B Corp Summit 2019 © Jurre Rompa
The B Corp movement has a mission: to change the rules of the game so that all businesses behave responsibly and transparently. Today, more than 6,500 companies are B Corp certified worldwide, and 280 are active in Switzerland.
As part of the “Plan B”, awareness campaign, B Lab Switzerland highlights what makes the soul of the B Corp movement and its determined community to create a positive impact for a better future.
The "B" in B Corp stands for "Benefit for All". The B Corp logo is a seal that independently certifies that a company does not just comply with the legal minimum, but is instead motivated and proactive in meeting high standards of social and environmental performance, responsibility, and transparency.
Concretely, B Corp certification encourages leaders to examine every aspect of their activities and demonstrate that they take into account all of their stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, their communities, and the planet) in their decision-making.
Governing a company without being solely guided by profit is a fundamental aspect of the B Corp spirit. Of course, B Corps are for-profit organizations, but they aim to create an inclusive, fair, and regenerative economy that truly benefits everyone.
The other key word of the B Corp movement is its commitment to radical transparency. Each certified B Corp must share the details of its scores on the B Impact Assessment on the B Lab Global directory. By highlighting openness, honesty, and responsibility in all of a company's operations, B Corps build a corporate culture based on trust, transparency, and accountability.
The B Corp Declaration of interdependence. © B Lab
2. Acting collectively for everyone's future
If the people behind B Corps are the soul of the movement, the impact they are able to create together is its beating heart.
Certification alone will not change the system. B Lab's work is to bring these companies together to support changes in public policies, to form coalitions, and to enable all companies to use the right tools to allow them to improve.
Collaboration and networking between businesses in the B Corp community is one of the main reasons why companies join the movement. This ranges from regional working groups to specific sector or issue groups. Within the Swiss community, for example, we have a working group on employee share ownership and another that brings together leading B Corps in the hospitality industry. B Corps exchange and work together on projects. For example, the employee share ownership working group has produced a guide for the implementation of concrete practices to improve employee engagement.
Another example of collective action within the B Corp community is the B Corp Beauty Coalition. Its mission is to bring together actors in the beauty sector to collaborate on improving social and environmental practices in the industry (improvement of packaging, responsible innovation, responsible sourcing of ingredients, etc.). More than a year after its creation, the coalition now has 60 members across six continents.
“Thanks to the coalition, we are contributing to establishing a standard of excellence in sustainable beauty, and sharing best practices in packaging, ingredients, and logistics to collectively improve our sector.”
Nataliya Yarmolenko, member of the board of directors at Weleda (a B Corp certified company since September 2021).
Companies have every interest in tackling global challenges together. This allows them to be better equipped to meet the changing expectations of citizens, to adapt to market developments while considering all stakeholders, including nature, people, and future generations.
3. Continuously improving
No business, even within the B Corp movement, is perfect. Companies join the B Corp movement at different stages of sustainability maturity. We view a company's certification as a first step and a commitment to managing, measuring, and improving its impact.
The free tool provided by B Lab – the B Impact Assessment (BIA) – is a framework that enables any business, regardless of its size, sector, or region, to improve its way of working for the benefit of people and the planet. It generates various reports that identify key areas for improvement and also provides additional explanations to help the user take concrete improvement measures.
B Corp certification is not designed to be easy or quick. The average score for the evaluation ranges from 55 to 65 points, while certification requires 80. In Switzerland, certified B Corps have an average score of 95. B Lab supports B Corps throughout their commitment to surpass their initial score, especially in anticipation of their recertification every three years. It is important to note that 97% of B Corps recertify and the vast majority of them improve their impact, particularly by changing or creating new business models that are more positive for society and the environment.
Robby Collins, co-founder of 7 Peaks, a certified B Corp company as of October 2019, explains how they incorporate continuous improvement into their daily work :
“At 7 Peaks we have built continuous improvement into our daily work through our communications board. This means that we don’t need to perform incredibly complex and time-consuming activities to achieve our goals. It is just part of what we do every day. In the B Corp world, we say that we don’t seek to be the best in the world, but to be the best for the world. In continuous improvement the objective is not to move mountains to achieve the best performance in one area, but to continually do better in every area.”
Since the creation of B Lab in 2006, more than 300,000 companies have used the B Impact Assessment; over 10,000 companies have adopted stakeholder governance; 20,000 have applied for B Corp certification; and 6,500 are certified.
Obtaining the B Corp certification means abandoning the idea that "what is done is done". "Impact" is not a goal to achieve or a box to tick, but rather a commitment to constantly improve.
4. Engage more companies to join the movement
Spread across more than 89 countries and 161 industries, 6500 B Corps collectively work to transform the global economy for the benefit of society and the planet.
The movement is not defined by an individual company or even the certification itself. It consists of thousands of organizations with unique business models, different sizes, and operating in various sectors and industries. The majority of them (96%) are small or medium-sized businesses, including many individual businesses and a handful of multinationals (90 B Corps out of 6500) - which have had to overcome many additional obstacles to be certified.
To achieve our vision of a more equitable economic system, we must change the behavior, culture, and structural foundations of capitalism. We can only do this by including companies that are capable of operating at a large scale. Therefore, our growth must be inclusive and extend beyond the boundaries of our current community. That is why we believe it is important to integrate multinationals into the B Corp movement.
When multinationals show leadership in positive social and environmental performance and take action to minimize their negative impacts, they are not only improving their own practices but also changing economic systems on a large scale. They have the ability to generate behavioral and structural changes among all their stakeholders, suppliers, customers, and partners.
Swiss B Corp Summit 2021
There is a natural tension between the tendency to exclude companies active in so-called controversial industries from certification and the need to transform culture, behavior, and impact within these sectors. At B Lab, we constantly evaluate the eligibility of different industries based on their negative impacts and potential for improvement. This evaluation is based on public consultations and standards to determine the potential for change in an industry. Of course, some industries, such as coal mining, tobacco, pornography, or firearms, are not eligible for B Corp certification. But other industries, such as the bottled water industry or energy companies, are not necessarily excluded from certification based on their potential for evolution. They are subject to additional requirements and more in-depth examinations during their evaluation.
Raymond Cloostermann, founder and CEO of Rituals, a B Corp certified company since December 2021, explains:
“At Rituals, we work with all of our suppliers to improve our collective impact in the supply chain. With longlasting relationships, strong cooperation on making our products better, and annual improvement of our suppliers' CSR performance.”
5. Questioning and reinventing ourselves to maintain the soul of the movement
Of course, no framework is perfect either. The challenges facing our planet are urgent, and we must maintain a high level of demand as the B Corp community grows. That's why, over a year ago, with more than 1,200 stakeholders worldwide, B Lab launched a review process to develop new performance requirements for B Corp certification. The goal was to understand if more specific and mandatory performance requirements on key issues could ensure that B Corp certification remains a differentiating brand for companies that create positive impact for their stakeholders.
The new standards will include a list of non-negotiable criteria, including environmental questions, and will focus on the major changes that stakeholders absolutely need.
The development of proposed requirements will take place in several phases of additional stakeholder engagement in 2023, and implementation is scheduled for 2024. This leaves B Lab time to support current B Corps and businesses that want to join the community in adopting these new standards.
“The B Corp movement embodies a new era of responsibility and collaboration for our societies. By placing the common good at the heart of their activities, B Corps commit to creating a positive impact for society and the environment, while redefining the notion of economic success. As environmental and social challenges intensify, accelerating collaboration between economic actors, governments, and civil society is more crucial than ever to build a sustainable and prosperous future for all.”
Jonathan Normand, Founder and CEO of B Lab Switzerland