Ethics haven’t always been top priority for big business, but times are changing and for a growing number of Bristol companies, they come front and centre.
Worn as a badge of pride by a select few, the city’s B Corporation cohort is part of a little-known elite club with a difference – one that is bound by a commitment to use business as a force for good.
In official terms, certified ‘B Corp’ companies are those “that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose”.
The accreditation scheme that started in the US in 2008 and launched in the UK in 2015 has become a global movement seeking to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
And Bristol could become a B Corps beacon for the rest of the world, according to Anna Guyer, the founder of Greenhouse PR and one of the small, but growing collective of accredited businesses in the city.
On why she chose to put her company through the gruelling certification process, Anna says: “B Corp accreditation provided us with a really helpful framework to articulate and formalise our purpose and to make sure that it was embedded in a practical way across the whole business.
“It has bought many advantages – it encourages us to communicate openly and proactively on what we stand for as a business, it has attracted like-minded clients and partners, and it has been motivating and rewarding for our team.
“Bristol is a place where businesses with purpose and a strong sense of values really flourish – I think Bristol could become a B Corps beacon for the rest of the world.”
Anna adds that there is a growing community of business leaders and pioneers making the commitment to purpose through the B Corps movement.
The positive impact of a pledge to operate for people, planet and profit is evident, but it is also a savvy business move as consumer trends increasingly fall into line with these values.
Indeed, 84 per cent of consumers globally say they seek out responsible products whenever possible, according to findings from the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, which also revealed that 62 per cent will switch brands if one works with ‘good causes’ and the other doesn’t.
Commenting on the difference the B Corp badge has made to his business, Nick Davies, founder of Neighbourly, says: “The internal, cultural and community benefits of B Corp accreditation are obvious. What I hadn’t appreciated was the benefits that come with wearing the B Corp badge. The badge immediately sets the tone at any new introduction or meeting.
“It communicates what you stand for and sets out possibilities before a word is spoken.”
Neighbourly is an ‘all-in-one’ giving social media platform that connects charities, businesses and communities. Set up in 2015, the Bristol-based company was one of the UK’s first B Corps and from the start was driven by a desire to ‘do good’.
“When Neighbourly launched, we explored the idea of a charter to set out our commitment to growing our business ethically. Charters are well-meaning, but carry no external validation and are easy to change when the going gets tough,” continues Nick.
“We wanted an external accreditation that we’d have to really work for and that would require us to continually improve.
“Bristol is a more socially aware, sustainable and activist city than most, and the collective ambition to lead from the front comes as no surprise. The local network is important – there are lessons to be shared and B Corps are extremely proactive when it comes to looking out for each other.”
There are currently 175 B Corps in the UK – seven in Bristol – and Kate Sandle, head of community of B Lab UK says the B Corps community in Britain is representative of the UK economy, with businesses of all sizes, from startups to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and multinationals.
“This growing movement demonstrates business, the most powerful force on the planet, can be a force for good,” adds Kate.
Omnifarious Group, a small, Bristol-based business that produces meaningful video, online and creative design content, signed up to the B Corp certification as a way of formalising a commitment to ethical and sustainable work.
“The impact assessment B Lab have produced is extensive and encouraged us to look at every aspect of our business, from our relationship with our employees and suppliers to how we impact our local and wider community as well as the environment,” says managing director Sam Hearn.
Like any emerging global movement, B Corps has its critics. In his book ‘Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World’, Anand Giridharadas comments on internal contradictions of relying on commerce to drive social change and suggests it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
It is also a rigorous – and potentially costly – process to get certified, which might explain why relatively few businesses are signed up.
But B Corps advocates in Bristol argue that business and positive social and environmental can go hand in hand, and in fact their success is dependent on maintaining good ethical practises.
“‘Pukka’ is a Hindi word meaning authentic”, explains Tim Westwell, co-founder of Pukka Herbs.
“And this is at the heart of everything we do. Being a member of B Corp cements our ongoing commitment to using business as a force for good.
“Our mission is to drive conservation through commerce, benefitting people, plants and planet. Whilst we are constantly exploring new ways in which we can do this, we have a number of initiatives set up to ensure we are fulfilling our ongoing commitment and purpose.”
He says that the process to become an accredited B Corp is rigorous – with the accreditation process looking at how a company is governed, its working practises, social and environmental performance, impact of products as well as work in the community.
The most significant change is to the company’s legal articles of association, says Tim, as all B Corps pledge to adopt a change in their governing documents, which legally requires them to treat the interests of all stakeholders equally.
In preparation for recertifying in September, Pukka completed a project to understand and improve its carbon footprint from crop to cup.
“Conscious consumerism is on the increase and for good reason,” adds Tim. “We are becoming more and more aware of our contribution to the planet and the plants and people who inhabit it.”
Triodos Bank, which has its HQ on Deanery Road in Bristol city centre, became the first pan-European bank to achieve certification as a B Corp in 2015.
“As a business founded on principles of sustainability, it was an obvious step for us to join the community,” says Bevis Watts, Triodos Bank UK managing director.
“For us, the B Corps represent a growing movement of successful, sustainable companies using business as a force for good and positive change.
“We are about creating lasting value for all stakeholders, not for just shareholders. The certification helps to increase awareness about sustainable business by distinguishing credible businesses that are genuinely committed to doing good. For a B Corporation, sustainability is fully integrated into the business. Being a B Corporation can also lead to a wider profile and partnerships with like-minded organisations.”
The full Bristol cohort of B Corps also includes Carbon Gold, producers of biochar-based products, Semantrica Ltd, an online searchable database of modern slavery and human trafficking statements and Resource Futures, a sustainable resource management company.
This elite ethical club of course aren’t the only companies in Bristol that operate in a sustainable manner and drive positive social change – for many this is at the heart of all they do. B Corp champions predict rapid growth in the numbers choosing to cement these practises with a legally-binding stamp.
Growing proof that business is and can be a force for good.
B Corp facts:
- Globally, there is 2,655 B Corps, from more than 65 countries and 131 industries.
- 86 per cent of companies say their businesses have benefitted as a result of their B Corp badge.
- 47 per cent of B Corp companies said candidates were attracted to the business because of the certification.
*Source: B Corps UK
Main photo: Pukka Herbs
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