The Supper Club is all about helping founders on their journey to success, whatever that means for them. What’s evident from recent conversations is how much store our founders and members place on the idea of having a clear and coherent purpose.
Everyone needs something to work for. Thankfully, for most of us (though, shamefully, not all of us) this has moved beyond basics such as food and shelter. We want the businesses we found, or the organisations we work for and with to help us achieve a sense of meaning. Which is why businesses with the clearest purpose (beyond just returns for shareholders) are those able to employ and keep hold of the best talent. And because companies grow through people doing the right things and making the right decisions at the right time, the better your talent, the better the business. A strong purpose drives strong performance.
A case in point is Supper Club member Geoff Van Sonsbeeck, founder and CEO of sustainable fashion company House of Baukjen (which comprises two brands Isabella Oliver and Baukjen). He is clear that having a well articulated purpose, focused on sustainable, ethical fashion has driven his business success. “It is better for business. But it is better for people, planet and profit.”
Geoff goes further, suggesting that businesses that want to rally behind a clear purpose should jump aboard the B Corp train, saying that if you really want to embed purpose in a business there is no better way than to start the B Corp journey. “Start the journey. Get the lawyers in and update your articles of association to reflect this. From there, the fiduciary duty will take care of the rest and drive you on towards business success.”
This idea of B Corp being a journey, rather than an end point or destination, was highlighted last week at a Supper Club expert-led discussion on what happens post certification. The session, led by Amy Bourbeau, co-founder and chief impact officer of Seismic, and one of Europe’s leading experts on B Corp, highlighted four things that need to happen after certification:
Communication – Tell staff, customers, suppliers, investors and other stakeholders. And you don’t even have to wait for certification; as long as you are serious about it and committed, it’s fine to let people know you have started the process. Bourbeau used two contrasting examples of Innocent Drinks and Ella’s Kitchen. The former, a very early adopter of B Corp, allowed only the small project team running the B Corp process to know anything about it until they were certified. The big reveal to staff, when it came, was not met with whoops and cheers (as hoped) but with confusion and a degree of “what does this mean for me?. They learned the lesson and are now exemplars of how to maintain excitement company-wide. Bourbeau contrasted Innocent's initial fumble with this short film from Ella’s Kitchen, shouting about its certification in a superbly crafted, on-brand message totally in keeping with its other communications.
Embed it – Having achieved B Corp certification, it is important to place it at the heart of the organisation. It can’t be a peripheral thing for an operations manager to look after. As Bourbeau put it, founders and CEOs can’t “Take their foot off the EV pedal, however tempting it may be after all the hard work of certification. B Corp is a tool, and not the reason.” It is also important for leaders to lead by example, focusing on B Corp as an issue from the boardroom down, embedding it into the daily working lives of teams and individuals, where possible adding social and environmental elements into goals, KPIs or other performance metrics. Crucially, leaders also have to allocate the necessary resources for all this to happen.
Continuous improvement – B Corp assesses certified businesses every three years and the standards it sets continue to get tougher. So the bar for passing and maintaining B Corp status is continually rising. Thus, the easiest way to maintain B Corp status is to keep working on it. You currently need 80 points to pass. But it is worth aiming to keep upping your score year-on-year, so that at the point of recertification you are well above the standard required and have the evidence ready and waiting. This is less stressful than a three-year cycle of working like mad for certification, letting it all slide and going through a harder process again three years later. Bourbeau cited the example of ice cream legends Ben & Jerry’s, whose score has continued to climb, from 86.7 in 2012 to 101.2 in 2014 to 110 today.
Community engagement – At its heart B Corp is a movement and a community of like-minded businesses and people keen to reduce their impact on the planet. And it is a surprising large community, with over 5,000 businesses certified globally and over 500 in the UK alone. Within this community there is someone who has the same challenges, issues and opportunities as you and who is likely to want to talk about B Corp, your journey and experience and to offer help and advice. There is both a digital platform and (in more normal times) fairly regular in-person events, with specialist sub-communities for different sectors and topics.
Having gone to the considerable trouble of getting your B Corp journey underway, having identified it as central to your purpose, it makes sense to put it to work and to maximise the value to you, your business and your stakeholders from all the effort you have put in so far. It’s a case where the return you get is driven as much as anything by the effort and commitment you invest in it.