The Better Business Movement
Using Business as a Force for Good - Certified B Corporations
You’ve probably seen this logo starting to appear on some of your favorite products. So what is a Certified B Corporation exactly? Let us introduce the better way to do business.
B Corporation is a certification started by the group B Lab, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting businesses who use their products or services for the greater good. Essentially B Certification is to business what Fair Trade certification is to products or USDA Organic certification is to produce. And the process is equally as arduous. Businesses apply for and undergo a rigorous process, called the B Impact Assessment, in which they are evaluated on standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. They must meet the minimum requirements in the categories of environment, workers, customers, community and governance in order to become a Certified B Corporation. There are currently more than 2,700 Certified B Corporations in 64 countries and the number is growing as awareness gains traction in both the business community and consumer market.
A Short History
B Lab created B Corporation certification to assist in counteracting the flawed current market practice of short-term profit maximization. As currently structured corporations are required to prioritize shareholder wellbeing over well … anything else. This typically leads to maximizing profits at the expense of the company’s long-term value including future profit, positive social impact and environmental responsibility. As part of the certification process B Corporations transition into Benefit Corporations (more on this later) and amend their Articles of Incorporation to include additional stakeholders which can include non-financial interests like the community, environment, employees and customers. This allows B Corporations to make business decisions while considering the impacts on all stakeholders equally, not based purely on short-term financial interest. It provides companies the freedom to conduct business in a way that aligns with their missions and enables them to weigh social impact equally with profitability. It allows for the triple bottom line - people, place and profit.
Ok, so that’s a quick summary of Certified B Corporations. As you now know it’s a pretty meticulous process so you are probably wondering is it worth it? The short answer is absolutely.
Where we work, what we buy, who we support has all become a part of our identity and we are constantly searching for better; we seek out companies who align with our values. B Corp certification allows us, as consumers, to easily identify and support companies who are using business for good and signifies the values and standards these companies operate by - all of this represented by the distinguished B Logo. Certification is important because it ensures that impact businesses are held to the same standards and sets benchmarks for certified and noncertified companies to work towards. This transparent and verified system clearly separates out genuinely good companies from good marketing. It’s the ultimate brand identification/ rallying cry and it is leading the movement of using the power of purchasing to empower. Equally as incentivising, Certified B Corps become a part of the larger B community. And they are in good company with do-good brands like Patagonia, Warby Parker, Ben and Jerry’s and many more. This opens up companies to a new network of like-minded businesses for support, encouragement and potential value-oriented partnerships or collaborations.
If you are interested in learning more B Lab has a very comprehensive website where the B Impact Assessments for each company are made public. You can search for an individual company or peruse through industry categories. The B Impact Report summarizes the companies score in each category verses the median value so you can tell how an individual brand compares to the average B Corp. It’s an objective system and a true indicator of the impact businesses are making. B Lab also has a blog, B the Change, on Medium that is full of inspiring articles related to their mission “people using business as a force for good.” We highly recommend checking it out.
Certified B Corps vs. Benefit Corporations
We made reference earlier to Benefit Corporations and thought it important to include this side note/clarification. While Certified B Corporations and Benefit Corporations, also known in some states as Public Benefit Corporations or Social Purpose Corporations, tend to get interchanged they are substantially different. A Benefit Corporation is not a certification it is a legal incorporating structure like a C-Corp or LLC. Benefit Corporations provide the legal platform to include in the Articles of Incorporation consideration for all stakeholders, not just shareholders or members. They are assessed by a third-party for compliance but unlike the certification process there are no minimum performance requirements and no penalties for not complying. Benefit Corporations are a legal means to address the issues mentioned previously but they work better when partnered with a program like B Lab’s B Corp Certification. Which is exactly how this plays out, after obtaining a B Corp Certification companies are required to restructure to become a Benefit Corporation within 2 years (4 years in certain circumstances). This means that eventually all Certified B Corporations will be Benefit Corporations (or similar) but not all Benefit Corporations are Certified B Corporations… got all that?
Interested in becoming a Certified B Corporation?
Awesome, good for you! This additional information is for your consideration as well as a list of resources to get you started.
First off there are some qualifications you must meet in order to start the application process - you must be a for-profit business and you must have been in operation for a minimum of 12 months. If you are a start-up B Lab has created a temporary certification track which results in a pending certification status until your much anticipated 1 year anniversary. Recertification occurs every two years.
Of course certification isn’t free, there is an annual fee that is based on your revenue. For companies with an annual revenue less than $2 million the fee is $500, this fee increases as your profits increase.
After certification there are additional steps B Corporations must take. B Corps are required to complete an annual report that highlights and discloses the company’s social and environmental impact over the year. The word report doesn’t exactly incite excitement but it’s actually a great way to market the positive impact your company is making and a great way to rally consumers to your cause.
Certified B Corps have two years to legally transition to a Benefit Corporation or equivalent structure. If you are incorporated in a state that does not recognize Benefit Corporations than you must enter into an agreement with B Lab instead, this agreements becomes a part of your term sheet.
There is definitely a quantifiable amount of money and time required to become a Certified B Corporation but the trade-offs are well worth the effort. If all of that sounds good and you are still interested in pursuing your certification check out the Certified B Corporation website for more information and additional resources.