Do you want to be set apart as a thought leader? Do you want to distinguish your business in a crowded market? Do you want to associate your brand with some of the most socially and environmentally responsible companies on the planet?
These are some of the reasons that Ryan Honeyman identifies for becoming a B Corp in The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good.
Towards the end of 2016, we decided at Bubble Chamber CIC to begin this journey and we thought we’d keep a diary of progress towards this goal. So, if we’re to chronicle this quest from beginning to end, an appropriate place to start would seem to be: what is a Bcorp and why do we want to become one?
The social enterprise movement has been around for some decades now and it’s a great thing to be part of. We work on a daily basis with other soc ents and we’re constantly inspired by the dedication and persistence of social entrepreneurs, often working against the odds, to produce fantastic results in this country. We’re constantly reminded that the path of social business is not always an easy one!
One thing that is noticeable is the difficulty of defining exactly what a social enterprise is. There are a few generally accepted characteristics about it as a business model but it’s basically unregulated and anyone can call themselves a soc ent, provided they (more or less) adhere to a few principles.
The more recent Bcorp movement is very different in this respect. Being a member means going through a rigorously assessed and monitored process and this rigour can only be a good thing for social business. There’s no faking it as a Bcorp; you have to walk the talk and that’s an ongoing process. Gaining Bcorp status isn’t the end of the story; it means regular re-assessments as part of a constant striving for improvement.
The Bcorp movement started in the USA in 2006 and a B Corp is defined as a company that has won B Lab certification (B Lab being the non-profit organisation that founded and administers the movement). According to B Lab’s official website, “B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk.” The Wikipedia article on B Lab states that there are now over 1900 B Corps across 140 industries in 50 countries. In the UK, the number now stands at 80 companies who have been granted B Corps status.
Why do we want to undertake this challenge? Ryan Honeyman identifies 5 Reasons for Becoming a Bcorp starting with “Being part of a community with shared values”, which seems a pretty good place to start. He goes on to say:
“The incredible value of the community came as a surprise for many B Corps.
Many said that they were originally interested in becoming a Certified B Corporation in order to take advantage of the marketing benefits, to receive discounts on products and services, or to benchmark their social and environmental performance.
Almost universally, it has been the strength of the community — and the sense of being part of something bigger than an individual business — that has become the most deeply fulfilling aspect of B Corp certification.”
Bubble Chamber began the process of becoming a B Corp in December 2016 and as we speak, we’re awaiting the first stage of assessment, having completed a 90 question survey and begun getting our paperwork in order, whilst reviewing all our processes. We’ll be reporting back at various stages along the way. Maybe you’re thinking of doing the same and the reports of our journey will act as an encouragement? Whether that’s the case or not, we hope you’ll be interested in following us as we work towards B Corps status.
To date we have completed the questionnaire and the next step is an interview with B Lab, which we have booked for Friday 13 January (fortunately, we’re not superstitious!). The questions cover a wide range of topics from Governance, Workers conditions, relationships with the Community, Supplier details, and behaviour regarding the Environment. We’ve even been asked for details of the highest and lowest paid employees and it seems there’s no hiding in this process. Every aspect of ethical trading is covered and we expect to be fully scrutinized and (constructively) criticized.
Do we expect to have to change as a result of this quest? Of course. Behind B Lab’s philosophy, and what we believe should be a part of every company’s values and vision, is an emphasis on continual improvement and increasing accountability.
We’re hoping that we’re starting from a solid standpoint but we fully expect to be tested and pushed before we’re able to join the growing community of B Corps in the UK. To find out more, and maybe even begin your own journey, check out B Lab’s website here.
Watch out for our next report on our B Corps journey.