How (and why) to go B Corp in the UK

04 September 2023, 10:00 AM
  • Want your business to do good for people and the planet? Learn how stocking B Corps – or even becoming one – could benefit your business
How (and why) to go B Corp in the UK

While the number of certified B Corporations, or B Corps, has grown exponentially in recent years – there are currently more than 7,000 across 92 countries – many still have questions about what this label really means, what the benefits are and how brands, retailers and wholesalers go about joining the movement. 

We spoke to businesses who have achieved certification to understand more about what this label means for them.

What is the B Corp movement?

B Corps are businesses that have demonstrated that they meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. 

Earning this label is no mean feat – businesses are required to go through a lengthy verification process by B Lab, the nonprofit behind the movement, and recertify every three years.

For many businesses, joining the B Corp movement is a way to formally recognise their mission – whether that is specific sustainability goals, or a broader aim to be a force for good.

“We started our business because we love the landscape of Wales, wanted to create local jobs within the community, and to make products that make life more delicious, with as little environmental impact as possible. Ultimately, B Corp formalises for us a lot of the things we have always seen as very important,” said David Lea-Wilson, co-founder of Welsh sea salt brand Halen Môn, which achieved B Corp status in July.

Similarly, peppermint tea and chocolate maker Summerdown, wanted to champion farming for the future, and B Corp certification gave the team a way to honour their holistic approach. “We view every area of the farm as connected. The health of our peppermint, for example, is dependent on hedgerows and the wildlife found within them. The B Corp environmental pillars formed a structure by which to achieve recognition of these regenerative practises,” Jo Colman, head of sales and marketing told Speciality Food.

What is a certified B Corporation?

What was once a niche US business term is becoming a well-known label in the UK’s food industry, indicating brands that are doing good for people and the planet.

“Certified B Corporations, in the simplest of terms, are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose,” said Jess Lea-Wilson, brand director of Halen Môn.

To achieve the certification, businesses must demonstrate high social and environmental performance by going through an assessment process. They must also make a legal commitment by changing their corporate governance structure to be accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Lastly, they must make information about their performance publicly available.

“People choose to ‘vote with their £’ by supporting businesses who share the values they care about. By becoming a B Corp, companies can show their ethical purpose publicly,” Jess added.

How many B Corps are there in the UK?

The British B Corp community is fast growing, with more than 1,500 B Corp businesses in the UK today, according to B Lab UK.

What does B Corp stand for?

B Corp stands for B Corporation. The ‘B’ in B Corp alludes to businesses having a ‘Plan B’ and working in a different way.

What are the five pillars of B Corp?

The five categories, or pillars, that are measured in the B Impact Assessment are: 
- Governance
- Workers
- Community
- Environment
- Customers

What are the benefits of being a B Corp in the UK?

Attaining B Corp certification marks your business as one that puts people and the planet first. For businesses who aim to be forces for good, it offers an opportunity to showcase your mission for customers and peers.

“As a brand that puts people and planet first, B Corp was a natural step for us,” said Amy Moring, co-founder and CEO at Hunter & Gather, which achieved B Corp status in August. “Better business isn’t just about profit, it’s about the customers we serve, the communities we work with, and the environment. As a B Corp, we’re leading the charge for a healthier future for people and planet, and we’re really proud of that.”

The stringent certification process gives those who achieve it an internationally recognised standard, enabling them to evidence their good work – as well as give them a framework to guide future work. “Our customers care that they are buying into an ethical company, and the B Corp certificate is currently a good indicator of trust,” Jo said.

“The commitment to base a business’s value on more than shareholder returns or revenues departs from conventional business approaches,” Jess added. “This shifts the emphasis from competition to collaboration and transparency. B Corp certification offers a way for businesses to invest back into their communities, protect the environment, and serve their employees’ needs.”

Cotswold Fayre was one of the founding UK B Corps in 2015, and the B Corp movement and certification process has been hugely foundational in further driving its purpose and mission during the past eight years, says the wholesaler’s chief empowerment officer, Paul Hargreaves. “It’s a great springboard to leap forward from towards the more systemic change we need in the world to save our planet, and help reduce the gross inequality in the world. Bad business has been responsible for much of that, and good business is a vital part of reducing it. We are immensely proud now to have 60 suppliers to have joined us in becoming B Corps too. Only another 300 to go!”

How to become a B Corp

“B Corp is an incredibly rigorous process, it was months in the making,” Amy said of Hunter & Gather’s certification process.

“During the assessment, every aspect of the business is examined – taking a deep dive into every practice, process and policy.”

Jess agreed that the accreditation was challenging because of just how far-reaching it was. “They look at every single aspect of the business, from supply chains to staff welfare, recycling to volunteer hours,” she said.

Plus, the more complicated your business, the more detailed the process. For Summerdown, which includes both its brand and farm, it took 18 months. “We were therefore delighted and very proud when we discovered that we were only the second farm in the UK to gain certification.”

While becoming a B Corp is challenging, brands agree that it’s worth the paperwork.

The process for becoming a B Corp is:
1. Register for a B Impact Assessment (essentially a questionnaire)
2. Begin the B Impact online assessment
3. Submit your assessment
4. B Lab Analyst Evaluation
5. B Lab Analyst Verification
6. B Corp Agreement Signature
7. Achievement process – receive your score
8. Keep up your improvement for the next three years

“For any business that cares about the communities they serve and the planet they operate in, B Corp is quite simply the right thing to do,” Amy said. “Not only is it a comprehensive measure of your company’s entire social and environmental impact, it demonstrates that you are invested in using business as a force for good, which can in turn help to build customer loyalty, attract investors with shared values and great talent.

“It’s also an opportunity to be part of an amazing community of businesses with a shared vision and ethos, which is really exciting,” she added.

Communicating your B Corp status

With B Corp certification taking a significant amount of time and effort, it’s important to ensure customers know what the logo means. With supermarket chains like Ocado adding B Corp ‘aisles’, the accreditation is becoming more well known. “It’s becoming a marker for trust and responsibility. It can only get more widely recognised as more businesses join the community,” Jess said.

“It’s important to bring customers on your B Corp journey and to keep them updated on all your key milestones,” Amy said. “For us, this means using our channels to share news and updates, from how we source our ingredients (we take great pride in sourcing grass fed cattle, wild caught fish and certified organic ingredients) to the packaging we use (which is recyclable).”

By stocking brands that are B Corp certified – or becoming certified themselves – retailers can also help lead the change towards a future of better businesses.

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