The Basics of B Corp Certification
It was 2006 when friends Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan and Andrew Kassoy set out to change how businesses operate — from considering shareholders first to considering society and the environment first. The trio created the non-profit B Lab in 2007, and since then have developed a strict program for which companies can apply to be a Certified B Corporation.
Fast-forward to today, and the B Corp Certification is both sought-after and difficult to get. According to B Corp's website, it is a certification that “goes beyond product or service-level certifications. B Corp Certification is the only certification that measures a company's entire social and environmental performance."
To date, there are more than 2,500 certified B Corps across 50 countries, including both small businesses and large enterprises. In order to get certified, a company must complete the B Impact Assessment, a rigorous series of questions that requires corroborating evidence at every step to show how a company is dedicated to serving the social and environmental good. Once approved — a process that can take months — B Corp status is then written into the company's bylaws.
“In addition to profits and shareholder value, you legally have to consider your suppliers, community and employees in your articles of incorporation," says Husein Rahemtulla, co-founder of Fresh Prep, a meal delivery company based in Vancouver, Canada.
“Applying for B Corp Certification means you believe that your business has a higher purpose than profit, and that you will give consideration to those concepts as much as to shareholder value," says Rahemtulla. Fresh Prep was granted B Corp Certification in late 2018.
The B Impact Assessment
The first step to certification is to go through the B Impact Assessment. Any company can start this process for free, but be aware that it is incredibly in-depth and can take a lot of time, even for small businesses.
“It's a long process with more than 300 questions about a variety of different areas in your business," says Rahemtulla. “There are questions about how you treat your employees, what your company does for the environment, any social initiatives, how many paid days off you offer, what percentage above the living wage you are paying, how much training you give employees, if you are a company owned by minorities, how many women are in leadership roles, how you engage in your community and more."
Answers to each question are weighted, and once the assessment is complete, it is reviewed and scored. From there, there is a review call with people from B Corp where evidence of answers is solicited.
“I recommend starting the process as early as possible," Rahemtulla says. “The process of answering the questions is long, and then come the review calls, delivering supporting documentation, and a peer review."
Once a company is approved, it is invited to participate in B Corp community events (called “B Hives") and to use the B Corp logo on products, packaging and in marketing materials. B Corp Certifications are valid for three years, after which time a company must go through the certification process again.
Why would a company take on all of this work to get B Corp Certified?
“We took on the challenge of B Corp Certification in order to publicly hold ourselves accountable and ensure that as we grow, we stay on track with our ideals," says Naomi Neilson, founder and CEO of Native Trails, a kitchen and bathroom brand based in San Luis Obispo, California. Native Trails recently received its B Corp Certification. "We see it as an opportunity to be better corporate citizens of the world. The process is really a useful — and to us, inspiring — guideline for improvement."
Advice for Small Business Seeking B Corp Certification
1. Be patient
Neilson says it is important for business owners to go into the certification process knowing it will take a while.
“Be ready for an arduous look into every aspect of your company and be patient with the process and yourself; it's not easy but it can be incredibly rewarding," she says. “We feel it's one of the most important things we've done as a company to keep us focused on being a better steward of our resources, people and the planet.
2. Talk to your legal team
Garden Society, a health and wellness cannabis brand based in Sonoma, California, recently received its B Corp Certification. Founder and president Erin Gore worked with her company's lawyers to make sure she did everything correct.
“There are a lot of things to consider, based on your organization's structure and state of residence, and lawyers can be a huge help in answering those questions," she says.
3. Prepare for launch
While waiting for the certification to go through, Fresh Prep's Rahemtulla worked with his team to create a launch plan that included press releases for the media, social media posts and new packaging.
“Doing that really helped us switch over to that messaging once we were approved," he says. “We also had a party with employees to celebrate, which made everyone happy."
The B Corp Bottom Line
Getting B Corp Certification is a way for companies from small businesses to larger companies to show to their employees and customers that they are committed to putting society and the environment first. While the process can be time-consuming and arduous, it's a badge of honor that can inspire ongoing commitment to the ideals that drove you to start your business in the first place.