Between 2006 and 2020, 100,000 businesses applied to become a B Corp. Yet out of those, just 3,500 were successful. Why are so many business owners applying for B Corp accreditation? Is it just a box-ticking exercise? Or can UK founders generate real value through committing to ethical and sustainable practices? The Supper Club member, Jenny Kitchen, founder of digital agency Yoyo Design, talks honestly about her experiences – the good and the bad – and explains why other leaders should consider taking the plunge.
B Corp: the Pros
B Corps are having their moment in the media spotlight, which can help accredited firms win new customers and hire top talent. Here are some of the business benefits to going B Corp.
Getting to grips with data
How well do you understand your business? Most founders have a solid grasp of the underlying metrics but becoming a B Corp brings a further layer of detail – and a new perspective, says Kitchen.
“Before we went for the accreditation, we were already doing a lot of work on things like fair wages and work benefits. We were already very active in the community. The thing that changed when we looked at becoming a B Corp was the measurement.”
“Before, we were quite ad-hoc and random with the way we approached these initiatives. After becoming a B Corp, we began taking a more formal and measured approach. Being a B Corp means being totally transparent, which also gives you an incredible amount of data and insight.”
Once you have your numbers out in the open – details of profit share schemes, for example – it creates a really positive culture for everyone, she adds. “It brings all your numbers into the every day. They’re not tucked away on an intranet; they are visible with a single click on your website.”
Leaner and meaner
Some of the tweaks that B Corp firms make to become more sustainable have a positive impact on the bottom line and customer experience.
“Right now, we are looking to reduce the carbon emissions created by our work,” explains Kitchen. “That means looking at techniques to reduce the emissions created by websites – using less heavy load data, making sure files are compressed so they don’t take up much space, and so on.”
“We work hard on keeping things intuitive, so we don’t need pages and pages of data. But keeping websites concise and easy to navigate also helps the audience. Most websites are so bloated. It’s a bad user experience.”
A new customer demographic
Some B Corps prefer to work only with other B Corps so the accreditation could open up new avenues of business: clients that would previously have been off-limits. “We have secured a number of B Corp projects because we are also a B Corp,” says Kitchen. “We make between £30,000 and £50,000 a year from these B Corp projects – or 1pc of turnover.”
“It can also help push deals over the line with other companies,” she continues. “I think around 90pc of the clients we talk to - from charities to corporates - have some kind of sustainability as part of their brief. So it helps us to confidently say we know what we’re doing and can help tell your story as part of the website.”
Did you know that the likes of Waitrose and Ocado have “online aisles” dedicated to products made by B Corp companies? Many retailers are embracing the values embodied by these businesses and creating spaces to promote them both online and in-store.
There is also an online community for B Corps, which allows accredited companies to learn – and buy – from one another. “The community platform B Hive has a list of all the different B Corps across the world,” says Kitchen. “Clients have found us through that directory.”
Getting the top talent
Being a B Corp can help you attract better people, says Kitchen. “When they see you’re a B Corp, they instantly understand your values and commitment to sustainability. Let’s face it, most company values are b******t but every person who has joined Yoyo mentions B Corp. It gives us a confident identity and is one of our most useful recruitment tools.”
She adds: “This means that our people are really committed to the success of the company – it’s not just a job. They have purpose.”
B Corp: the Cons
Are there any downsides? Of course there are. Kitchen reveals the hidden cost of life as a B Corp.
A bit more expensive
Greener options can come with a slightly higher price tag, Kitchen admits. “We offer the option of green hosting to clients, for example. Using green and sustainable renewable energy is slightly more expensive and, once we reduce the emissions this way as far as we can, we offer free offsetting to clients.
“We do this through our partnership with Ecologi, planting trees and supporting communities so they don’t have to cut down trees in the first place. It costs around £200-£300 for the offsetting, which is around 1pc of the cost of Yoyo project.”
A consuming passion
The job is never done, Kitchen warns. There is always another improvement to be made or another item to add to the list. “You get re-certified every three years so if you just want to tick a box, you can do it and forget about it but most B Corps are doing this because they actually want to build better businesses that are more sustainable. It becomes an addictive thing.”
“We didn’t manage to do everything we wanted to do for last year’s certification so now we have a roadmap. But that can be a good thing. From a comms and team perspective, having a roadmap keeps the B Corp values alive because there is an ongoing strategy. We talk about it every company meeting.”
The admin builds up
There’s more to becoming a B Corp than completing the assessment online: a whole lot of administrative work takes place behind the scenes too. Kitchen explains: “You can complete the assessment in 90 minutes but then you still have to go and prove everything. There are 200 questions and you need documentation to back up most of your answers. So, if one question is on whether you have policies against X or Y, you may have to write those policies from scratch and circulate them. People may have to sign that they’ve read and understood those policies. Some questions might have multiple tasks associated. At Yoyo, it took a lot of admin to get those things in place. Whether it’s your maternity package or the ethical washing up liquid you buy, it all has to be documented.”
You have to learn to accept your limits
Some businesses will never be able to get a perfect score – and leaders need to understand that from the outset. If you rent your office space, you’ll never be able to get solar panels because it’s not your building. “If the company is run by two middle class straight white men, you can’t hit the diversity piece,” says Kitchen. “You have to be realistic about what you can and can’t do.”
How ethical are your clients?
“We have turned down work,” admits Kitchen. “We took a long hard look at our client list and actively communicated to the team where we don’t want to be.” But Kitchen says that she’ll never follow other B Corps down the route of working solely for ethical companies who are doing everything right all the time. “It’s not always black and white,” she explains. “We take the approach as a services-led business that we can work with some companies that aren’t hugely ethical and make changes from within. Around 30pc of our work is with charities and not-for-profits – and we love it – but 70pc is in the for-profit space and that’s fulfilling in other ways. For us, it’s important to have that split.”