The Basel-based company Domicile has achieved B Corp certification for sustainability, a globally recognised certificate for sustainable business practices. Domicile is the world’s first provider of furnished apartments to achieve B Corp status, and the first B Corp™ in Basel. B Lab Switzerland was delighted to learn more about the company, its experience in obtaining the certification and its long term goals in terms of sustainability.
For those who don’t know Domicile & Co, what’s one of your favorite ways to describe the company and what you do ?
We provide a hotel-like service for business-people, but using apartments integrated into the community. Most of our clients come to work on projects in Basel and don’t want to stay in a small hotel room. We provide them with a flat, including standard services like an 24h/7 emergency line. Clients usually come for about three months, but most people end up staying longer than initially planned. Our longest tenant stayed for 9½ years!
What was the trigger that initiated Domicile & Co.’s journey in the B Corp Certification ?
I have been interested in the environment and making buildings better ever since finished studying physics at university. At the time, I considered working in a building research establishment, but 40 years ago it was almost impossible to realise projects in this area, as oil was cheap and there were few economic or environmental drivers.
For me Domicile was a real opportunity to actually do things differently and save energy, rather than researching ways of saving energy. In research you are dependent on companies, governments, and current trends. But if you own the building you really can influence its environmental impact. It’s worth noting that this was an expensive journey because we were pioneers – as is usually the case. In engineering it’s often best to be second and let the first make the expensive mistakes! It was also surprising to realize how difficult this was - even 10 years ago. Each time we implement something new, we realize there is more and more knowledge in the marketplace and that we are getting better at this!
Finally, the short-term trigger was finding out about B Corp. My son Ben came with the idea, and he witnessed the struggles we went through in the process improving and changing to become a more sustainable business.
A final thing I would like to add here, is that going through the B Corp process has made the whole company much more aware of and interested in sustainability. It has become a unified driver within the company, and finally it is no longer just me pushing sustainability, but it is coming from lots of people within the company too.
What are, according to you, the essential factors that characterize socially engaged companies, from the point of view of management and / or from its impact on society ?
I think the most important factor is the aim of the company. Is it just about making money or more about really being a force for good? For me that’s the difference! It comes from the top, right through the culture of the company. In my opinion, this means that the ownership of the company is very significant, allowing it to operate in a transparent, efficient and sustainable way. It is difficult for a company that is purely financially driven, and has shareholders who hold any values, to be a force for good. Unfortunately, you can’t change things unless you have control.
What are the key drivers for positive change in your industry sector ?
I think that the key drivers for positive change are Domicile’s customers - both individuals who want to be greener and corporate companies that want to become more sustainable. Many of our our tenants are under 40s working in the corporate sector, and unfortunately flying around the world in doing so. However they are still influenced by the movement to consider the environment in their personal choices. As for the companies we work with, some of our biggest Swiss clients, particularly those under private control, have been working on sustainability for a many years, and are outstanding. I also glad to see that more and more companies are also now trying to become more sustainable.
What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurs considering the B Corp certification ?
I would encourage them to go for it! It has been a fantastic project and accomplishment for Domicile; a sort of waking up to realize the things we were doing well, and what we were missing. We started to think in a much more analytical way about how we run the company sustainably. It has absolutely been about raising awareness. If this is your kind of culture and way of thinking then I would definitely say do it, it could be a great awakening for you!
What are your long term goals you are pursuing with the Certification? Where do you see leadership opportunities for Domicile & Co. ?
We have decided to set a 10 years goal around sustainability - which is a long time for a company that has only been around for 15 years. We are developing an annual sustainability audit in order to review our practices, and continually improve towards our long-term sustainability goals. It means that we will have a much longer timeline in our strategic goals; we are changing the way we operate, and our strategic model, focusing mainly on our environmental impact and reducing carbon Emissions.
About Domilice & Co. AG
Domicile is a professional partner of business apartments with over 100 furnished apartments in Basel, Switzerland.
About B Lab
B Lab is a nonprofit that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good™. Their initiatives include B Corp Certification, administration of the B Impact Management programs, and advocacy for governance structures like the benefit corporation. B Lab’s vision is of an inclusive and sustainable economy that creates a shared prosperity for all.