A couple of decades ago, most business owners would argue that social responsibility had little to do with the mission of a business. Today, however, we are witnessing a movement of companies that are using their corporate success as a tool for social and environmental change.
More and more businesses are proving that a successful business can be — and even should be — equal parts profit and purpose. In my experience running a B Corp, I’ve found that it’s possible to maintain healthy profit margins and still make an impact on the health and sustainability of the community and the larger economy.
What is a B Corp?
A B Corp is a business that has been verified by the independent nonprofit, B Lab, to uphold a strict level of corporate, social and environmental responsibility.
Becoming a certified B Corp requires a rigorous assessment that measures the extent to which your company balances monetary success with doing good. The B Impact Assessment requires an in-depth analysis of your company’s business practices and the impact you have on employees, customers, the supply chain, the community and the environment. The assessment consists of approximately 200 questions that vary based on your company’s size and industry.
You can use the B Impact Assessment as a free online evaluation tool to measure your company’s impact. Then, when you are ready for your company to become a B Corp, you can submit the assessment to B Lab for third-party verification, evaluation and certification. Maintaining certification requires you to update your B Impact Assessment and reverify your scores every three years, in addition to being ready for an in-person spot audit at any given time.
If you think this sounds like a lot of work, you are undoubtedly correct. It can take months to complete and obtain B Corp certification, not to mention the extensive labor required to track, record and collect a massive amount of data. So, why put yourself and your business through this tedious task? Aside from positively impacting the community, I have found the B Corp values to be increasingly relevant when it comes to building a successful business that people trust and value.
Walk the walk
Most businesses have a set of core values and operational practices that govern their organization. In most cases, these core values cover factors like employee happiness and customer satisfaction, and they often also include a mention of the betterment of the community. However, how often do you get the opportunity to prove that you abide by these beliefs? Becoming a B Corp gives life to these claims, which is valuable to employees and consumers. It’s also immensely important when it comes to adding substance to your mission and practices.
Accountability and adaptability
The economy is always evolving. Markets change. Consumer demand shifts. New technologies are continually improving the way we do business. Consumers today are no longer fooled by marketing claims; they want cold, hard facts and proof that companies are being transparent about their operations. The B Corp assessment creates a baseline for current practices by requiring management to scrutinize every way their organization impacts others. The evaluation highlights practices that are working, identifies operational inefficiencies and creates a road map for constantly comparing and improving future strategies.
It’s more than profit
At the surface, all businesses exist to make a profit. However, consumer demand for increased transparency and regulations is making it clear that a company’s actions and operational choices directly impact marketability. The B Corp community, or the “B economy” creates a network of like-minded businesses with which to work and grow. It gives management the power to spend budget dollars and build relationships with other companies that operate in a way that betters the world around them. This creates a supply chain of businesses that use their practices as a force for good.
Addressing consumer trends
Ultimately, the behaviors of B Corps focus on the success of everyone in the community, not just the owners and employees of the business. This community-centric trend is gaining popularity in younger generations looking to invest their time and money in companies that fight for causes they care about.
Likewise, many investors are emphasizing environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors when building their investment portfolios. I expect that successive generations of workers, consumers and investors will demand that the organizations they associate with be mission-focused rather than profit-focused.
Advice for business owners
Although rewarding, undergoing the B Corp certification process takes time, patience and diligence. It’s important to know that you don’t have to become a certified B Corp to create a mission-based enterprise. The B Impact Assessment is free to use as a framework for assessing your overall impact and adjusting your practices as needed. For those looking to complete certification, having buy-in and support from your organization’s leadership team is exceedingly helpful when it comes time to identify shortcomings and make adjustments to policies and culture.
Assembling a task force with a representative from every department (human resources, IT, marketing, finance, etc.) can help create a cohesive vision and maximize efficiency during the data-gathering and assessment phases. For extra support, you can hire a B Corp assessment consultant to help guide you through the requirements, gather data and navigate the audit process.
Ultimately, joining the B Corp community is a way to make a public promise to yourself and to the world that your company exists to fight for a better future.