Taking the B Corp Test, Surviving and Thriving
Exam stress! There’s something about voluntarily submitting yourself to an assessment that takes us back to our school days – that feeling just before sitting an exam with our heart in our mouth and butterflies in our stomach.
We know that feeling well – we’ve been here many times, not just with our own B Corp certification (and recert) but also supporting our clients through the B Impact Assessment. By now, we’re pretty well versed with the process, so here are our top five tips for not only passing the test but making the most of it.
1. Take a Step Back… then Dive In!
The B Impact Assessment asks businesses questions in five key areas: governance, workers (employees), community (including supply chain), environment and customers. It’s a comprehensive test and you need to know why you’re taking it.
‘Start with Why’ is a much-used phrase in today’s purposeful world, but it’s useful here. Why are you taking the B Impact Assessment? What are you hoping to get from it? There might be multiple, overlapping reasons. For many companies it’s about certifying as a B Corp and earning the ‘badge’ that says this business meets very high standards of social and environmental performance.
Perhaps you simply want to work out how to do better. Many companies derive a lot of value from the assessment by generating ideas for improvements to make. And because many questions are ‘roadmap’ questions – showing you the path ‘from zero to hero’ – it’s like having an unpaid sustainability consultant working alongside you.
Whatever your reasons for taking the test, be clear on what your ambition is and then dive in.
Be clear on what your ambition is and then dive in.
And you have to go hard at it because it is extensive – about 200 questions or more. I liken it to eating a full English breakfast with a hangover. If you tackle it the moment the plate hits the table, it goes down great and you feel better for it. Take it too slowly and the grease congeals, you begin to feel a bit sick and you push the plate away half finished.
So it is with the B Impact Assessment! Don’t take pains over every answer or you’ll run out of steam, promising yourself you will pick it up again next week or next month. Instead race through it, using the ‘bookmark’ feature when needed, but make sure you get through it all. Then circle back and fill the gaps.
2. Know Where B Corp is Coming From…
The B Impact Assessment is designed with the principles of performance, transparency and accountability in mind. It demands high levels of social and environmental performance – not to make things difficult but because that is what we need from companies to put the world on a sustainable footing.
Transparency is key – because when corporate activities are openly acknowledged, action follows. So as a Certified B Corporation, you have to be willing to share your scores in the various topic areas on the B Corp website. And in years between certifications, you must publish an impact report.
Being accountable to stakeholders is fundamental for ensuring that businesses are not only run for the benefit of shareholders. Hence the need for Certified B Corporations to adopt revised articles of association that lock in a mission to do material good in the world and to consider all stakeholders when making decisions. The theory of change tells us that placing the requirement to be accountable to stakeholders front of mind will drive different behaviours.
As you go through the assessment, you will see some questions about your operations – pay and benefits for employees, how you choose suppliers,how you engage in your communities and so on. This is because your performance with respect to these stakeholders is what the B Impact Assessment is getting you to reflect on and improve. There are also questions about the intentional positive impact you seek to create through your products or services. When you recall the principles of performance, transparency and accountability these questions make more sense.
3. It’s Not Them, It’s You!
I hear from a lot of businesses that the B Impact Assessment doesn’t quite fit everywhere. To be frank: my answer is ‘yes, and?’. It’s an assessment for companies in every sector with some scoping questions that test for size, location and whether your business is in services, manufacturing, wholesale/retail or agriculture. But it is inevitable that not every question will be a great fit for an individual business.
Every business is different and B Corp fits all of them – but none of them perfectly. Don’t get hung up on that. It’s the only way it can be.
I also hear from a lot of businesses that the B Impact Assessment is hard. It’s meant to be hard, but you choose where you invest your energy. You don’t have to answer positively on every question. If it’s difficult to gather data in a particular area, one option is not to gather it! This is where being clear about why you’re taking the assessment stands you in good stead. Ask yourself ‘where the things I am being asked to do in the assessment can add value to my business.’ If local engagement is very important then you will be keen to score well on how you purchase or employ locally.
For others environmental performance is key. When we supported The Body Shop with their certification, being able to evidence their commitment to fair trade through their supply chain meant they invested significantly in gathering evidence for those questions. There are no negative points; zero is the lowest you can score on any answer so choose where you focus your efforts.
4. Share the Journey!
Douglas Lamont, CEO of Innocent, tells a funny story about their B Corp certification. When the small team working on certifying Innocent got the good news, he called the company together and proudly announced they’d achieved B Corp status… and crickets! No one knew what it meant or how hard it was to achieve, and so couldn’t share in the joy that Douglas and three or four others felt at their achievement.
Don’t make the same mistake. It might make sense for your initial investigations to be a small-group activity, but be sure to bring your people along with you on the journey to better. Why wouldn’t you? Every company we’ve worked with on B Corp certification has delighted its employees with the commitment to seek certification. It adds meaning to people’s working life. Not only are you giving them another reason to engage in their work, people love to feel they are contributing to making the world a better place. And being part of a movement calling for a new, more rounded, more beneficial way of doing business is enormously motivating.
When we worked with Redbox on their certification, the office supplies company, all the staff bought into the process and people from every division – HR,marketing, sales, procurement – helped gather the data needed to evidence the points they were claiming because they were so enthusiastic at the prospect of certifying.
5. Certifying is the Beginning, Not the End.
If you do choose to certify as a B Corp, then you need to recognise that it’s the beginning of something, not the end! Passing the test is no mean feat. But in the same way that you choose where to focus your effort in completing the assessment, you need to choose what you prioritise to improve.
There are dozens of suggestions embedded in the B Impact Assessment. There are so many ways to get better. Make a selection from the smorgasbord of options – don’t stuff yourself so full you can’t move!
You will have changed your articles of association to consider stakeholders and to define success as not only making money for shareholders but also as having a material positive impact in the world. Now you have to work at how you’ll bring that to life. What governance arrangements need a refresh? What systems do you need to put in place? Is now the time to do that employee engagement survey and create a benchmark for the future?
You will need to share the load with a dedicated team. Convening them regularly and having a shared plan with delegated responsibilities is key.
And know this: every three years the standard is altered, and effectively made harder as novel practices become commonplace. And also on a three-year cycle recertification comes around. So with that new assessment it will be harder to re-certify in three years’ time – as we are finding at Junxion as we recertify ourselves for the second time. Just as when you pass an exam at one level, you’re not expecting never to learn and test yourself ever again. The work starts now!
Author Adam Garfunkel has been advising companies on sustainability for over 20 years. He was in the first cohort of B Leaders in the UK, is a B Corp Ambassador and also sits on the B Lab UK Standards Advisory Group helping B Lab to design the next iteration of the assessment. He has helped over 20 companies certify as B Corps including The Body Shop and The Guardian, and companies in financial services, textiles and professional services.
Are you thinking about taking the test and in need of support? Reach out to Adam and find out how we can help.