Behind the B: we ask Amy Meek to review B Corp
To celebrate B Corp month, we at Leo's Box (a very proud B Corp) invite our ambassador Amy Meek to look in depth at both the positives of the certification and the negatives. We strongly believe in being transparent so although we believe in the certification, we are also aware of the need for it to be just one component of a wider ambition to be a force for good.
The chances are, if you’re reading this blog on Leo’s Box (which has the youngest CEO of any B Corp in Britain), you’re probably aware to some extent of what a B Corp is.
B Corps (short for B Corporations) have been described as ‘the ethical future of business’. They’re companies certified to the highest standards of social and environmental transparency and performance, and there are already over 4600 around the world. You might recognise a few of them – The Body Shop, Patagonia, Graze and Allbirds have all earned their B Corp status.
March is B Corp month, and this year’s theme is ‘Behind the B’, a chance to look further behind the scenes of the B Corp accreditation and the businesses that have achieved it. And, a chance to look more closely at the accreditation itself. On the surface, the B Corp status may appear to be all that you need to weed out the exploitative businesses around – but as with any accreditation, B Corps have more to them than meets the eye.
Here are the Pros of the certification:
The B Corporation status has earned its positive reputation for a reason. The title isn’t just slapped on any company looking to appear more ethical or sustainable – it is backed up by a strong legal framework and governance structure. Businesses that are certified B Corporations are legally required to look at the impact their decisions will have on their stakeholders, not just their shareholders. This model is known as ‘stakeholder governance’, and it means that B Corps are legally accountable to all of their stakeholders – be that suppliers, workers, customers, and even the environment. Through the model, B Lab, who accredits each B Corp, aim to shift business focus away from shareholder primacy (maximising profits purely for owners and shareholders), and onto a commitment to consider the interests of those all stakeholders, showing their commitment to be a business that is ‘a force for good’. And if a B Corp doesn’t do this, the business can be sued by its stakeholders for not upholding their social mission.
Becoming a B Corp shows off this commitment to customers and employees. It gives more credibility than bold environmental advertising claims, especially as a crucial aspect of the B Corp accreditation is business transparency. Customers can easily find out the impact score of any B Corporation on the B Corp website, broken down into sub-topic performance – if you’re a business that’s proud of its social work and environmental impact, this is a great way to show off that you’re doing. It puts B Corps under more scrutiny than non-certified businesses, but this shouldn’t be a problem if a business has nothing to hide. As customers, it also means that it’s clear to see which businesses are performing to the level of ethical and environmental impact that we’re looking for.
So is a B Corp accreditation the ethical stamp of approval we’re all desperately looking for when it comes to dodging the greenwashing and finding the sustainable businesses out there?
Not quite. Despite its great qualities, the B Corp accreditation can also come with some striking issues.
Here are the problems:
Firstly, the same extensive work that goes into gaining B Corp status is also one of its main difficulties. Whilst an application process of 150+ questions, documents and interviews ensures depth and reliability to a company’s certification, it also piles up the workload – something especially felt by smaller businesses looking to become B Corps. Granted, the B Corp website does have guides for businesses of different revenue and employee count, but it’s a bit of an extra hurdle for smaller companies that don’t have the resources or people to dedicate to getting the certification.
There’s also a danger that B Corp status could turn into a get out of jail free card for companies that are still far from perfect when it comes to environmental action. Take the recent banning of Innocent drinks’ animated ad. The video features a cast of singing characters ‘fixing up the world’ and making the planet green again (all the while consuming and producing Innocent drinks, of course). The message is a little hypocritical to say the least – one of the key problems outlined at the start of the ad is plastic pollution, an issue that seems odd to fix by drinking more plastic-packaged Innocent drinks. Consequently, the Advertising Standards Agency banned the advert, stating that the video implied that buying Innocent drinks “would have a positive environmental impact when that was not the case”.
One of the arguments used by Innocent as a defence for the ad’s messaging? Its B Corp status. Whilst being a B Corp shows that companies like Innocent are recognising the need to become more sustainable, it doesn’t cancel out the negative impacts of their business practice. It’s not – and shouldn’t be – just a marketing tool, which serves as a way to get out of further sustainability improvements that are desperately needed.
There’s a real risk that B Corps become seen as ‘perfect’ companies – on the surface, it may appear that way, when a corporation has taken the time, effort and money to push for high business standards. But despite how key transparency is in reaching B Corp status, even the extensive process cannot account for problems that are hidden beneath the surface (or within a company’s walls). B Corps, according to the certification’s own website, are businesses that ‘attract and retain employees’ – yet B Corporation BrewDog have come under fire for accusations from 60 ex-employees of a toxic work culture, alongside other controversy around their environmental schemes.
Ultimately, like any accreditation, the B Corp status needs to be treated with a little critical thinking. It’s encouraging to see more businesses stepping up to the plate when it comes to taking meaningful action to become more ethical – change often led by smaller, independent companies like Leo’s Box. The B Corporation accreditation is an important part of this shift, and communicating these increased standards to consumers. It creates ownership, and accountability to hold companies to. And so, whilst the B Corp status might not be the golden ticket we’re looking for to have a conscious shop, it is certainly a useful a step towards a social and sustainable future of business.
23 Mar 2022