TO BE OR NOT TO B-CORPS CERTIFIED?

Date: 01 November 2018

As societal awareness on sustainability issues is increasing, the attitude of businesses towards their role and responsibility in addressing these global challenges is also slowly changing. “Business as usual” has already been no longer the way to go for a while, and addressing sustainability issues is becoming part of every business’s agenda.

Whereas some corporations have good intentions to address a few sustainability problems they are facing, some corporations strive to take sustainability within their business to the next level. Currently, there is a global movement of corporations that are turning the purpose of their business into a force for good. These companies are participating in the wide-spreading B Corps certification movement.

B Corps: balancing profit with purpose

The B Corporations community consists of companies that pursue a slightly different strategy than the average traditional business models. These corporations acknowledge that most of the societal challenges we are facing cannot be solved by non-profit organisations or governments alone. In addition, B Corporations, or B Corps in short, argue that companies no longer have to make the decision between making money or doing good.

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The B Corporations participating in this movement are all for-profit companies that have shown to successfully balance profit with purpose. Thus, they are committed to addressing today’s social and environmental challenges through the power of business. 

There are currently 2,655 certified B Corps companies in 60 countries spread over the globe, including corporations in Brazil, Singapore, Kenya and the Netherlands. In addition, these companies are operating in as much as 150 different industries; nevertheless, they state to have 1 common goal: not to be the best in the world, but to be the best for the world.

The certification process

To become part of this movement and achieve B Corp certification, a company has to undergo an extensive certification process that is carried out by B Lab, the non-profit certification body of B Corps. B Lab has various offices, including a B Lab East Africa, which is located here in Nairobi, Kenya. B Lab supports businesses to achieve the certification by assessing a company’s impact in the following five categories: customers, employees, the environment, community and governance.

Any company that achieves a minimum score of 80 out of the total of 200 points could achieve this new form of certification. At first glance 80 out of 200 might not seem that high, though it is found to be quite difficult to achieve the B Corp certification- as the average score is 53 for a standard business. For companies that are curious to see how they are performing on the B Corp standards, they can access the online testing tool for free.

Whereas mainly small to medium-sized corporations were first partaking in this B Corp movement, recently bigger companies and brands have also been following this trend; they are making an effort to meet B Corps’s rigorous standards of accountability, transparency and societal and environmental performance to obtain certification. A few examples include Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and even Danone North America, who obtained certification this year.

BCorp

So, personally, this raises the question: in what way does this B Corps certification distinguish itself from all the other sustainability certifications that are already out there? And what is in it for a company to undergo this intensive process to obtain this new form of certification? B Corps argues that the key difference is that their assessment evaluates the bigger picture. It assesses the entire company, including worker engagement, environmental footprint and its governance structure, instead of reviewing just one single aspect- like the product or the social conditions. Moreover, as previously stated, the system is designed in a way that makes it difficult for companies to achieve a high score. This turns out to be a deliberate choice, as it leaves room for companies to strive for improvement.

Benefits of pursuing a triple bottom line agenda

In the past, we have learned from various frontrunners in the field of sustainability that it pays for a company to not solely focus on profit, but to simultaneously focus on creating value for people and the planet. Participating B Corps affirmed that obtaining B Corp status have helped them to attract new customers and employees, as it creates trust, which boosted their brands. Besides, the idea of B Corps is that it creates a community and connects other like-minded corporations, in which exchange of expertise and asking for advice is made possible.

Although critics might argue that obtaining the B Corp certificate is just another marketing tool for companies to stimulate their sales and differentiate themselves from others in the market, we have learned from various examples that companies can gain competitive advantage from using their business as a means for the greater good. Nevertheless, it should be noted that becoming a B Corp, of course, does not guarantee a company with the aimed impact, be it social, environmental or profit-wise. Also, there are many non-B Corp certified companies out there that are working hard to create a positive impact.

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BCorp3 Though, this B Corp movement is just another example with a clear message: it is beneficial to pursue a triple bottom line business model, in which companies create shared value in the broadest sense, not only for their stakeholders but also for society and our planet. The time is now for companies to become change makers, to step up their game and bundling the power of business to tackle sustainability challenges.