To B or not to B? Our journey to B Corp certification
Author: Ed Garrett | 10 minute read
We’re thrilled to share the news that as of the 23rd of December 2023, The Discourse is a Certified B Corporation™.
Achieving our certification is up there as one of our most significant achievements to date. Joining the B Corp movement has given us the opportunity to interrogate what it means to be a ‘good’ business, and while we’ve always believed that our mission to use design as a force for good was the right way to approach our work, the B Corp process has allowed us to validate this belief internally and open the wider business to external scrutiny.
Having now completed our certification, we’re proud to be a part of a community of over 2250 B Corps in the UK and over 7650 internationally, all committed to using business as a force for positive change. Our experience, not without its frustrations, has given us confidence that the B Impact Assessment process is rigorous, and a good way to help judge claims that a business may make to be doing things the right way. That’s not to say that it’s right for everyone, flawless, or by any means the most important thing that an organisation can do, but we do believe that the approach to business that is advocated by B Lab and the B Corp movement will pave the way for a new standard across the world, where it comes to balancing the interest of people and the environment with profit.
We were fortunate enough to have an incredible amount of support along the way, both through professional consultants and existing B Corps always willing to share their advice and experience. To pay this forward, we have compiled our thoughts and advice into the article below, hoping that it helps, inspires and motivates others. We’ve covered the reasons we applied in the first place, what we’ve learned about certification as a small business, what we wish we knew from the start, and our improvement plans for the next three years prior to recertification.
If you’re currently going through the process yourself, or even thinking about starting, we hope you find this useful and please feel free to reach out with any questions.
To B or not to B (why we applied)…
Since first registering our company in 2020, design as a force for good has been central to our ethos. Day to day we see how design can empower purpose-led businesses and charities, and while we’ve always tried to make a positive impact with our work, our B Corp certification has enabled us to validate our policies, processes and impact based on the stringent criteria set by B Lab.
In case you don’t know, B Lab is the non-profit network behind B Corp that is working to transform the global economy to benefit all people, communities and the planet. Achieving the certification has required us to adhere to high standards of social and environmental impact, public transparency, and legal accountability; a set of standards which we are pleased to have met. For a young(ish) business, it’s provided a benchmark to which we can hold ourselves accountable and ensure that our business truly is a force for good, both internally and externally. It also signals to anyone that doesn’t already know us, who we are and what we stand for.
Although not our primary motivator, it’s worth mentioning that certified B Corps tend to outperform their competitors in both ESG and financial performance, seeing an impressive turnover growth of 26% between 2017 & 2020, compared to a national average of 5% (B Lab, 2021). This proves the claim that doing business the right way and making money are not mutually exclusive, and this mindset is starting to redefine the way people perceive success in the business world.
The journey from A to B (Corp)
The B Corp certification involves a thorough review of how your company impacts various stakeholders. The review path will vary depending on the nature and size of the company, and the impact assessment will review the following areas:
- Governance (policies and practices)
- Workers (employee well being)
- Community (local economic and social well-being)
- Environment (the planet)
- Customers (the value that you create)
Your total score must be above 80 for certification and the review is conducted in two phases – assessment and verification. The B-Impact Assessment is the initial ‘health check’ and submission of intent to become a B Corp, verification is a detailed audit by B Lab into the claims you’ve made and the documentation provided. As we learnt during our own audit, scores can fluctuate, so we recommend aiming for at least 90 points at the assessment phase if you can.
Completing the B Corp certification has been challenging but very worthwhile. It helped us to understand the policies and processes that we needed in the business to achieve high standards of social and environmental impact. That’s not to say that it is the only thing that a business should do in order to be ethical or sustainable, there are many businesses out there that have chosen not to certify and this takes nothing away from the incredible work they do.
As a small business, without a dedicated sustainability lead or ESG department, it has been the perfect tool and process to help us level up. It has enabled us to understand what we are doing right, in addition to what we need to improve and how projects such as the design for good grant can be developed further to create the change in the world that we want to see.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, so if you’re on the journey to B-Corp yourself there are a few things we wish we knew from the start that would have helped us on the way…
Managing expectations (timescales):
Becoming a B Corp is no walk in the park; it’s a time-consuming and labour-intensive process. This isn’t just a checkbox exercise, the B Impact Assessment delves into every aspect of a company’s social and environmental footprint, and the devil is in the detail. Providing substantial evidence is a challenge, so the more adept you are at documenting your processes and your wider impact, the smoother this journey will be.
We submitted our application in March 2023, but the heavy lifting started to happen in the summer and over the last few months of the year, where we needed to dedicate a substantial number of hours each week to get everything ready in time for our interview. As a team of creatives we have mastered the art of procrastination, so our advice to anyone embarking on this process is to carve out dedicated time each week to chip away at the work, as it’s not something you can easily achieve as a casual side project. More on this below…
Asking for help (just do it):
One highlight of our B Corp certification journey was the incredible sense of community that embraced us. We were showered with invaluable advice and support from a number of remarkable individuals, and a huge shout-out to Ecolibrium, Pieminster, Skylark Media and Enviral for their advice and encouragement on the way. If you’re navigating this process, don’t hesitate to reach out to existing B Corps for guidance, as you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the amount of support you receive.
It’s also worth highlighting that there are some incredible consultancies dedicated to assisting businesses in achieving B Corp certification. The advice and support we had in the early stages of the process from Namoi Lawson (a local B Leader), and later from Andy Hawkins (Business on Purpose) and Will Powell (Future Shift) was invaluable, there’s no way we would have achieved certification without them. Our advice to anyone reading this, given affordability, is to enlist professional support as early as possible. Had we done this much earlier in the process we easily could have halved the amount of time it took to complete.
While we may not have all the answers, we’d be more than happy to share our learnings and support you along the way. The B-Corp journey is still very fresh in our minds so feel free to reach out with any questions you may have.
Be adaptable (as things will change):
We submitted our impact with a stellar initial score, only to watch it dip during the verification stage due to technicalities around our impact business model – a bit of a buzzkill, to be honest. It was an aspect we had been warned about but not really considered, and although we were frustrated by elements of the outcome, it’s given us confidence that the process is becoming much more rigorous. If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t let it demotivate you. Expect some fluctuations during the verification stage as it’s all part of the process.
The B Corp certification is a serious test of your ability to document and validate any claims you make as an organisation to be ethical, sustainable and impactful. A few of our clients like WECIL and Frank Water, proved to be game-changers for us when it came to measuring the wider impact of our work. While it’s a lengthy journey, it’s also a valuable opportunity to re-engage with your clients and beneficiaries, understand where you are and benchmark your business against best in class criteria. Admittedly, the process took much longer than expected, but without a doubt, it’s been worth the effort and we’ve emerged as a stronger and more mature business for it.
Over the last 12 months, our Project Manager Holly Smith was invaluable to getting our certification over the line. Here’s what she had to say about it…
“B Corp was a great learning curve for me. It gave me such a great insight into the accreditation itself but also about what being a “good” business looks like. It was great to get into the detail of what The Discourse really stands for and how the business meets the standards that B Corp sets out. It was great to work through the company’s aspirations with Ed, to understand what we do now but more importantly, how much better we have the potential to be and how we’re going to get there.
There is a lot of work to be done throughout the whole process. It is time consuming and you really need to manage it as a project. You need to understand how different areas interlink and what you need to deliver in order to meet the criteria. Then comes the part where you need to ensure you have the processes and structure internally to stand it all up and ensure it becomes a continuous way of working and doing business. B Corp isn’t about ticking a box and becoming accredited, it’s about changing your business to benefit people and the planet, and aspiring to change it even more going forward.
I am particularly passionate about the Community and Workers part. It’s good to see the commitment from the business to treat its people fairly and also to do good in the community.
If I had to do something differently, I would treat it as a project right from the start. It wasn’t until we were quite far along, that we realised how many deliverables there were. I would create a detailed plan from the start, with date commitments and timeframes. It would have made things much clearer and I think we would have completed the process much quicker too.”
Our results (and plan for the future)
Achieving our Impact Assessment score of 91.8 has made it clear how much we have to be proud of already. Within the five B impact areas, Governance and workers emerged as our strongest areas, which makes us proud of how the business has matured in just over three years. Our mission-locked, impact business model secured a decent number of points, underscoring the very essence of why The Discourse was founded – to support businesses and charities in shifting the narrative in society and industry. Our fair employment policies and our offices at The Future Leap, a carbon neutral business hub, were a huge asset, as it meant we were able to track, monitor and record lots of our environmental impact.
Becoming a B Corp doesn’t mean that a business is perfect, far from it, and there is always room for development. As well as working on our customer stewardship, environmental footprint and our support for underserved populations, we are significantly increasing the amount of work we deliver each year through the Design for Good grant.
For us, B Corp Certification is a commitment to accountability, transparency and continuous improvement. Attaining the status is a fantastic endorsement of what we achieved, but the real driver for us becoming a B Corp is looking forward – it sets the future direction of The Discourse as a progressive and ethical design agency, and represents our ongoing efforts to leverage our business as a positive force in every aspect.
We hope you found this helpful, we will be giving regular updates on our involvement with the community so follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram, and sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date. If you’re a business working towards their B Corp or have any questions about the process, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.