Global B Corps Unite As a Force For Good
2 February 2018 at 5:26 pm
B Corps across the world are working together in a bid to collectively raise the profile of the certification and the global movement of business as a force for good.
Throughout February, B Corps will be declaring they are certified, what it means, and why it means so much to them to be recognised as a leader in a “new era of purpose-driven business” as part of B Corp month.
It marks the first large-scale, global activation of B Corps, which represent an emerging group of companies that have undertaken a rigorous assessment of their governance, transparency, environmental and social impact.
B Lab Australia and New Zealand executive director Andrea De Almeida told Pro Bono News the aim was to increase the number of businesses wanting to certify, the number of consumers looking to buy from B Corps, the number of people wanting to work for B Corps, and the volume of capital being invested in B Corps.
“The idea really came from the fact that we need to probably have a lift in the public understanding and communication of who B Corps are and what they stand for,” De Almeida said.
“There are about 2,000 across the world. So this is the first large scale, we’re calling it, ‘global activation’, to really collectively raise the profile and in doing so really elevate the movement of using business as a force for good.”
In Australia and New Zealand, there are 227 Certified B Corps which is the highest per capita ratio in the world.
They generate more than $1 billion in revenue and employ more than 4,000 people.
However De Almeida said while the movement had grown significantly over the last few years there was still a relatively low level of awareness.
“I would say that it depends on what secor you are in,” she said.
“I think if you are in the social enterprise and for-purpose sector you absolutely know what a B Corp is, beyond that I think that there are certainly conscious consumers that have a sense and an understanding of having B Corps as preferred suppliers or preferred business that they would purchase from, but outside of those two groups I would have to say there is relatively low level awareness. Although I would say that probably the other group, because we are advocating for a new type of voluntary corporate structure, there is quite a lot of the legal and policy sector that do know about B Corp.”
In addition to the B Corp certification, B Lab Australia and New Zealand, which was founded in 2013, is advocating for minor changes to the Corporations Act 2001 to include a new voluntary corporate structure, to be known as a “benefit company”.
Companies that opt in to this structure will have to enshrine the triple bottom line principles of “profit, people and planet” into their constitutions, expand director’s duties to require them to consider the interests of non-financial and financial shareholders and report publicly on social and environmental performance, as well as financial indicators.
Since the first benefit corporation legislation was enacted in 2010 in the US, more than 5,000 benefit corporations have formed in the United States. They have raised more than $1.5 billion from investors in dozens of financings. Last year saw the creation of the world’s largest benefit corporation, DanoneWave, with more than $6 billion in sales, and the first IPO of a benefit corporation, Laureate Education.
De Almeida said the momentum around using business as a force for good was building which had culminated in global B Corp month.
“There has been an acceleration of the movement particularly in the last couple of years, and there are companies signing up who really just understand the benefits of using the B Corp certification model to improve their operational performance overall and understand the impact that they’re having on their customers, their employees, their supply chain, the environment, the community they are operating in and they can see that it is really a fantastic measurement tool for their business that doesn’t just focus on one part,” De Almeida said.
“I think that is what a lot of businesses struggle with. There are so many certifications out there, you can do one component but this is a really holistic framework.
“And the other thing to note is that I think we’ve had over 1,500 businesses take the B Impact Assessment. Not all of them want to become B Corps but many of them are using it to measure what matters across their business and measure their social and environmental performance as rigorously as their financial bottom line.”
She said being a B Corp meant different things to different businesses.
“I think you decide as a business leader that you want to hold yourself and your company to the highest levels of transparency, accountability, social and environmental performance, and that you are actively making that commitment across all aspects of your business,” she said.
“Some [business leaders] find it absolutely a mark of being part of a new global movement that is redefining success in business, and trying to make capitalism work for everybody, not at the expense of all of the hidden costs and externalities.
“And for others it is just the right thing to do and they don’t need to do branding or be shouting it out from the rooftops, it is just the best certification tool and best operational tool they have come across, to help with a couple of aspects of their business and they’re happy to contribute and be part of the movement.”
De Almeida said she expected there to be a surge in interest in the coming year.
“There are definitely some big names in the pipeline that I think will provide a significant lift to the brand and perhaps the sectors and industries they operate in,” she said.
“So I think over the course of this year it will become much more prevalent in the general kind of zeitgeist and I also think in the current climate, B Corps and becoming a B Corp is the perfect antidote to the divisiveness and individualism that is being touted by many, many people that have public profiles.
“So I really think that there will be a surge and a big uptake, or at least interest, genuine interest from lots of different parts of the Australian and New Zealand landscape.”
She said B Corp month provided businesses with an opportunity to be recognised as leaders in a new era of purpose driven business.
“I think success would be really seeing a range of the B Corps proudly declaring that they’re certified and what it means to them, why they care, why they think you should care… and I think shine a light on the leaders,” she said.
“There are some who are operating at the absolute highest levels of integrity across every aspect of their business and thereby minimising any unintended consequences that their business might have as well as contributing positively. And then there are others that are absolutely at the pointy end of using their business to solve social and environmental problems.”
De Almeida said the goal for the future was for responsible business, to become business as usual.
“We would love to ultimately plan for our obsolescence,” she said.
“The idea that you have a responsible company should just be business as usual not a choice that you make, so of course we want to increase the certification and consumers, but being like a B Corp is just as important. So if you can’t meet the kind of certification mark, then using the B Impact Assessment to understand how to operate is really important.
“I would love for the idea that there is no such thing as responsible business versus irresponsible business, that would be the hallmark of success for us, and just as Fairtrade is recognised amongst coffee B Corp would be to business.”
Pro Bono Australia is a certified B Corp.