Defining good business: A roundtable conversation on B Corp Certification
All month long, our global network has been going "Behind the B": showing the world what it really means to be a B Corp, and how this global community makes a collective commitment to workers, communities, customers, the environment, and stakeholder governance. As B Corp Month 2022 draws to a close, B Lab global convened a roundtable conversation on how our standards are driving forward economic systems change, and what B Corps can do to lead the way.
Moderated by Sistema B Brasil Executive Director Francine Lemos, the roundtable brought together both B Lab experts and B Corp community leaders:
Susmita Kamath, Standards Management Senior Analyst, B Lab Global
Andrea Kiang, Latin America/Sistema B Regional Lead for Certification & Verification, B Lab Global
Jared Meyers, B Lab Global Steward; Founder, Legacy Vacation Resorts (B Corp); Co-Founder, Florida for Good; Founding Director, Climate First Bank
Nathan Stuck, Director of Culture & Strategic Impact, Ad Victoriam Solutions (B Corp)
Tom Tapper, Co-Founder & CEO, Nice & Serious (B Corp)
Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.
B Lab standards work to "[codify] what good business and good practices look like," says Susmita Kamath, Standards Management Senior Analyst at B Lab Global. "The standards are the heart of the credibility of our movement - they create a vision for the world we want to achieve, and create a mechanism for holding companies accountable."
It’s a vision that provides a learning tool and benchmark for companies looking to measure and manage their impact and engage in better business practices - whether or not B Corp Certification is in their immediate future. Since 2020, Nice & Serious has been a B Corp Certified creative agency based in London, UK. (They're also the architects of this year's #BehindtheB B Corp Month campaign.) Yet on their first attempt at certification in 2015, co-founder & CEO Tom Tapper recalls "we failed quite badly."
"It was a really important awakening and quite humbling," Tapper says. "We thought we were great in all these areas. It turned out we had a few focus areas." Working with the B Impact Assessment gave them a "holistic sense of the impact we have: the fact that as a business we operate in an ecosystem that spans community, government, and environment - and that we had a lot to learn."
Andrea Kiang, who works with Latin American & Caribbean companies in Sistema B as Regional Lead for Certification & Verification, sees the learning aspect as one of the most significant upsides of the certification process.
"One of the great things about the impact assessment is using it as a self-measuring tool. That's one of the ways I see companies find improvements or best practices - and are encouraged to keep improving."
For Nathan Stuck, Director of Culture & Strategic Impact at Ad Victoriam Solutions, a Georgia, U.S.-based B Corp that provides Salesforce consulting, going through the certification process provided guidance that went beyond day-to-day practices, into company mission and messaging.
"It gives you a way to determine whether or not you're actually living your values," Stuck says. "Are we doing what we're telling the world we're doing; are we telling our employees what we stand for; are we telling our customers what we believe in?"
As Chairman of B Corp Legacy Resorts and a Founding Steward of B Lab, Jared Meyers notes the importance of this line of questioning coming from leadership.
"Ultimately board and ownership need to be on board with this process in order for it to work properly," Meyers says. "You're doing some really good things as a company, but one of the big differentiators here is that B Corps aren't companies that just do a few good things here and there. It's holistic. And holistic means it needs to be bought into at every level of the organization."
B Corp Certification asks businesses to focus on continuous improvement, both in the process of obtaining certification and keeping it. B Corps are required to undergo a review and recertification every three years - and meet standards that are always rising.
"The world keeps changing and evolving - our standards also need to keep evolving," says Susmita Kamath of B Lab’s Standards team. B Lab is currently undertaking "an essential review of the core performance requirements for B Corp Certification," focused on optimizing the certification to meet the needs of an ever-changing business landscape and ensure that B Corps remain at the leading edge of social and environmental best practices.
"We are essentially looking at whether the definition of leadership itself has changed in the past 15 years since the inception of our certification," Kamath says. "If so, then how should our standards reflect that? Within this we are looking at specific requirements on a few key global issues, such as justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion; climate action, and living wages - all with the intention of creating standards which are impactful, clear, and responsive."
"As the standards become more rigorous, it challenges companies to evolve," says Kiang of the Certification & Verification team. Yet this hasn't been a deterrent to companies seeking to become B Corps. On the contrary, "more businesses than ever are applying for certification," even through a prolonged period of global crisis. Starting in 2020, Kiang notes, "we had an increase in submissions for B Corp Certification. That was very inspiring - that there was a shift that people were starting to feel in the pandemic. Priorities were changing, and people were realizing what was really important."
The work of defining B Corp performance requirements is "inherently complex," says Kamath. "It's a really huge mandate to have standards that can work for each and every company in the world." And yet working to create and improve these standards and building a community of businesses beholden to them "has the potential to create ripples in the whole system, with regard to value chains."
"A few good businesses will never change things by themselves, but what they can be is a catalyst for larger change," says Jared Meyers. "I think that's what the B Corp movement is about: showing that we have 4,700 businesses doing some really good work out there, and trying to get the global economy to pay attention to what's happening - and get on board."