We first heard about Certified B Corporations in 2015, when we were visiting good friends in New York who were attending a B Lab event held at the headquarters of online marketplace Etsy. Since then, we’ve been keen to become a B Corp but it was always on the back burner — it’s definitely one of those “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time” projects!
After merging with another consultancy for almost three years and then returning to Grain at the end of 2020 with a refocus from branding, design and communications to sustainability consulting, we thought: now is the time to go for it.
A key element in getting the project off the back burner (to mix metaphors) was to engage a B Leader and get some meetings in the diary with her to get the ball rolling. We had three two-hour meetings each held a week apart to dive in to the B Impact Assessment. (Fridays lent themselves to the clear-headed concentration required.)
Companies need to score a minimum of 80 points out of a (theoretically possible but godlike) 200 on the B Impact Assessment (BIA) in order to become certified. It’s advised to have a bit of wiggle room, say 85-90 points, when submitting for evaluation since points may be changed during the verification process.
Five impact areas
The BIA has five impact areas: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment, and Customers. Because we didn’t have employees apart from the two owner-directors when filling in the BIA, we didn’t have a Workers section, so the points for the other four sections were reweighted accordingly.
Impact Business Model
Some companies have what B Lab calls an Impact Business Model: A company with an Impact Business Model is intentionally designed to create a specific positive outcome for one of its stakeholders — such as workers, community, environment, or customers.
Since our main work is sustainability consulting, with the mission to help businesses become champions for people and the planet, we got 31 points for impact improvement with an Impact Business Model.
What main changes did we make to get up to scratch?
The process of completing the BIA made us realise how many aspects of the business were taken for granted, not considered, or living inside our heads rather than on paper. This is typical for a small owner-managed company since previously, beyond some basic legal compliance, we didn’t need to answer to anyone but ourselves.
Taking the BIA area by area, these are the main changes we made:
- Changed our Articles of Association to consider not just shareholders but all stakeholders; it is a requirement to change the legal framework in this manner in order to become a B Corp
- Established a non-fiduciary advisory board
- Formalised our Code of Ethics
- Published our first Impact Report
- Started tracking diversity of ownership among our suppliers
- Started tracking percentage of local suppliers
- Opened an account with Triodos Bank, a B Corp
- Documented how Grain takes part in civic engagement and policy making
- Started tracking our time spent volunteering
- Formalised our processes for independent contractors to give and receive feedback
- Formalised our home working and waste policies
- Measured our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions and set reduction targets
- Formalised our client feedback approach, including monitoring client satisfaction, and using the feedback to improve our services
- Started tracking the long-term operational improvements made by our clients based on the services Grain has provided
How long did this all take?
We had our first session with the B Leader on 25th June 2021, joined the evaluation queue on 1st September 2021, and received approval of our certification on 6th January 2022. Since our turnover is currently under $1m, we qualified for B Lab’s Micro Enterprise Approach, which is significantly faster than the 8-24 months it can take, depending on the company size. Current timelines are shown here, or in more detail for different-sized companies here.
Over those six and a half months, we put in about 40-50 hours pulling together information and implementing the changes listed above. The process itself puts the company under a microscope and we’ve already made improvements in our relationships with our consultants, our clients, our various partners like suppliers and non-profits, and the way we do our work. We’re really excited to get the word out to the world and become active members of the B Corp community.
Would you like your company to become a B Corp?
In October I trained to become a B Leader in order to help other companies become B Corps. We’re holding a free talk with time for questions on Thursday 27th January to go through the process and benefits of becoming a B Corp, so please join us if you’d like to find out more!