to strengthen our role as advocates for responsible business.
Do you get support from B Lab and the B Corporation community?
The B Lab team provides a great deal of support to companies going through the certification process. They are more than willing to help answer your questions and they also accept and appreciate feedback to improve the process.
One of the biggest benefits of being a B Corp is the community. There are working groups and annual retreats where B Corps come together to collaborate and answer the big
questions. It isn’t easy to make radical changes in a company so it is invaluable to have a network of like-minded individuals who support and question your ideas and actions. You don’t have to participate in the B Corp community to be certified but, in my opinion, staying engaged helps you get the most value.
Does the work stop once you are a certified B Corporation?
The certification process is just the beginning. After Staach was certified, I went back and highlighted areas where are scores were lower, taking into account the weighting they were given by B Lab and how this compared to Staach’s priorities. Then I separated these questions into three categories: “easy wins,” “medium-term aims” and “longer-term thinking.” This process informed the development of Staach’s sustainability program and helped us identify what more we could be doing. First, we tackled the “easy wins,” while also considering the “medium-term aims” and “longer-term thinking” as part of our ongoing business decisions.
I know a number of other companies that have leveraged the certification results as a roadmap to drive continuous improvement.
The roadmap I created also enables me to project future B Corp certification scores. It’s not an exact science as the certification changes slightly; however, I’m looking forward to seeing how close I got!
What has been the impact of becoming a B Corporation on the Staach’s culture and its brand?
It’s definitely a value add – both for the company’s culture and brand. Staach scored in the top 10% of B Corps and was awarded ‘Best in the Environment’ by B Lab. This external recognition of our efforts boosts morale internally and is hugely motivating for the whole Staach team.
It has also helped us gain visibility with potential customers. One customer recently told us that, for them, the fact that we source our materials locally was the reason they chose Staach over competitor brands. Having the B Corporation certification provides us with a robust, transparent and increasingly recognized means of verifying the sustainability claims we are making.
What advice would you give to those looking for a career with a positive social or environmental impact?
You don’t need to work for B Corp or a company with strong sustainability credentials to make a difference. Many companies that are not already thinking or talking about sustainability will be motivated to change if their employees really care about it. Be an intrapreneur, work from the inside out, identify influencers in the company and pay attention so that when the opportunity arrives you are prepared.
Education is important and my academic qualifications have really helped me; however, nothing rivals working on the ground and getting real-world experience.
Also, seek out mentors to help you be the best you can be. Organizations like Net Impact Boston enable you to meet like-minded professionals and potential mentors to guide you on your journey.
Which companies do you most admire?
I am inspired by so many members of the B Corp and broader sustainability community, in particular, the companies and non-profit organizations that collaborate and take risks.
- International Living Future Institute: I am always inspired by this non-profit’s work as it is so comprehensive and Greg Norris and his team are not afraid to go where others won’t. In particular, I love the “Living Building Challenge” and “Living Product Challenge” (due to launch this year), which measure sustainability alongside beauty and happiness and yet are grounded in research and data.
- Patagonia: in my opinion, this company leads the way in terms of corporate sustainability. Its efforts to reduce consumption have become integral to the business without compromising its success – in fact, that’s what many consumers love about the brand.
- Beneficial State Bank: The work that Beneficial State Bank is doing is hugely important as the financial sector, on the whole, has been very slow to join the sustainability movement. I met one employee, who had been on the verge of quitting her job in finance until she got a position at Beneficial State Bank and was able to combine her passion for finance with her values. Check out this video of Kat Taylor’s B Inspired talk at the 2014 retreat.
- New Belgium: this is a great example of an employee-owned company that is leading the brewing industry with its sustainability efforts.
Check out B Inspired talks to find out more about the amazing innovation within the B Corp Community. If your company is considering B Corporation certification, check out the free Quick Assessment, which enables you to take the assessment for a test drive.