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The Sustainable Business Journey

If your company is working toward becoming a more sustainable company and eventually a certified B Corp, you need a strategy, plan and roadmap. The B Corp journey starts with establishing a clear company purpose and mission, creating the right culture and engaging employees.  This article provides a playbook for becoming a socially responsible business that can meet the rigor and high standards required of a B corp.   We include all the steps and explain how a targeted green business certification to start can provide the framework you need to help establish the direction and priorities and shift your company to becoming more sustainable.

B Corp Certification Overview

B Corp Certification is an international certification that verifies companies meet the highest standards of overall social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. 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 Corp Certification Challenges

The B Corporation certification criteria is very difficult for most businesses to meet.  Check out this LinkedIn article on the challenges. Companies applying must undergo a rigorous certification process that requires significant engagement from many employees and intensive audit.  Passing requires companies to meet a long list of significant conditions.  The B Corp certification looks at operations, which covers a company’s day-to-day activities, and business models, which must be designed to create 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 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.

Start with Changing Culture and Mission

This article is the first in a series of guides that will provide a sustainable business strategy and playbook including the knowledge and tools needed to become a purpose-driven business.  It can be used as either a roadmap to become a B Corp or simply a roadmap to become a more sustainable and greener business without the B Corp certification step.  It discusses how companies can drive change and explains why purpose-driven businesses are particularly well positioned to tackle the world’s biggest problems. You will learn how to influence your management team and engage employees and other key stakeholders.  You will also learn how to integrate your values into your work and company operations, drive system level change and transform your company to be a socially responsible and sustainable business.

The Playbook for Becoming a Sustainable Business

There are ten steps we’ve defined at Green Business Bureau to gear your company’s purpose, culture and focus towards sustainability.  The steps are summarized as follows:

  • Step 1: Define your vision, mission and values
  • Step 2: Create a sustainability committee or green team
  • Step 3: Benchmark and assess your current sustainability performance
  • Step 4: Engage your employees
  • Step 5: Plan, set goals and prioritize based on over 400 GBB initiatives
  • Step 6: Implement the plan, establish and communicate new policies and practices
  • Step 7: Leverage the GBB Scorecard to track progress and measure results
  • Step 8: Analyze your results and compare to goals and benchmarks
  • Step 9: Celebrate and communicate your accomplishments
  • Step 10: If you’re ready, get B Corp Certified or continue making improvements until you meet the B Corp standards

We’ll cover all 10 steps in detail over the next few weeks in a series of chapters on our blog.  Today’s article will cover Step 1.

Step 1: Define Your Vision, Mission and Values

The first step in your sustainable business journey is establishing a vision for the company, specifically what the company will look like in 5 to 10 years.  For example, you may see yourself as a company with zero waste or a net-neutral carbon footprint.  You may focus on social responsibility and see yourself as a company who gives back to the local community or commits 5% of profits to your most important charities.  You can include multiple dimensions in the vision of your company.  It may include diversifying your company to include people from all ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations, and economic and social positions. Bottom line, try to capture all the important aspects of what your company will look like when you’ve reached your goals. Patagonia does a great job at this.

Sustainability Mission Statement

Once the vision is clear, you need to define a mission to reflect what you will do and, in many cases, what you will do differently.  This process starts with establishing priorities and formally writing a sustainability mission statement.  If the initial focus is on the environment and planet, you may want to call it your “green mission statement”.  A green mission statement becomes the foundation of a company’s sustainability efforts. It provides the organization and its stakeholders with an understanding of what is most important and what your company can do to protect the natural world and be more socially responsible.

In most cases, your company already has an overarching mission statement. The green mission statement is a supplement – not a new corporate mission statement. Take your normal mission statement (assuming you have one) and consider how that mission can be delivered through the sustainability lens. That is the objective.

Writing a Mission Statement

Creating and sharing a mission statement is one of the first steps.  For companies who are members of Green Business Bureau, completing the mission statement is one of the first prerequisites for GBB green business certification. Companies need to create a mission statement that will capture the company’s green values and culture, engage employees, and rally everyone to become environmentally aware and more socially responsible.

Coming up with an official mission statement will hold your organization accountable to a standard and set of priorities. The statement must capture how you will be more socially and environmentally responsible than in the past and get into specifics that are relevant to your industry. By making your commitment to sustainability official via a formal public statement, you are more likely to see continued improvements.  Check out the article on Creating the Perfect Green Mission Statement for more information and guidelines.

Team Collaboration At All Levels

Committing to sustainability should come from the very top with the CEO and executive team.  Regardless of who owns it, you should create a focused mission statement that defines how your company will interact with our planet and everyone on it. The sustainability mission statement establishes your priorities, becomes the foundation for policies, and gets everyone on the same page.

The number one hurdle many organizations face when seriously looking to bring sustainability into their operations is the same obstacle that slows down many new initiatives – executives have a difficult time defining and communicating a road map. They often do not know how to begin the process of making the products and services they provide more environmentally sustainable, and even when they do, they fail to champion the cause. This is where a strong sustainability statement or green mission statement becomes crucial.  It clearly communicates what the company already does and what the company intends to do around sustainability and social responsibility and rallies the troops.

Why Companies Are Becoming B Corps and Certified Sustainable Businesses

If you’re a business leader who believes social and environmental responsibility are just as important as profit, then you should consider formalizing your commitment via a 3rd party sustainability framework and certification.  An official certification can demonstrate your commitment to social and environmental causes in a credible and genuine way and help you stand out from the greenwashing that plagues the market and misinforms stakeholders. More importantly, a formal sustainability and social responsibility program will shift your corporate priorities from pure profit and help create a corporate culture that values all stakeholders – employees, customers, partners, the local community and the environment.

Green Business Bureau Certification Overview

The Green Business Bureau certification program is a robust program for helping companies become more sustainable and includes an online EcoAssessment tool, EcoPlanner tool and green business certification seal.  It includes over 400 green initiatives and EcoPlans to consider and choose from.  GBB’s certification process is entirely initiative based meaning that a company receives points for each and every activity it completes. The green initiatives are organized into various categories such as building, cafeteria, transportation or office materials, and further marked by their level of effort, cost and environmental impact. 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 iconic GBB seal helps member businesses stand out and be transparent with stakeholders. A ‘clickable’ web seal takes online users to the member’s personal sustainability webpage that shows their certification level, point score, progress and accomplishments in real time. This opportunity to share achievements with customers, prospects, partners, regulators and communities alike yields positive recognition and stakeholder trust.

Benefits of Dual Sustainable Business Certification

The two frameworks work in combination to help companies identify improvements they can make in everything they do. Both programs cover corporate offices, warehouses, stores and facilities of all types.  The B-Corp program covers all business processes from manufacturing, purchasing, operations, employee and community engagement and involvement while the GBB program focuses on environmental sustainability in a very in-depth way and provides a more pragmatic approach to implementing very specific green initiatives.  B Corp certification includes some high-level reviews of sustainability achievements but does not go as deep as the GBB certification which considers a much longer list of very specific green initiatives.

Once certified, most companies market and promote their certifications. Both seals can be used on websites and marketing materials and are great ways to demonstrate commitment to environmental and social good. Both seals are reputable symbols that people know and trust.

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