B Corps and Sustainability
Corporate sustainability has become one of the most popular management paradigms for businesses.
It is an alternative to the traditional growth and profit-maximization model. While corporate sustainability recognizes that corporate growth and profitability are important, it also requires the need to pursue societal goals, specifically those relating to environmental protection, social justice and equity, and economic development.
Corporate sustainability is often associated with protecting the planet and Earth’s scarce resources. Initiatives include addressing climate change by moving to renewable energy sources. But corporate sustainability goes well beyond just protecting the environment. A sustainable business is one that also has societal and economic goals in addition these environmental goals. It’s a business strategy that balances long-term growth and profit with the protection of and caring about people and the planet. A corporate sustainability strategy will balance purpose with profit and balance the needs of employees, customers and society with the needs of shareholders.
Thinking about the definition of a sustainable business, founded in 2006, B-Labs, the non-profit business behind the B Corp certification, has been evaluating how sustainable businesses are by using a set of criteria that considers the overall impact a company has on its workers, customers, community, and the environment — otherwise known as a company’s stakeholders.
Wherease a typical business considers profit as the bottom line; B Corps add two more key factors — people and planet — to create a “triple bottom line”.
B Corp Certification
B Corp Certification designates a business meets the high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.
The scope includes 5 major areas: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment, and Customers. Adherence to the requirements are assessed and verified by B Lab, a non-profit corporation that certifies B Corporations.
B Corporation certification establishes very high standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability that may be difficult for some businesses to meet. Companies applying must undergo a rigorous certification process and meet a long list of significant conditions. The B Corp certification looks at operations – covering a company’s day-to-day activities – and business models – which must be designed to create an additional positive impact. Unfortunately, not every company has the resources and budget to meet the standards, verify compliance and complete the audits required. Companies considering B Corp certification can complete the assessment as a first step to see if they qualify and to better understand their compliance gap. They may discover that their governance procedures, customer processes and sustainability practices fall short. But the assessment would not be wasted as it would enable a company to set future goals and establish a roadmap to compliance.
Benefits of Sustainability Certifications & B Corp Designation
The benefits of sustainability certifications for business go well beyond a rating, a seal or certificate of proof. The process itself becomes a journey to create a green corporate culture and a more sustainable, socially responsible business. A sustainability certification program engages employees and drives company-wide commitment and purpose. It establishes three pillars of sustainable corporate development:
- ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY: Companies can improve their environmental sustainability by reducing their carbon footprint, reducing waste and wasteful practices, eliminating plastics and pollution.
- SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: The social responsibility pillar consists of practices that benefit the company’s employees, consumers, and the wider community. Practices can improve a brand’s social sustainability by treating employees well, paying them fairly and creating a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion.
- GOVERNANCE: The economic, or governance pillar refers to maintaining honest and transparent accounting practices and regulatory compliance. Companies can improve their board makeup, corporate reporting and customer transparency.
A sustainability program includes environmental and social initiatives that are not just one-off tactics. They can build upon each other and help to ensure eco-friendly and socially-responsible programs are ingrained into each part of the company. Sustainability certification can also do more than just provide a new talking point for business owners. Improving sustainability performance can save money, increase sales and boosts a brand’s competitive edge. In fact, 48% of U.S. consumers would change buying habits to reduce their environmental impact and 86% of US consumers expect companies to act on social and environmental issues together.
Why B Corp Sustainability Certification Matters
As discussed above, the pursuit of B Corp certification will create a purpose-driven culture and a more socially responsible company. The final official certification is very valuable in that it gives your company the recognition it deserves for being sustainable. It not only demonstrates your commitment to employees and partners internally, but it verifies your sustainability to customers and the community. This is especially important when customers require or prefer to work with verifiably sustainable businesses. The B Corp designation is a great way to communicate your commitment to sustainability in a credible way.
Other 3rd Party Sustainability Certifications
In addition to B Corp sustainability certification, there are several options for a company to verify and communicate its sustainability accomplishments. Other popular certification organizations include LEED, ISO, and Green Business Bureau.
U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most well-known and prolific green building certification system in the United States. Buildings that are LEED certified have been designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance in energy efficiency, water efficiency, CO2 emission reduction, indoor air quality and resource stewardship.
LEED is an excellent certification provider for your buildings, but that’s it. It does not cover all the other dimensions of being a sustainable business including management of waste, pollution, recycling, reuse, plastics, vehicles, commuting, delivery, manufacturing, etc. In other words, it’s useful for ensuring your physical offices and buildings are environmentally friendly, but misses all the other important elements of being a sustainable business. Consider LEED as a secondary certification.
ISO-International Organization for Standardization has developed over 18,500 International Standards on a variety of subjects. Of particular relevance is the ISO 14001 (environmental management system). IS0 14001 maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective environmental management system. The ISO 14000 family of standards are developed by the ISO Technical Committee ISO/TC 207 and its various subcommittees. For a full list of published standards in the series see their standards catalogue.
An ISO 14001 certification is well respected and understood in the industry, but it’s a major undertaking. The budget, time and resources required are significant and hence ISO certifications are typically only taken on by large, mature, well-funded organizations.
Green Business Bureau
The Green Business Bureau program (GBB) is a robust program for helping companies become more sustainable and includes online EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner tools and green business certification. GBB includes over 500 environmental and social responsibility initiatives and EcoPlans to consider and choose from.
The GBB certification is the most automated and guided certification available. The certification process is entirely online and initiative based, so a company will receive points for each and every activity it has completed. Initiatives are very granular and well-defined and the GBB library is designed to capture your completed initiatives to give you full credit for all your accomplishments. This even includes initiatives completed before joining the GBB program. As more initiatives are fulfilled over time, your EcoScore increases, granting you the opportunity to reach Gold and Platinum certification levels.
Initiatives are organized by the business area they impact, such as building, cafeteria, transportation or office materials, and further marked by the effort, cost and greening impact of the initiative. This simple but flexible structure ensures a company can easily target and implement the efforts that best suit the company’s needs and opportunities.
The GBB seal is well-recognized so member businesses get positive recognition of their commitment to sustainability and the environment. GBB provides a collection of tools and opportunities for member companies to share, differentiate and to be recognized for their greening achievements with customers, prospects, partners, regulators and communities alike. A ‘clickable‘ web seal takes customers and employees to a personal sustainability webpage that shows a business’s certification level, total points, sustainability mission and accomplishments.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Certification Program Comparisons
The B Corp and GBB programs are similar in that they both establish social responsibility, i.e. doing good as a priority for your company. They are different in scope and focus, and understanding these differences will help you select the right program to pursue.
B Corp is broader in scope, evaluating the overall impact of your business on the environment, customers, employees, shareholders, and local community. GBB is more focused on sustainability and environmental initiatives. Both are comparable in that each program will provide you with a blueprint and a solid foundation to track and manage your social and environmental performance. That said, a detailed review of the programs makes it clear that the B Corp program is designed for companies that have already fully invested to be clear leaders in the CSR arena, while the GBB program provides a blueprint for the green and greening alike with a growth and improvement mindset at the core of its ethos.
How B Corp Sustainability Certification Forces Companies to Improve
A program focused on sustainability may seem overwhelming at times, especially for small business owners or small companies who are busy running the ins and outs of their organization. Owners might want to start their sustainability journey or may already be well on their way but are unsure which direction to take next or how to effectively communicate their progress to stakeholders. That’s where certification programs can help. These types of programs take the guesswork out of sustainability for businesses and hone in on the specific areas where their companies will be able to not only make a difference to the world, but also save money and attract more customers and partners.
Certification Drives Executive and Employee Involvement and Alignment
Successful sustainability and greening efforts require executive leadership and expert guidance. Across the board, successful green companies cite two key factors in driving their success: 1. Executive leadership and 2. Utilizing a sound business case framework. According to a recent MIT Innovation Report, companies with C-level executives driving their sustainability efforts are far more likely to effectively implement and profit from their efforts. Further, companies utilizing a clear implementation framework that starts with a business case are three times more likely to report success than those that don’t. A certification program is a great way to engage the executive team and ensure commitment to the process. In a final report of an eight-year study of how corporations address sustainability from MIT Sloan Management Review, researchers found that 90% of executives see sustainability as important but only 60% of companies have a sustainability strategy and have taken real action beyond a few stand-alone initiatives.
Certification Drives Employee Engagement and Creates a Sustainable Culture
The certification process for business is an excellent way to engage employees and get more people involved in driving sustainability initiatives. Third party certification providers like the Green Business Bureau typically provide online applications that are easy, flexible and effective in rallying the workforce. Companies are often scored on each green activity they complete. In a way, this almost gamifies the process and helps drive a culture that cares more about the planet, the local community and society. Certification programs can also provide best practices and step-by-step guidelines that ensure businesses can actually accomplish the necessary tasks to execute a new green program.
Sustainable Business Certification Drives Profits
Starting the certification process early in your sustainable business journey leads to green business practices that drive innovation and profitability. There are tangible business benefits that certification programs uncover. As such, the tremendous upside of greening offsets the cost of investing in green initiatives.
Supporting this view, a recent Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability reported 99% of large company CEOs agreed that “sustainability issues are important to the future success of their businesses.” Being a sustainable company elevates your brand and appeals to a larger audience including a new customer base who prefer to buy from “good” companies. Another Accenture study that looked at 6000 consumers found that while these consumers remain primarily focused on quality and price, 83% believe it’s important or extremely important for companies to design products that are meant to be reused or recycled, proving the influence the eco-conscious consumer has in today’s market.
Executives and managers have also seen significant cost savings and waste reduction from new sustainability initiatives uncovered in the certification process. Furthermore, despite the commonly held belief that pursuing sustainability is solely a long-term strategy, research shows there are tangible, short-term improvements within operations and profit. Oxford University and Arabesque Partners conducted a meta-study entitled ‘From the stockholder to the stakeholder’ based on a detailed analysis of more than 200 different sources. The study found that 88% of companies with solid sustainability practices had better operational performance.
Get Started on Your Sustainability Journey
If you’re ready to begin or continue your sustainability journey, we’d love to be your partner along the way. Getting started on green certification with Green Business Bureau is an easy and affordable way to show your customers and community that you care about sustainability. It’s also a great way to start your journey towards B Corp certification. Many Green Business Bureau members go on to become B Corp certified in addition to being Green BUsiness Bureau certified.
To learn more or become a member, check out GreenBusinesBureau.com today.