B Corps – a Growing Movement

01 March 2021, 10:09 am
Speciality Bites by Paul Hargreaves

When I first heard of B Corps back in 2013 from Ed Perry, Co-Founder of Cook, I thought the name sounded rather American and wondered what on earth he was encouraging me to become involved in. However, after exploring further I soon realised that all I had ever believed about business was encapsulated within this movement. Business wasn’t there to make shareholders rich, but to make the world a better place through how it treated people and the planet.

Back in 1999, Cotswold Fayre started with the social purpose of employing people to whom others wouldn’t give a chance, as well as ensuring independent retailers had easier access to a wide range of artisan food. In addition, although I didn’t realise how important this would become at the time, consolidation of deliveries, the essence of wholesale distribution, is a massively carbon-reducing business model. Joining the B Corp movement was a ‘coming home’ experience. Being surrounded by businesspeople using business as a force for good was not only encouraging us to carry on doing that but also hugely inspiring as we saw others doing far more than we were.

So, it was a natural progression for us as a company in 2015 to certify as a B Corp as part of the first cohort launching the movement in the UK, one of the prouder moments of my business life. To be honest we only just scraped over the line with 84 points, the ‘pass’ score is 80 points. And back then at the UK launch there were free points for UK companies simply for following the laws of the UK – our employment law is better for people we employ than that in the USA, a benefit of being in the EU. (Deeply worrying that the current government wants to renege on some of the progress made in this area.)

In 2017, we had to go through our first re-certification. Cotswold Fayre had made huge progress in those two years, but, again, to be candid, much of that progress was driven by me and my leadership team during those first two years. Large steps forward had been made though, particularly in the environmental area, but the ‘free points’ had now been removed as the certification had been adapted for the UK and so, despite the progress, we still only scored just under 84 points. I was surprised by this and put a call into B Lab head office in Philadelphia, but was told that the bar becomes higher each year. I didn’t know that at the time, but, on reflection, this is one of the best things about B Corp, the drive to continued progress forcing companies not just to be good but to become better each year.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when we received the results of our latest re-certification for the year 2019-2020, delayed due to Covid and the huge number of companies certifying in the UK right now. In fact, the UK has the fastest growth of the movement worldwide currently with more than one company certifying a day, and there are now 500 B Corps here.

The certification process is a long one, and in 2020 we submitted over 180 pieces of evidence to prove how good Cotswold Fayre is in our culture, for our people, for the planet, the community and for our customers. I was secretly hoping for a significant improvement on 84 and was absolutely delighted to see that we scored 107.8, putting Cotswold Fayre as one of the top FMCG companies in the UK. An amazing result, and largely due to our progress now being driven by all those within the company not just the board. This was a prouder moment than when we first certified as I knew this change was driven by everyone in the company to some degree.

We remain humble though. Even this level of score multiplied across all companies in the UK will not save us from the climate emergency that we all face. Using renewable energy, recycling and driving electric cars is not going to be enough to save the planet. We still need huge steps forward from all businesses in the UK, and I fear that many will not move quickly enough to reduce our CO2 down to absolute zero with no offset in the next 10 years. Systemic change is what is required, but that should not stop us doing all we can possibly do today. Being part of this wonderful B Corp movement will help drive us forward, and I thoroughly recommend you start thinking seriously about joining.

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