Big business and finance sector taking up the B Corp challenge

Andrew Davies
B Lab's Andrew Davies. Photo: HARVE

UPDATED: Andrew Davies has been heading up the B Lab for only six months but already he can see a shift in the number and type of companies that are willingly going through the tough B Corp Certification.

Around 3000 companies worldwide are currently certified B Corps, with close to 300 of those based in Australia.

Davies came to the job from a varied background including running and growing businesses and he’s now managing a team of six.

One change he’s noticed is interest from bigger companies. Traditional B Corps are small to medium businesses, and now they are being joined by larger organisations such as universities and listed companies. Major B Corps include retail brand Patagonia and subsidiaries of Unilever.

One sector coming to the organisation in droves is financial services. Davies says even companies in this sector that are doing positive things have been “tarred with a certain brush” so want to communicate to customers that they are “doing good.”

“There’s a huge conversation among so many businesses in many different markets about what it means to be in business and what impact should they have,” Davies told The Fifth Estate.

Many businesses – but not all – are “asking the tough questions,” he says.

“And they are well ahead of most governments in terms of assessing that impact.”

The organisation is also seeing increased interest from food production and agricultural services. Although many food businesses are well acquainted with organic and fair trade programs, Davies says these product-level certifications don’t take into account labour practices to source products or emissions to transport them.

There’s also built environment businesses on the list such as Ethical Property Australia and architecture studios such as ClarkeHopkinsClarke, and more recently WOWOWA.

What’s a B Corp business?

Davies says B Corp businesses “think more like business custodians” rather than business managers. They plan for the long term, as stewards of businesses rather than profit takers.

The US-based founders started the organisation after selling their running shoe business to the highest bidder as required by law, only to see their ethical business practices and values stripped out.

They set up the holistic certification program as an antidote to this experience.

Getting certified

Businesses answer a bunch of questions and get a score out of 200, with 80 enough to certify. And it’s tough.

“Any B Corp will tell you how challenging it is to get there. It’s enormously challenging.”

The ratings focus on positive impact rather than harm but the way the criteria is weighted means that a business won’t pass if they are under achieving in one area.

To keep up this high standard, certification criteria is re-written every three years.

It’s hard work for the independent global council responsible for verification, made more complex given the different industries and sizes of companies, and their various locations around the world.

Davies says the organisation will consider using external certifiers in the future as the certification program grows but at the moment it relies on its independent internal council of certifiers.

Certification starts off at $500 with prices increasing according to revenue.

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