B Corp: More than a certification, a continuously evolving movement

Our current economic system is broken.

You have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the devastating impacts caused by the environmental and humanitarian crises we face today. Scientists have been ringing alarm bells for decades; we need to drastically reduce the negative impacts of companies and industries as a whole. While some companies have been tackling these issues for years — and sometimes have even been founded specifically to address one of these issues — we need ALL companies to take action.

B Lab and the B Corp movement were founded with the idea that a different kind of economy was not only possible, but necessary — and that business could lead the way towards a more inclusive, equitable, and regenerative future. B Lab certifies B Corporations, which are companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Pursuing B Corp Certification enables businesses to deeply understand their impact on people, communities and the planet, providing a clear framework for companies to build a plan of continuous improvement that is transparently assessed for progress. B Corporations are beacons that inspire other businesses to behave like them: measuring and managing their impact, balancing profit and purpose.

The B Corp movement began in 2006 and by 2007 the first 82 Certified B Corps were certified in the United States. 10 years ago, the movement began expanding across borders starting in Latin America where Sistema B was founded, bringing a systemic perspective to the movement, and has continued to grow into a global network. Fast forward to today and there are almost 5,000 B Corps around the world, in 79 countries and 154 industries, including over 30 publicly traded companies, along with over 200,000 users who have engaged with the B Impact Assessment and SDG Action Manager worldwide to better understand and measure their performance.

Roughly 70% of B Corps today employ fewer than 50 people. But when you add those numbers up and look at the people behind the business, there are now over 400,000 employees of B Corps around the world — all potential advocates for change.

“Powerful influences are emerging around the role of business in our society: we see smaller purpose driven companies pushing larger companies (sometimes their parent) to redefine the measures of “success” which is also playing out in investments; we witness the younger generation using their voice, their wallet and their offer of labor to shape the behavior of companies; and we observe how global supply chains- encouraged by regulatory proposals in the US and EU — are opening up more local sustainability-focused innovation. These are urgent, demanding calls for incumbents to join the efforts of pioneers to transform dramatically if they are to find a place in an already delayed new economy.”

– Katie Hill, CEO of B Lab Europe

Scaling impact with accountability & transparency

“It’s important to find ways to bring social enterprises and more mainstream businesses into the same community. Even if mainstream businesses will never achieve the same depth of impact as social enterprises, they may be having an impact in different ways, for example, by being able to scale.”

— Andrew Kassoy, co-founder of B Lab Global in Pioneers Post

Smaller, purpose-driven organizations have been the backbone of the B Corp community from the beginning and will continue to be. They’ve led the way in becoming B Corps even when the certification was largely unfamiliar because they were believers in being better businesses and continue to make up the majority of our community. Inspired by these high-impact and innovative business models, over the years many more mainstream companies have also joined the movement.

Businesses like Natura&Co, one of the leading cosmetic groups in the world, is a Certified B Corp, as are three of their four companies: The Body Shop, Aesop, and Natura. And we’ve also seen an increase in independently operated B Corps creating change from within their parent company — like Ben & Jerry’s, Innocent, Lily’s Kitchen, and over 60% of Danone’s subsidiaries which are now certified. Launched in 2020, The B Movement Builders program opened up an unprecedented opportunity to engage with global multinationals for which B Corp certification is a long-term commitment of transformational change. Givaudan, Bonduelle, Magalu, and Gerdau form the program’s first cohort and are on a collective journey to catalyze meaningful impact within their organizations, aligned with the principles of the B Corp movement.

Today, we welcome Nespresso into our community, one of the largest companies to certify around the world so far with a B Impact Assessment score of 84.3. After a three year journey through the rigorous certification and verification process, Nespresso’s certification marks yet another key milestone for the movement and for their own corporate sustainability journey.

At a company level, having a business the size of Nespresso with operations in 38 markets adopt stakeholder governance, meaning it has changed its legal statutes to consider the interests of all stakeholders — not just shareholders — in its operations can make a huge difference.

And it now has both a verified framework and an influential community holding them accountable to continue to improve their social and environmental performance, as achieving certification is just the start of the journey. Find out more about how they performed and their transparent disclosures on Nespresso’s public profile here.

On a big picture scale, as our community grows, so do the opportunities to use our collective voices and actions not only to transform individual companies but instead to look at the impact that can be created within industries and communities at large. When you look at a single company’s emission reductions, it can seem small in the scheme of things, but when you add up what over 4,900 businesses can do and the influence they can have on their entire supply chains, suddenly it becomes exponential.

In 2020, B Corps:

  • Protected 200,000 hectares of land
  • Offset 16 million tons of carbon
  • Saved 225 million liters of water
  • Diverted 207 thousand metric tons of waste

The same is true about employees — if multinationals with thousands of employees are able to adopt the same policies as a small business — as we have seen in the example of B Movement Builder Bonduelle adopting Greystone Bakery’s Open Hiring practice — then you can positively impact the lives of a lot more people.

The Role of Community & Collective Action

The community is what counts — it’s how we can inspire B Corps and non B Corps alike to drive change and shape a kinder, fairer and more sustainable economy. Pioneers can inspire and challenge other businesses to see new ways of doing things, while larger companies can often provide the scale and resources to both amplify impact and make better business more mainstream, influencing broader audiences.

When a business is driven by purpose and not just profits, companies can find opportunities to put competition aside in order to benefit people and the planet and find new ways to join forces, collaborate and exchange knowledge and best practices to address key issues and transform their sector.

Over the years we’ve seen many examples of natural collaborations as well as unexpected ones which create ripples of positive impact: from Kaffe Bueno partnering with B Corp Sinatur Hotel and B Movement Builder Givaudan to rethink the coffee value chain from spent grounds into beauty products, or Too Good to Go partnering with Danone UK & Ireland to scale the Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste campaign.

Earlier this year, B Beauty, a B Corp Beauty Coalition was launched, and now over 40 B Corps across 5 continents are collaborating to transform the beauty industry by exploring solutions for ingredient sourcing, packaging and greener logistics. The Interdependence Coalition in Europe and the Better Business Act in the UK are two other examples of businesses across sectors coming together to redefine the obsolete regulations governing business behavior. And there are a number of other working groups and initiatives brewing behind the scenes within the community.

Continuously evolving standards

B Corps have had their performance measured against the B Impact Assessment. This evaluates how a company’s operations, governance and business model impact its workers, community, environment, and customers. Impact Business Models (IBMs) identify whether a business model is designed and is effective at tackling a specific social or environmental problem. In Europe for example, over 55% of companies add an IBM to their business model upon recertification — exemplifying how B Corp is a movement of continuous improvement. Companies are required to take this holistic assessment every three years to maintain their certification.

The evolution of the B Corp Certification standards has been a core component of improving and optimizing the impact of this movement since its beginning based on engagement with experts and stakeholders. B Lab continues to focus on providing holistic performance standards for all companies that help companies measure and manage what matters.

“Collectively, the B Corp standards are complex — because impact, and how to measure it, is complex. It is necessary to navigate complicated topics with nuance and thoughtfulness, to understand the varying perspectives of experts and stakeholders, and to recognize where stakeholders will disagree. And yet to achieve our vision of economic systems change, it is necessary to engage the broad range of companies that exist in and influence that system.”

— Dan Osusky, Head of Standards and Insights at B Lab Global

The first version of the B Impact Assessment was released in 2007. Now on Version 6, it is updated approximately every three years in order to improve the clarity, consistency, and insight of the assessment and its scoring, stay up to date with best practices and innovations in impact measurement, and accommodate ongoing users and stakeholders. A further comprehensive review of our standards is currently in development. Standards to meet specific industries and larger companies are continuously being developed to ensure that the widest range of companies can benefit from our tools, even if not all progress to certify.*

Changing the rules of the game

As the world around us changes, the B Corp movement keeps evolving. We are thrilled to continue to be relevant and influential to more businesses of different sizes, in different sectors, at different stages of their impact journey, and hope that one day all businesses will behave more like B Corps.

* For more information on large and multinational company requirements, see HERE; for details on our standards governance, see HERE; for complaints process, see HERE; for controversial industry statement, see HERE; for ongoing performance requirement review, see HERE.

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B Lab Europe

B Lab Europe

Highlighting how companies are using business as a force for good across Europe