Building a B Corp Movement ready to challenge the economic system
Why our growth is essential to achieving our mission. An article by Chris Turner, Executive Director at B Lab UK.
The B Corporation Movement’s vision is complex and ambitious: the creation of an economic system that is at once inclusive, equitable and regenerative. This represents a radically different model to the extractive and exploitative one which is currently engrained in law and in orthodoxy. It’s also a shift that will require a combined effort from incredibly diverse actors within the economic system, and at a global scale. And importantly, it’s a change that must happen quickly in order to meet the challenges of climate and social breakdown.
Proving the case
With a challenge of such scale and urgency, you’d be forgiven for wondering where to even begin. Well this is the good news: we have already begun. By reimagining the role of business as a force for good and by creating a certification that combines governance and impact management, B Lab is helping to meet one of the key criteria for systems change: the presence of a viable alternative. B Corporations are proving that businesses flourish when they are committed to aligning the interests of all stakeholders: society, the environment, and their shareholders. With every new B Corp, this proof becomes more and more convincing. In the last year alone, our community has grown by over 80% and we've welcomed 330 businesses to the UK B Corp Community. We now reach 56 industries with over 40,000 employees.
However as this extraordinary growth brings us closer towards achieving our vision, it also brings challenges and poses some tough questions. As we increasingly engage with larger and more complex businesses that occupy the 'mainstream', how do we maintain the rigour and commitment that sits at the heart of B Corp Certification? As we progress with partners and allies in a ‘movement of movements’ working towards a better economic system, B Lab is not alone in trying to calibrate the pace, rigour and ambition of our work. And we’re ready to work with both partners and B Corps around the world to address these challenges as we grow and evolve.
Setting (even higher) standards
At B Lab UK, we’re incredibly proud of the B Corp Community. Over the past 5 and a half years, they have demonstrated great leadership and they can claim enormous credit for the success of our movement. Some of them can also claim to have recertified as B Corps three or four times, each time against a tougher set of criteria within the B Impact Assessment (BIA). Our standards have evolved to reflect an increasingly complex world and to continue to challenge B Corps to deliver ongoing improvement. Despite the standards getting tougher, the average B Corp in the UK achieves a 7% increase in score throughout the 3-year certification cycle. We believe that this commitment to ongoing improvement is at the heart of B Corps’ leadership and that it underpins the credibility of our movement. And, the evolution of our standards continues with the current project to update B Corp Certification performance requirements.
This improvement, and therefore the certification itself, is a journey, and we believe it’s a journey with no fixed end point – businesses’ responsibility to people and planet is profound and permanent, and none of us can afford to rest on our laurels. Furthermore, it is a journey which each business starts from a different place. As businesses embark on the BIA, some will be formalising existing practices and policies; for others, more significant improvements will need to be made across social and environmental performance. For each of them, our 80-point threshold for certification, whilst a huge achievement, is only the first milestone of many.
Strength in depth
This inspiring community of businesses is modelling a new economic system, constantly improving, and governed by the shared principles of aligned stakeholder interests. Yet it is also a community of entirely distinct corporate identities, industries, and sizes. The fact that this diverse range of businesses can embrace stakeholder governance is further proof that our entire economic system can change – and it already is.
This means that no B Corp will see a reflection of itself in another, but instead they will recognise shared values and commitments. Another of our core principles, transparency, is essential to this – our assessment is publicly available, as are the scores of every B Corp in the world, broken out by the sections of the BIA and benchmarked to industry averages.
Our work to change the economic system begins with B Corps as a proof of concept, but we also need to harness this proof to make the case for – or to demand – change at an even greater scale. This change may come through the further growth of the community; through programmes targeted at specific outcomes such as climate action; or through policy and campaigns such as the Better Business Act. Whichever of these levers we deploy, effectiveness will be multiplied by the scale and diversity of the B Corp Community.
So, as we look to the rest of 2022 and beyond, it is likely that larger businesses will play more of a role in our movement. They will join the B Corp Community alongside existing B Corps who may be further – and be moving faster – on this journey. But importantly, they’re committed to the values we share, and they are with us on the journey - and that we should all embrace. We all have a part to play in welcoming and supporting these businesses - whether modelling what good looks like, inspiring change through innovation, or challenging each other to go further and go faster.
The growth of our movement will challenge us over the coming years, as change always does. But it will also help us to be more effective in challenging the system that we’re here to disrupt.
B Lab UK is launching a new Town Hall series to bring B Corps together, share important updates, and listen and respond to our community's thoughts and questions. If you work for a B Corp you can join us for the first event, our Spring Town Hall, on 12th May. Click here to register.