Beyond Accounting has started the process of becoming a B Corporation (or B Corp). This certification was almost unknown here a couple of years ago, but I think it’s safe to say that the B Corp movement has finally arrived in Ireland. In the absence of an equivalent indigenous label for businesses, I only see the network growing. If you’re new to the concept and would like to know more, read on!
What is a B Corporation?
Certified B Corps have attained at least a minimum required score across a range of social and environmental business standards meeting principles of inclusion, independence, and credibility. At its core, the B Corp movement (which started in the US in 2006) is about business as a force for good. It believes in a regenerative economic system for all people and the planet – in other words, businesses shouldn’t only generate a profit, they should also have a positive impact on workers, communities, customers, and the planet.
Becoming certified isn’t just a quick checklist or self-declaration. The process starts with the B Impact Assessment, a comprehensive tool that is made freely available to all. There are six core areas in the assessment. Within each are various questions, with potentially additional questions depending on how you answer each one.
You are graded on each answer, and a total score decides if you have reached the certification threshold of 80 (it is assumed that you will then work to improve that score over time, the maximum possible is 200). The tool is interactive, and you can see your score for the section and your overall assessment score as you go.
The six sections are:
What your company can do to enhance policies and practices pertaining to its mission, ethics, accountability, and transparency.
What your company can do to contribute to your employees’ financial, physical, professional, and social well-being.
What your company can do to contribute to the economic and social well-being of the communities in which it operates.
What your company can do to improve its overall environmental stewardship.
What your company can do to improve the value that you create for your direct customers and the consumers of your products or services.
- Disclosure Questionnaire
Identify any potentially sensitive industries, practices, outcomes or fines/sanctions of your company that are not explicitly called out in the rest of the assessment.
This management tool is used by over 150,000 businesses worldwide, including the 5,000+ certified B Corps. From 2023, there will also be requirements on approximately ten specific topics spanning environmental, governance-related, and social impact, which companies would need to meet in addition to using the B Impact Assessment.
B Corps in Ireland
At the time of writing (August 2022), the B Corp website listed 12 certified companies headquartered in Ireland, and 130 that trade here. Last year, I attended an event organised by the founder of one of Ireland’s first B Corps, Earth’s Edge. James McManus is very active in raising awareness of B Corps in Ireland. He’s planning regular events and has created a LinkedIn group for anyone who is interested in Irish B Corps. The goal of the group is to “… bring together likeminded individuals and organisations who are passionate about creating a more inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economic system for all.”
There are also a growing number of consultants in Ireland who can support interested businesses through the different stages of becoming certified B Corps. We are working with Graham Gillen from Eccountinc. Based in Northern Ireland, Graham is a “B Leader” – that is, an experienced sustainability professional with in-depth knowledge of the B Corp framework and certification process. You can, of course, manage the entire certification process internally if you prefer.
Why become a B Corp?
So, why go through this fairly lengthy process? Is it really worth the trouble? And will it have a positive effect on the business?
B Corp philosophy does not run contrary to the concept of businesses generating wealth. Rather, it posits that there can be other motivations in play – those of doing good in the community, changing consumer behaviour, protecting the environment, etc. It puts profit on an equal footing with other outcomes of the business. B Corp principles are the same as sustainability principles, based on the three pillars of people, planet, and profit.
I very much believe that companies should make a profit, but I don’t think business should be purely profit-motivated or take a profit-at-all-costs approach. I like the balance B Corps strike, because you can be in business and still support climate action or social change. It seems like an absolute no-brainer to me that these are good choices for a business, and by making these you will be more attractive to customers and employees.
Certified B Corporations are leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy. Unlike other certifications for businesses, B Lab is unique in our ability to measure a company’s entire social and environmental impact.B Corp website
Lots of companies have been trying to appeal to more conscious consumers through imagined facts and statistics, greenwashing, or questionable labels and certifications. I think a lot of people see right through this and want to see businesses do better than tokenism. B Corp is very transparent. It isn’t attached to any particular issue, but takes a much broader and more holistic view of the business. The criteria for certification are publicly available and certification is overseen by a Standards Advisory Council of independent members from around the world with backgrounds in business, government, academia, and the non-profit sector. There’s a lot of credibility in becoming certified.
The cost of becoming a B Corp
Like most labels and certifications, there is an initial submission fee and then annual certification fees for B Corps. However, fees are banded according to the company’s turnover to keep it affordable.
In addition, there are going to be costs involved in changing how your business operates. In the case of a low environmental-impact service business like ours, I expect these will be low level. If you have a large manufacturing business, on the other hand, your investment is likely to be quite a bit higher. I expect that over the medium term, the costs will turn out to be neutral because there will be payback from the choices we make. We can remain at the same level of profitability, but steer ourselves towards a place where we have a better impact on the environment and community.
I see the certification process as making a succession of better choices that improve the business all round. Carrying out the Impact Assessment can make you realise that a lot of what you already do is really sound sustainable practice. It forces you to think about your business model and why you make the choices you do. Because it’s a transparent framework, you can bring employees with you and strengthen your relationship with them by giving them insight into why you do things the way you do and take the decisions you do.
Why we’re becoming a B Corp
I’m expecting certification to take around six months, so we should become a B Corp early in 2023. For me, this process is very much about leading the way and demonstrating to our clients and others that this is a valuable framework they can apply to their own business. I would love to be part of promoting this concept in Ireland and seeing more businesses join, so we can create a real network of B Corps in Ireland and make this the norm.
If you look at the big challenges facing us today – problems such as climate change, for example – they seem too huge to even tackle. Something like becoming a B Corp, however, is totally achievable. If all businesses did something concrete like this, it would actually amount to a massive change nationally. That’s an important seed to plant. If enough Irish companies become B Corps, we would potentially have a loud enough voice to influence government decisions (and a more progressive voice than the more traditional business organisations out there).
At Beyond, we believe in doing business in a balanced and ethical way and that’s why we decided to become a B Corp. For us, it’s about growing responsibly and that the decisions we make as we grow place equal importance on people and planet. Ultimately, the B Corp movement aims to show it is possible to be a successful, profitable business and still operate in a moral way; we are committed to playing our part in this and openly sharing our journey and spreading the word.
When I attended James McManus’s event, I saw a real desire to network and collaborate. People were looking forward to using providers and vendors who are also B Corps, so I can see some very solid business relationships flourishing that way. There aren’t enough Irish members at the moment to make this hugely impactful, but imagine what this could look like if the movement gains some real traction in the Irish market. You’d be able to pick a B Corp solicitor and accountant and marketing agency, buy materials from a B Corp, use a B Corp distributor for your products… the possible synergies are endless.
Don’t forget, you can use the B Impact Assessment tool to guide decision-making and actions within your business, even if you aren’t ready to go for certification. Registering and starting to look at the questions in the framework is a great first step!