A small change to the law that would see a big change in the world: why it’s time to back the act
B Lab UK’s Campaign Manager, Mhairi Littlewood, hears from three B Corps, who are part of the Better Business Act coalition, about why it’s time for a legal change to ensure all businesses align the interests of people and planet alongside profit.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard of the B Corp movement. B Corps, or Certified B Corporations, are businesses that meet high standards of social and environmental performance. But did you know that B Corps are also required to make a commitment that makes sure they consider the impact of all decisions on all stakeholders (workers, communities, customers, and the environment) not just their shareholders?
The Better Business Act — a coalition of over 2,000 organisations — is calling for a change to the law that would see this alignment of interests become mandatory for all businesses (something that is now supported by 78% of the UK public). By amending Section 172 of the Companies Act, the ‘job description’ for company directors would be updated to ensure they consistently align the interests of wider society and the environment with shareholder returns.
In this blog on Reinventing Business, we hear from three B Corps: innocent, Krī Skincare, and Kin + Carta, who are members of the Better Business Act coalition, about why adopting the legal change is so meaningful and why they are supporters of the Better Business Act.
Outside Westminster ahead of Better Business Day on the 26th of April, 2023
Why did your business decide to become a B Corp and make a legal commitment to people and the planet?
For drinks brand innocent, cementing its commitment to doing business the right way was a no brainer. Emilie Stephenson, innocent's UK Head of Force for Good, says, “It’s how innocent has been operating all along — B Corp Certification was a natural next step in our journey and provided us with a framework to validate our positive impact.”
Rupa Wincell, Founder of the mindful skincare company Krī Skincare, explains, “Formalising our responsibility to the environment through the legal framework ensures we remain committed to our founding values and hold ourselves accountable to the triple bottom line.” For Frances Brereton, Deputy Company Secretary at digital transformation consultancy Kin + Carta, it enabled the organisation to seal its values long into the future: “This legal accountability to balance profit and purpose requires shareholder approval and holds true through changes in management, so it’s a permanent change to the way we think and operate.”
Why did your business also join the Better Business Act coalition?
For Krī Skincare, joining the Better Business Act coalition enabled it to publicly declare its “agreement that every business should act in the interest of wider society and the environment”. Rupa expands, “Ultimately, the responsibilities of company directors to address the challenges facing our world today, including climate change, social inequality and environmental degradation, must go far beyond what is currently legally required.” Frances at Kin + Carta adds that, “The changes proposed by the Better Business Act would encourage the systems-level change needed to eliminate the harm companies can have.”
How do you live up to the principles of the legal commitment and ensure you always align the interests of people and the planet with profit? What does it mean for decision-making?
Emilie reveals that innocent keeps people and the planet front of mind by having an extra chair dedicated to them in its boardrooms (which they call ‘boredrooms’). She says, “The chair is a symbol that constantly reminds us of our moral responsibility to stakeholders beyond shareholders. It needs to be something we live and breathe, not just something the leadership team discusses once a year.”
For Kin + Carta, this mindset shift is evident in the way it works with clients. According to Jennifer Crowley, Director of Responsible Business, the team now feels empowered to “make decisions most likely to promote [Kin + Carta’s] success.” She explains, “We now assess prospective client engagements in sectors that are likely to have higher environmental and social risks. The assessments have resulted in a small number of client opportunities being declined because they did not comply with our defined risk criteria.”
The Better Breakfast on Better Business Day
What impact has the change had on key stakeholders in and outside of the business and how did they respond?
Rupa says, “Employees want to work with us and customers want to shop with us because our strong values resemble their own beliefs around sustainability and being better citizens.” Jennifer from Kin + Carta reflects on how the legal commitment has created a space where employees can ask tough, but necessary questions. “Questions like: Are the client deliverables building a world that works better for everyone? Has bias or inclusive design been considered for this product? Is the cloud platform we are building on efficiently saving carbon? When these questions are raised, they receive intentional thought and prioritisation.”
Emilie explains how the values of the legal commitment filter through innocent’s supply chain, citing some of their recent examples: “We opened one of the world’s first carbon neutral, all-electric drinks factories in the Netherlands and teamed up with Emerging Leaders to offer leadership training to smallholder mango farmers in India.”
Do you have any tips for other businesses embarking on the process of adopting the legal change?
Frances from Kin + Carta: “The key item to be sure of is that leadership is fully supportive. The whole board has to be aligned with the direction you’re taking and it’s important to spend time facilitating the process. As a publicly listed company, we also had to consider our organisational structure.”
Rupa from Krī Skincare: “Create a robust public communications plan to inform and educate your stakeholders — including shareholders, employees, customers and suppliers — about the reasons for adopting this legal framework. You can utilise the vast resources available on the Better Business Act website to help articulate your position.”
Emilie from innocent: “No business is perfect and everyone has to start somewhere. No change is too small. The B Impact Assessment and SDG Action Manager can help get your head in the right space and understand the first steps you need to take to ensure you’re delivering even an ounce of positive impact.”
B Corps are proof of what’s possible. Now it’s time for a legal commitment to people and the planet to become the norm. The Better Business Act coalition has almost doubled in the last year and is now made up of over 2,000 businesses. Does your business want to back the act too?
Find out more at: https://betterbusinessact.org/