You may have heard of the ‘B Corp’. It’s an increasingly popular certification for forward-thinking companies to acquire, highlighting their dedication to considering stakeholders and the wider environment in the operation of their business.
During a little snatched time on a Friday afternoon, Martin Long and I sit down to discuss Ashfold’s recent rise to B Corp status.
Martin’s sitting in his home office, as has been his regular position throughout lockdown. Stark white cupboards contrast with his usual bright checked shirt. And we discover it was clothing that got him into the world of B Corps.
It was whilst reading the autobiography of Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard that Martin first came across the concept of the B Corp. The well-known, “gear for the lifetime” brand makes outdoor clothing. From our discussions, their tagline clearly resonates with Long – who certainly isn’t a follower of ‘fast fashion’… Patagonia became a B Corp as far back as 2011, amending their articles of incorporation to “adopt a commitment to sustainability and treating workers well”.
B Corp Changes The Business
It turns out that this fundamental commitment is part of the wider change a B Corp makes to their make-up. Each must adopt explicit social and environmental changes and commitments, with the goal of improving the impact it has on the world as a whole.
Ashfold has adopted several standards over the years. Martin talks of the ISO 9001 standard for quality. He describes it as, “a bit boring, but organising things is better – there is a clear business benefit”. At the moment, Long doesn’t feel 14001 is appropriate for an SME like Ashfold, yet he wonders if adopting B Corp status might change this.
He tells me the main enabler has been having the brilliant Ruth Rabin on board. Ruth has a systemic approach to things, developed through her past roles. She understands the processes required. This, Martin says, has enabled Ashfold to manage and control things such as ISO and B Corp within the business.
So What’s Involved?
There’s a two-stage auditing process. At the outset, the B Lab organisation behind the B Corp certification ask a series of questions. These are, perhaps surprisingly, very industry-specific. For example: Do projects include BREEAM? Are they in cities? How many are making a difference in deprived areas? What do you add to projects?
Each question attracts a point or so – if you get over 80 points, then you pay a fee and drill further into questions as you head to certification.
The firm had to submit a selection of projects that prove its commitment to effecting positive societal change. The examiners are looking for those that are close to transport, those in areas of mass deprivation (which is assessed against objective data), etc.
Martin becomes animated as he describes some of the core business changes needed to become a B Corp. As noted above, it’s not enough to want a certificate. A business wanting to become a B Corp must change its articles and memorandum, and make fundamental commitments. Rather than taking a boilerplate set of articles and logging them at companies’ house, the firm had to review the content and identify exactly what it was going to do.
The time to get through the process is something that both B Labs (the certifying body) and I are interested in. Clearly this will be important to anyone considering certification. The cost of getting certification is one thing, but what has the cost been in terms of Ashfold’s time? Ruth, who undertook a lot of the certification work for Ashfold, estimates roughly 60 hours. Not all that bad for a major piece of business certification.
The Wider Impact
For perhaps the first time, Long says he found himself faced with the questions we should be asking ourselves. For example: Are women involved in the ownership of the company? What are the impacts the business wants to have on society, ethics, safety? The process covers these and a whole range of other headings.
Martin’s key observation on B Corps is that very few are in real estate and construction. However, the few that are certified already, seem to take it seriously. With sustainability and the circular economy at the top of so many people’s thoughts at present, he wonders if there will be a move towards change in the coming years.
Construction, Long observes, has historically wasted a lot of natural resources. Whether it be the disposal of old M&E equipment in refits of buildings or the re-use of materials, such as floor tiles, Long sees a huge amount of scope for improvement in the sector.
Martin aims to be an early adopter, bringing a new concept to the sector. There’s the possibility he might become a lead for others looking at B Corp and help them with their concerns and questions. He certainly seems to be an advocate for the scheme. To Martin, being a B Corp “is a great thing”, whereas being ISO certified is a ‘good’ thing. He and Ashfold are now keen to find out where it will take them. And if you would like to know more about B Corp, Martin will be happy to chat about it.