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How to become a B Corp

So you’re thinking of becoming a B Corp? After a year of hard work by the team, we at Graphite Digital finally received our certification in June. The experience is still fresh in our memories, as well as the things we wish we had known from the beginning. Here, our CEO, Rob Verheul, shared his insights on how to navigate the process of becoming a B Corp.

Graphite team members collaborating in a workshop
by Rob Verheul
12 October 22
  • B Corp
  • Sustainability
  • Agency Life

This article originally appeared in Business Leader on 21 September 2022. Read the article here:

Certified B Corporations, or ‘B Corps’, are companies verified by a global organisation called B Lab to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

At Graphite Digital we hold ourselves to high standards; recognising and respecting the role that we have in the local community through relationships, and the wider world through our work — making a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing through digital.

We pride ourselves on doing things right by people and the planet, and so when we heard about B Corp, we quickly recognised the opportunity. We decided to commit to the process of evaluation and a continued journey in developing the business in an ethical and sustainable way.

We know that it’s not only important to us, but that emerging young talent in the workforce is increasingly seeking, and even demanding that the companies they work for contribute in a meaningful way to society. So for these reasons and more, we were attracted to the idea of being B corp certified, and not only demonstrating, but committing to running the organisation in a sustainable and impactful way.

What's the process?

With such high standards for Environmental, Social Impact and Governance, it makes sense the process is stringent. Through the B Impact Assessment (BIA), you self-assess your business across five key areas: Governance, Workers, Environment, Community and Customers. Depending on the type of business you are, you could face anywhere between 120 and 200 questions, all with a pre-set scoring value.

If you’ve reached the 80-point threshold for being certified as a B Corp — and it is best to err on the side of caution, leaving room for scores to be revised down — you submit your assessment for review. You will then be paired with an analyst, who will ask for evidence and eventually verify your score.

#1 Begin with a benchmark

If you think you might want to pursue B Corp certification in the future, it is worth starting the BIA (which is free to do), even if you are a way off a submission. Once you have made an initial self-assessment, you know where you are, and you can see what you would need to do to exceed the 80-point threshold.

We found there were some straightforward changes we could make to increase our score, like enhancing our parental leave policy. This was something we wanted to update anyway and bringing our policy in line with B Corp requirements felt like an easy choice and the right thing to do for our employees.

Not all changes can be made quickly, but once you have benchmarked your business you will have a clearer picture of the timeframe and input required. As there is currently a backlog in applications, you can submit your application with some things still pending — just be certain they will be complete by the time you are allocated an analyst.

#2 Export your information

Once you have completed an initial assessment, you can export your questions, responses and scores into a spreadsheet, which our team found invaluable. Not only did it allow us to easily recognise the changes we could make to increase our score more easily, but it also meant that we were able to work more effectively as a team.

We’d also strongly recommend using a collaborative platform like Teams, SharePoint, or, in our case, Google Drive and Sheets. The tagging functions meant that we could draw in expertise from other team members, quickly answer questions and help each other, and also avoid issues with version control.

#3 Get the right people engaged

The sheer scale of the information needed makes the process challenging. Even if the person leading on the submission has touch points across the business, it’s still essential to make sure everyone is supportive, and even excited, about B Corp certification.

Graphite Digital is still a small-sized business, but in a larger or global enterprise, the information-gathering process is likely to be harder and take longer. Ensuring that the senior leadership team is engaged with the process will help to gain all the information faster, and they will be better placed to chivvy others along and make any necessary legal or procedural changes if needed.

#4 One step at a time

Filling in the BIA is a big job: time-consuming, complicated and comprehensive, so it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. When we looked at the process as a whole, it was hard to know where to start, but by breaking it down we were able to work through it systematically: section by section, and improvement by improvement.

#5 The little things add up

The assessment makes room for the grey areas between the black and the white, which means that the scoring is incremental for some questions. For example, you get a higher point rating for having a high percentage of staff who identify as ethnic minorities – you don’t just get the full score if you pass a certain threshold.

This means that in some cases you can make quick, easy changes across multiple areas and significantly increase your score. Small changes that each add 0.2 points to their score quickly add up to over 120 questions. Incremental positive change is still positive change and this approach can actually be more impactful than making one big change.

#6 Be prepared to wait

We had to wait six months between submitting our assessment and our analyst assessment, and the queue is growing. If getting a B Corp certification is important for other plans, like corporate fundraising, make sure you are building at least six to nine months into your plan, or have a Plan B.

#7 Plan ahead for your analyst assessment

When you reach the front of the queue for the analyst assessment you need to be prepared. They are going to ask for evidence to support your responses, and having as much as possible in the same place makes this much easier.

B Lab’s analysts are based all around the world, and it is worth bearing in mind that English may not be their first language. They may not be familiar with the legal, economic, political or social conditions and constrictions that your business is affected by or working within, so before the interview, prepare to explain the wider context of what you do.

What impact can it have on your business?

For a purpose-driven company like ours, being B Corp certified aligns with our values and supports our external messaging, but it has also had an impact on staff retention and attraction, and our business prospects.

When we finally received our certification, the team was impressed, particularly with a younger demographic that understood the significance of the B Corp. Recent research from recruitment firm Robert Half showed that 47 percent of workers under 35 would consider leaving a company if they didn’t think it was doing enough on Environmental, Social and Governance – and having B Corp certification is certainly a way of showing your business takes its commitments seriously.

Once your business is certified, you have access to B Local networks and the global online B Corp community, which helps with networking and collaboration. The certification provides a form of quality assurance both to other B Corps, opening up new opportunities, and to prospective clients who are mindful of their suppliers and partners.

If your business already has in place ISO certifications, and operates in a service sector rather than in manufacturing, then you will likely find that certification is not too challenging, but do note that it’s not a ‘tick box’ exercise. What you’re signing up for is a longer-term commitment that will impact the way you govern and operate — so do think this through carefully before committing.

For Graphite Digital, it has helped us sharpen the policies that we already had in place. We believe that it will help us demonstrate our character and ethos on the world stage - which for us is more important for our culture and talent than the potential to attract new business as a result of certification. 

As an agency, we recognise that our value is almost entirely in our culture and our people, and so is very much worth the investment.

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