Scaling B Corp Certification: Reflections on 2021
Kali Gibson, Co-Director of Certification & Verification at B Lab Global, reflects on the extraordinary growth of interest in B Corp Certification over the course of 2021 — and the challenges we have faced responding to this increased demand.
Since January 2020, B Lab Global has received more than 6,000 applications for certification from businesses — a 38% increase compared to the period 2018-2019 — looking to join the global community of 4,500 B Corps.
B Lab Global has introduced a verification partner, Genashtim (a B Corp), to help us address the backlog of companies waiting to certify.
B Lab Global is working on a code of conduct to set behavioral expectations for companies in the certification process.
2021 was a year filled with challenges and moments of celebration for B Lab and the B Corp movement. With the B Corp Certification experiencing record demand, we’ve seen that even in the middle of a global pandemic, businesses across the globe are seeking to do things differently and disrupt our economic system as we know it. This is great news for the movement. It has also meant real, significant challenges for B Lab as we look to scale our certification and other offerings, while remaining in alignment with our Theory of Change and prioritizing our team’s health and wellness.
From 2020 to 2021, B Lab received more than 6,000 applications for certification from businesses in 80 countries — a 38% increase compared to submissions received in 2018 and 2019 — as well as over 50,000 registrations on the B Impact Assessment. To put that into context, our entire community of Certified B Corps totals 4,500 after 15 years of building this movement. Many ambitious businesses are seeking to change our economic system from within, and each of their journeys is critical to our collective success.
When we talk about 2021 being the year of highest-ever demand for B Corp Certification, we mean on all fronts. The number of submissions for certification, number of certifications, number of analysts working with companies, and typical length of wait times for the certification all reached record levels, both overall and in our regional contexts.
If we zoom in, the average new certification growth rates for the past three years were the highest in the following regions: 70% for the UK, 37% for Europe (excluding the UK), and 20% for Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.
In 2021 new B Corp Certification submissions were up 16% compared to 2020 (and we saw a 24% increase in 2020 compared to 2019). If we zoom in we saw the biggest growth in submissions in Europe (excluding the UK) at 46%, the UK at 55%, and Taiwan at 44%.
Keep in mind these numbers do not include the work we do to recertify companies, which increases each year as our community grows. In 2021 we recertified over 600 B Corps.
This growth in demand has resulted in wait times for companies interested in B Corp Certification increasing to the longest we have seen to date. During this period of great demand, it is important to remember that the B Corp Certification is not designed to be easy, or quick. The median score on the B Impact Assessment is 55; achieving B Corp Certification requires 80. This score difference highlights the difficulty in achieving the certification, and that it is designed for businesses leading their industries in terms of meeting high standards for social and environmental good; by definition, B Corp Certification is not meant for every company.
Furthermore, the reality remains that companies interested in becoming B Corps often approach certification without a full understanding of the process. They lack the necessary documents, or have not fulfilled their legal requirement; they have overestimated scores. This drives longer review periods for verification and certification, which further contributes to wait times for other companies in the pipeline. Faced with increased demand for B Corp Certification and the reality of operating within a global pandemic, B Lab has sought innovative ways to meet these compounded challenges — without jeopardizing the credibility of the certification process.
Last year we introduced a verification partner, B Corp Genashtim, to help us build capacity on B Lab Global’s Certification & Verification team. Our Certification & Verification team is tasked with the essential responsibility of both evaluating the eligibility of companies that have submitted an application for certification as well as managing the verification process for applicants. A key goal of working with a verification partner has been to address our longest wait times, which in 2021 were experienced by businesses with less than $1M USD in annual revenue. During our pilot partnership, we have worked to train, equip, and support independent verifiers to work with companies to become certified. You can read more about our work with Genashtim here.
In addition to building a partnership that allows us to be more agile when reacting to demand, we have also increased our institutional capacity. In 2021 B Lab Global hired 30 new employees on the Certification & Verification team, including team members in Australia, the Netherlands, the UK, and the U.S. We also continued to review our practices to ensure we are finding appropriate ways to uphold a rigorous certification process, while being efficient, utilizing technology, and upholding the quality of our standards.
Yet this period of growth and change hasn’t only been a logistical challenge. It has put real strain on the people facilitating the process — specifically the members of our Certification & Verification team.
Just like much of the world, we find ourselves still largely working from home, two years after the abrupt switch to going remote. Furthermore, the Certification & Verification team has experienced attrition during the pandemic. In 2021 we said goodbye to some amazing tenured teammates who have supported the growth of this movement with skill and care. Our people are our biggest asset, and with this attrition has come workforce challenges of our own. These unprecedented circumstances have brought on hardship for colleagues who may not have the ideal home office conditions, many juggling home life with work life. All of this is compounded by the constant pressure and anxiety of looking after our mental and physical health, during a global health crisis that has lasted much longer than any of us could have anticipated.
B Lab employees are facing all of these challenges on a personal level, while contending with high demand for certification in their professional lives — as well as the fact that the very nature of our work relies not only on technical skill but also dedication to our vision. In order to maintain the passion that powers our movement, we need to prioritize the mental health and wellness of our people. The staff on this team are our organization’s most customer-facing roles and they have not been immune to the kind of customer behavior that has affected workers in other industries, including healthcare, restaurants, and airlines. At the same time, our teammates who are Black, East Asian, Indigenous, Latinx, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander have been the targets of poor behavior from companies in the certification process, a problem that existed prior to the pandemic and that has only worsened during it. We want to protect our employees, and this year we are working on a code of conduct for companies in the certification process to assist with these issues and set behavioral expectations.
As we look to 2022, we strive to move forward with intentionality and care, ensuring we stay focused on the wellbeing of B Lab’s employees — the team working so hard to verify and support companies interested in the B Corp Certification. As we celebrate — and struggle — as a community, we ask for your continued grace, patience, and kindness. We look forward to continuing our work together as collaborators, change-makers, and thought partners moving towards a collective vision of a global economy that benefits all people, communities, and the planet.