B Corporations: How a New Way of Doing (B)usiness is (B)uilding a (B)etter World.
What’s in a Name Anyway?
B Corporations. I’m not so sure about that name. Sounds like they’re just slightly better than average corporations. Like they didn’t quite make the A grade, but they’re not quite as bad as a C, so we gave them a B. Maybe they’re named after the Bumble Bee, since Bumble Bees are so important for the future of our planet? Or maybe the B stands for Brilliant? Or Better? Or Bloody Brilliant and a much Better Bet? Maybe. I suppose I could just check really couldn’t I? But it doesn’t matter anyway, forget about the name, because this isn’t just some jumped-up marketing campaign. This is the real deal yo! Like a bee pollinating the flowers so the forest can grow. B corporations are changing the business world, and by doing that, they can change the real world too. So what’s the deal B?
What the Flip is a B Corporation?
B Corporations must be officially certified to ensure that they ‘meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.’
Well I looked it up and it turns out that the B in B Corporation doesn’t seem to stand for any particular word. They just have B stamped all over their website with no explanation as to what word it stands for at all. So it’s just ‘B’. I guess that makes the first paragraph seem a little silly, but I like the first paragraph, so it’s staying just as it is, and we’re going to move on from here. Like the human race focusing on building a beautiful future while leaving our negligent past behind us. Is that first negligent paragraph a mistake, or my motivation to write the rest of the article more prudently? Well does a bee shit in the woods? Does a bee even shit? You know I’m not entirely sure. Maybe B Corporations can help us find the answer?
A Certified B Corporation is basically a for-profit company that works to help the world instead of destroying it. As stated in ‘The B Corp Declaration of Interdependence’, The B Corp vision is one of ‘a global economy that uses business as a force for good.’ Now I like the sound of that!
These companies make it their mission to solve social and environmental problems as well as making a profit. B Corporations must be officially certified by a not-for-profit, The B Lab Company, to ensure that they ‘meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.’ B Corporations must also re-certify their credentials every two years to keep in line with evolving standards if they want to hold onto their precious B.
So a B Corporation pretty much has to help communities and the environment at all times while always being transparent about their actions and legally committing to not being greedy, and they have to prove that they’re doing all these things every two years through a rigorous assessment from an independent not-for-profit organisation. I mean we probably should have made every corporation since the very dawn of corporating follow these kinds of rules but we’ve got to start somewhere haven’t we? And thank goodness, it seems, we have started!
Okay so this whole B Corporation thing seems like a truly fabulous planet-altering idea, but one thing I was wondering was this: Hmmmmm so the B Corporations are monitored by ‘The B Lab Company’, but who the hell is monitoring those guys? How do we know they’re not the devil in disguise? Or worse, politicians, or flaming lobbyists? Well after checking out the governing bodies and advisory bodies that oversee the work of B-Lab, it seems that all the people involved come from different independent foundations, companies, and initiatives that all have to do with good things like sustainability, philanthropy, and improving the environment. The B Impact assessment is also overseen by an independent committee of 20-22 members, each with deep industry or stakeholder expertise.
So it seems like the guys keeping the B Corporations in line are legit, which suggests that the good work the B Corporations are doing must be genuine. But what exactly sets them apart from regular companies?
What Makes B Corporations Better?
When a company is certified as a B Corporation, you can be pretty sure that they’re treating both people, and planet, with respect.
As we’ve already discussed, to become a ‘Certified B Corporation’, a company has to commit to doing things differently. So what exactly do they have to do? Below are some of the commitments wannaB (haha) B Corporations have to make and genuinely implement in order to pass the ongoing B Impact assessments.
- Directors are required to consider the impact of their actions on all stakeholders, including the social and environmental impacts, as well as the financial. So if a project is proposed within the company that will make bucket tonnes of cash dollar, but will also pollute a couple of rivers or negatively affect the local community, the company cannot go through with the project. Actions must be beneficial for everyone involved.
- The company must publish regular reports outlining overall social and environmental performance assessed against a third-party standard. So there’s really no hiding if you wanna be a long term member of the B Brigade!
- The company must achieve a minimum verified score on the ‘B Impact Assessment’, and must maintain this score every two years against evolving assessment standards. And these assessments aren’t just a short walk through a supposedly un-polluted corporate park, they involve measuring a companies entire social and environmental performance, and evaluating how the companies operations and overall business model impacts their workers, community, environment, and customers. From supply chain and input materials to charitable giving and employee benefits. You can even find a directory on the B Lab Website where you can find every single Certified B Corporation, and view their exact impact scores over time in areas of governance, workers, community, environment, and customers. So when a company is certified as a B Corporation, you can be pretty sure that they’re treating both people, and planet, with respect.
The B Lab website states that the positive impact of B Certified Corporations is supported by transparency and accountability requirements, so the B Corp Certification doesn’t just prove where the company excels in the present, but also commits it to consider stakeholder impact for the long term by building it into the companies legal structure. So to become a B Corporation, a company has to make itself legally responsible for improving the environment and the communities in which it operates.
The B Corporation model represents a way for us to utilise the structures and institutions we already have in place to do good instead of bad. To build instead of destroy.
You know I was going to do a section after this one titled ‘So how can B Corporations save the world?’, but I don’t think there’s any need for a whole section on that. I think it’s quite simple really: If every single business on earth had a legal obligation to improve the environment and the communities they operate in, thereby working to heal the planet and the human race, as opposed to destroying them, what do you think would happen? I think we’d probably save the world, that’s what.
The B Corporation model represents a way for us to utilise the structures and institutions we already have in place to do good instead of bad. To build instead of destroy. We don’t have to come up with great big revolutionary systems of commerce or governance to create the change that’s needed. We can use the structures we already have to save the world, we just have to start holding them to higher standards; standards we should have held them to from the very beginning. Some might argue that this is all fanciful idealism, and that it can’t possibly work in the real world. But those arguments are invalid. It’s already working in the real world, and there are some really big Certified B Corporations already who are fully operational, profitable, and absolutely thriving! Do have a look below.
To become a B Corporation, a company has to make itself legally responsible for improving the environment and the communities in which it operates.
Who’s on Board Already?
There are currently over 2,500 Certified B Corporations in over 50 countries around the world, and you may have heard of a few of them. Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia, Etsy, Danone North America, and so many other companies are all Certified B Corporations, which means that all of these companies are actually improving the health of the planet and the people around them, as opposed to causing damage.
Danone really is an incredible example of how a huge multinational corporation can operate in a way that helps the world instead of harming it. Danone North America, a business unit of Danone which contains 14 subsidiary companies, is entirely B Certified, while Danone have many other B Certified subsidiaries around the world, and are working towards becoming entirely B Certified. This is proof that the B Corporation model doesn’t just work for the little guys. Danone is one of the largest multinational food production companies in the world, spanning over 120 markets worldwide with a reported yearly profit approaching €25 Billion. If they can fundamentally change their ways and operate successfully while also healing the planet, then surely everybody can. The question to ask though, is will everybody try?
What’s the Future Looking Like for The B Corp Movement?
Just last week something completely out of the norm happened. Something quite incredible. And it directly involves the B Corp Movement. Over 30 Certified B Corporations, including Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Danone North America, took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging members of ‘The Business Roundtable Lobby Group’, which represents pretty much all of the US’s biggest companies, to ‘get to work’ on making real change happen. This follows the recent decision of The Business Roundtable to ‘shift its statement of the purpose of a corporation to include all of its stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, and broader society.’ That was big talk from a group which contains the CEOs of companies like Apple, Amazon, Coca Cola, AT&T, Chevron, Exxon, Deloitte, Pepsi, Pfizer, Ford, and pretty much everyone else, and The B Corporation movement has now officially, and publicly, challenged these influential companies, to start walking the walk.
The fact that these kinds of things are happening in the business world is absolutely astonishing really. The big guys claiming they’re going to start changing their ways is one thing, but being publicly challenged to actually do it by companies who already have is another (B)east entirely. (hahaha)
So with thousands of companies around the world already B Certified, many more in the process of joining, and huge multinational companies like Danone and Ben and Jerry’s banging The B Corp drum, I’m inclined to think the future is looking pretty bright for The B Corp Movement, and dare I say it, for our planet as well?
About the Author
Adam Millett is a freelance writer for hire with an affinity for dressing up as Spiderman and writing about saving the planet. He likes to climb trees and stare at the stars in his spare time and likes to help businesses tell their sustainability stories while he’s working. Visit his website at wordchameleon.com if you want to tell the world yours.