B Corp Canada: Using your business as a tool for good

Posted on 17 may 2018

B Corp is the global body working to unite businesses around the world to pursue ethical, sustainable, and innovative business practices.  There are 150 Certified B Corp certified businesses in Canada - the second largest community in the world.

B Corporation, or ‘B Corp’, is a certification issued by B Lab, a global not-for-profit organisation. They describe their certification as being to sustainable business “...what a Fair Trade certification is to coffee.”

What has resulted is an emerging collective of companies across the world who are committed to creating a positive impact on the world via their business.

Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,229 Certified B Corps from 41 countries and 121 industries working together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business.

In this blog we take a look at why should you get involved - and the process that accompanies that decision. Yes, it can be a lengthy process, but it’s one that will be more than worth the effort.

Tim O’Brien is the founder and manager of Hatched, an agency that works at connecting, developing and facilitating purpose based strategy, innovation and cultural change. He also specialises in assisting businesses achieve B Corp certification.  

He says that the best place to start is to recognise the good things about your business, and look to build upon that.

“Figure out what you care about, what you stand for, and what you want to back up with a B Corp certification. It makes good business sense: and it’s about business sense. It’s about businesses being more modern, and doing things the customers want to do, and what the staff want to work for.”

He says that hospitality businesses are not only lacking in clear leaders in the sustainability space like other industries, they also have short shelf lives. Think about Elon Musk in the tech space, or Patagonia for sustainable fashion.

To become certified, businesses must have undertaken the B Impact Assessment, scored over 80, and have signed a term sheet that declares that they will consider all stakeholders.

It is a rigorous assessment that explores four criteria:

  1. Governance
  2. Transparency
  3. Environmental impact
  4. Social impact

B Corps voluntarily hold themselves to a higher level of accountability in these areas, and will need to prove to representatives how they do so. You’re probably asking yourself why you would be put through such strenuous effort to become certified - and with good reason! This is not an easy process.

There are, however, tangible outcomes for holding a B-Corp certification. Firstly, you’ll find yourself in a pool of like-minded businesses who will be seeking you out to connect. With sustainability at the core of their ethos too, they’ll be looking for restaurants, cafes, bars, or other hospitality businesses to share their products or services.

Secondly, it’s a strong drawcard for investors down the track. Whether you’re searching for private investment, or approaching a financial institution for a loan, being a B Corp proves not only that you have a vested interest in the longevity of your business, you also are constantly improving an evolving. These are highly attractive qualities in a business.

And finally, a B Corp certification is a great marketing tool. The consumer market is feeling more aware than ever about the source and ethical value of the things they’re purchasing. And this absolutely includes where they eat out - with such a concentrated industry, you want to stand out from your competitors. And a guilt-free meal is a lot more enticing than one in which you’re unsure how their farmers, labour, and produce are being treated.

The hospitality industry is ripe for B Corp certification. Why? It is teeming with opportunities to reduce wastage and become more environmentally and socially responsible. This is a great chance to take our industry to the next level.

The hospitality industry has a benefit on other sectors in that it’s driving ethics have always been community focused. The B Corp movement is described as “using business as a force for good”, which is already a major consideration for hospitality venues. Unlike corporate businesses who have been motivated mostly by profit, hospitality is built upon customer satisfaction and great staff relationships. So, consider that a great head start.

One major challenge will be to consider your carbon footprint. Many of the environmental requirements of a B Corp certification means a major overhaul in an ordinary hospitality venue. Food wastage, for example, is a very modern predilection - until now, chefs would not hesitate to throw away scraps, offcuts, or bruised produce. It is only in recent years they are asked to find creative solutions to age-old problems.

Now more than ever, customers are demanding transparency in their business interactions. Thanks to the internet, they have more access to information than ever before. From a hospitality lens, that means that they want to know about the food, the produce, where you sourced it from, who the farmers are, how they are treated....just like Fair Trade coffee, customers want to know the backstory.

This has been one of the greatest drivers of the B Corp movement: it’s ability to strip back marketing pretence and reveal a business for what it really is. So if you’re considering being accredited, you best be sure that you’re ready!

“There were a lot of companies in the past that were pretending to be something,” says Tim, “But B Corp gives you the validation that you are standing for your business ethics.”

Tim adds that for hospitality staff, the B Corp certification contributes to job satisfaction as they find themselves part of something bigger than just ‘work’.

“People want to be part of something,” he says. “They want to be part of the philosophy of the business they are working for, so when they’re out they can tell their friends the story behind it.”

As with any accreditation, changes need to be made in your business. That is, actionable, traceable changes that follow targets and can showcase real growth.

“A lot of people have a misconception that becoming a B Corp - because it’s a certification - is just a bunch of boxes to tick. It’s not. It’s about figuring out what you care about in your business,” says Tim.

So, this means solving problems in interesting ways. Tim suggests you start by writing down all the things your business does well, and then considering how they may fit into the B Corp judgement criteria: environment, social impact, transparency, and governance.

And take a deep dive - with your workers, don’t just describe how content they are at work, think about why. Do you offer crèche services for parents? Do you have healthy eating programs, or exercise programs? Do you pay beyond the minimum wage?

Similarly, think about your local community - more than just making sure your customers are happy with the food and service, how are you reaching out to help? Are you feeding the homeless, or donating a certain percentage your profits to local charities? As Tim says, “You have a neighbourhood. You’re part of it. How are you looking after them?”

Tim’s final recommendation is to set yourself very clear targets and seek out second opinions in your bid to become certified.

“Set up advisory board,” says Tim. “Get them into your business for an hour, give them a drink or a meal, and get ideas on how you’re going.”

This, along with a trajectory of success via your targets, will give you perspective in how you’re actually doing - not how you want to be doing. The B Corp certification is looking for creativity in how you problem solve issues of sustainability and social ethics - so do your research, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

In a world that is only to go to continue to struggle with climate change and social injustice, it is up to all of us to work towards positive change. As business owners, you provide a hive of opportunities to change lives: the lives of your staff, your customers, your suppliers, and your producers. What will you do today?