How being a B Corp helped One+All verify its sustainability credentials
Manchester-based One+All’s sustainability journey began with the introduction of a values-led culture in 2009, and it became wholly employee-owned in 2020. Alongside being a B Corp, it is an accredited Living Wage and Living Hours employer, a full member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, Planet Mark Certified and a Certified CarbonNeutral® business.
- Company: One+All makes school uniforms
- Location: Stockport, Manchester
- Founded: 1935
- Size: 68 employees
- Sector: Manufacturing
- Purpose: To grow for the greater good
- Goal: To continue making great schoolwear products, but make them even better
- Publicly verify its sustainability credentials
- Achieve continuous improvement
“We’ve tried to be a force for good for a long time, but a few years ago people were saying ‘you’re doing all this good work for your people and the planet; why don’t you tell anyone about it?’,” explains chair Donald Moore. “When we learned about the B Corp movement, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to publicly verify our credentials and bring together the different things we were doing under one umbrella.”
B Corps are companies verified by B Lab to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. Caroline Hopley, UK marketing and communications lead at One+All, says the B Corp requirement to be fully accountable to all stakeholders for all your actions is consistent with One+All’s own ethos. “But because B Corp is the gold standard for that public scrutiny and accountability, we knew it would add to our credibility and give us a roadmap for continuous improvement.”
- Scrutinise what it does and focus its improvement efforts
- Bring colleagues on the journey
Working towards B Corp Certification four years ago started a process in One+All of “getting under the bonnet of the car and taking a good look at what we do, and what we could do better,” explains Caroline. Pulling together all its people and planet-focused initiatives under the external certification has also “galvanised us to focus on areas we really want to improve.”
Another focus has been on bringing colleagues on the journey too. One+All has appointed a team of ten ‘Be Responsible’ colleagues, from across the UK and overseas operations, to help drive improvement efforts. The Be Responsible team acts as a focal point for two-way communication between the leadership team and colleagues, driving actions that help the business improve its B Corp score.
Caroline explains: “For example, we recently became a member of the Better Cotton Initiative (a global not-for-profit programme aimed at improving the sustainability of cotton). We've shared with our colleagues what this means, how it fits within our B Corp actions, and, most importantly, why it benefits our customers.”
- Recruitment and retention
- A more credible voice
- Reward for honesty
Becoming a B Corp has crystallised One+All’s initiatives and activities in a way that is easy to communicate and understand. This benefits the company’s recruitment. It can be hard for small employee-owned companies to compete with large corporate salaries, but over the past two years One+All has recruited high-calibre software developers and finance professionals who, says Donald, “were attracted by our purpose, our values, our culture – and the fact that we are a B Corp.”
B Corp Certification also gives the company “a more credible voice” when talking to its stakeholders, explains Caroline.
There is growing interest in sustainability and mounting pressure on suppliers to be ethical and transparent. Therefore One+All’s B Corp status gives it a competitive edge with retail customers. Talking to these customers about what B Corps are puts them in a strong position with their consumers, says Caroline. This competitive advantage is helping to drive sales – and, she points out, “the more we grow, the more good we can do.”
Donald regularly speaks on issues including the Living Wage, poverty alleviation and health inequalities to business groups, local councils, central government – even the Bank of England. Being a B Corp gives additional credibility to his explanations of what One+All believes in and does.
One+All recently published its first impact report. It is using this to target further improvements as it moves towards recertification in August. But the company has also used impact reporting to reflect on shortcomings – like the discovery of child labour in its supply chain, and the realisation that some of its claims about recycled polyester were misleading.
Donald says: “We wanted to be honest, even if it meant losing business. Transparency and accountability are part of what being a B Corp is all about. In fact, people have given us very positive feedback.”