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February, 12, 2024  |    |    |  

Using B Corp to Inform Your Sustainability Strategy

Whether or not you become a B Corp, the free B Corp assessment can be an invaluable guide for your sustainability strategy.

Alice Elliott
is a trained B Leader and sustainability and social innovation professional based in Innsbruck, Austria.

Last summer, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made an almost incomprehensible decision to extract as much oil and gas from the North Sea as possible when he announced over 100 new drilling licences. Some suggest he was wisely hedging his bets against renewables, but they are not factoring in species extinction and the inevitable breakdown of nature-related dependencies through forest loss and water scarcity. 

Whilst the government may be stalling on sustainability, how might business create an ambitious, but strategic and achievable response to today’s challenges? A meaningful response from business relies on a clear pathway through multiple complexities. This can be overwhelming with various actors pushing popular issues that don’t necessarily support your intended impact. 

One route through this minefield of Greenwishing, washing, and hushing is the B Impact Assessment (BIA), which is the best comprehensive gap analysis tool currently available. Using the B Impact Assessment to identify and prioritize multiple issues and suggest improvements helps connect your purpose, operations, and impact.

Need for Radical Change 

Sustainability can seem vague and opaque, but it represents a state of living that aligns with planetary limits and social tipping points. It differs from ESG, which is a framework for evaluating and managing risk in order to preserve enterprise value. Sustainability can be understood in the context of system value that is generated when resource use respects the carrying capacity thresholds of multiple capitals—natural, social, human, built, and financial (R3.0).

Whether or not you’re interested in B Corp certification, the B Impact Assessment (or ‘BIA’, the comprehensive rubric behind the globally admired certification) is an excellent tool for assessing the sustainability of your business model and operations, and can illuminate opportunities to improve your impact and implement high standards of performance.

Sustainability is a state of living that aligns with planetary limits and social tipping points

The BIA will triage your performance based on five pillars: governance, environment, workers, community, and customers. Within each of those five pillars, the tool requires you to answer detailed questions about how you measure and manage your social and environmental impact. 

Last year we supported Brompton Bicycle to achieve B Corp Certification, and they successfully used the BIA as a tool to help deliver their purpose ‘to create urban freedom for happier lives’ by using it to provide checks and balances for their business.

Four Ways the B Corp Journey Can Inform Your Sustainability Strategy

  1. Cross-organisational input. Fill in the ~ 300-question assessment as a teams-based exercise allowing colleagues from across the business to lead on data collection. It’s a big lift on your own, so sharing the burden makes sense. But it also engages people in the ambition and that enthusiasm can lead to some innovative developments. 
  2. Define your baseline. Be modest and answer according to the physical evidence you can provide if asked by an analyst today. Don’t be tempted to base your answers on the great things you do at work because ‘Roger’ is a great boss and you’ve worked like that for years. Answer according to your formalised, embedded systems and processes. If Roger left tomorrow, we would miss him but would those good practices still exist? By answering the assessment through this strict lens you will get a baseline score that reflects an honest starting point, and unless you’re a social purpose-driven business by design, expect your score to be around 50-something. That’s absolutely in-line with most businesses finding their way, and a great place to start understanding gaps in your approach to sustainability.
  3. Prioritise improvements. The BIA provides you with an improvements report based on impact-related algorithms. Prioritise your improvements (we run a workshop that brings the decision makers into the room to have these conversations in a facilitated space that allows for challenging conversations) and feed these priority improvements into your strategy. You can’t do everything, so think 80/20 and focus on your material impacts (see materiality assessment, an essential part of your journey).
  4. Stakeholder engagement. The B Impact Assessment challenges you to formally engage your stakeholders about the outcomes they experience. Ask them about the key risks and opportunities they perceive (to the business and from business operations). Use this formal feedback to inform your chosen improvements and develop headline goals to guide your strategic approach.

Putting Purpose Into Practice

Using the BIA to inform an ambitious sustainability strategy that aligns with your business goals and intended impact can challenge what you think are your material priorities and the actions you need to take to address your impact. Plotting strategic impact improvements against planetary and social thresholds will inform an approach that will guide your team to deliver a worthwhile contribution to the long-term well-being of all people and the planet. Which is, after all, the fundamental reason to tackle your sustainability in the first place. 

Ready to create a meaningful sustainability strategy? We’ll use our knowledge of the B Corp framework and 25+ years of sustainability expertise to develop an impactful strategy for your organization. Get in touch