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This article first appeared in our spring ’18 issue of MyGreenPod Magazine, The Conscious Revolution, distributed with the Guardian on 04 May 2018. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
The pursuit of profit over people and planet is a dying model, and consumers are growing increasingly savvy when it comes to spotting greenwash. A broad shift in consumer consciousness has created a tangible desire for change, and we know how to demand it.
Social media provides instant and unprecedented access to brand managers, and we’re not scared to ask questions about how companies do business. We want to know they’re worth our custom, and we need to know our money’s not being used to exploit people or the planet.
Identifying conscious businesses
B Corp certification has been compared with the Fairtrade stamp of approval on coffee and the LEED rating for green buildings. It’s one of the ways conscious businesses can show their customers they’re doing business the right way, while also demonstrating to the wider industry that change is both possible and profitable.
‘There’s no doubt that businesses all over the world are doing brilliant work on their sustainability strategies’, says Mark Cuddigan, CEO of Ella’s Kitchen. ‘But as a consumer – or even a retailer, supplier or employee – it’s pretty hard to compare one sustainability strategy with another. Without a unifying measurement framework, a brand can shout really loudly about their solar power but brush their exploitative treatment of workers under the rug.’
B Corp provides a holistic, transparent way to measure the impact a business has on its workers, community and environment. ‘It’s the antidote to ‘greenwashing’ or ‘purpose-washing’ – or whichever gloss paint is in vogue that week’, Mark says.
The B Lab Impact Assessment analyses a business across five key impact areas: environment, workers, customers, community and internal governance. It has some of the most rigorous sustainability criteria around, and that’s why it carries so much weight.
‘The B Lab Impact Assessment is tough because it’s supposed to be’, Mark explains. ‘But the actual process is simple and user-friendly. You end up with a roadmap that helps you reach your target impact score. Fundamentally, in a market overcrowded with CSR policies and skin-deep sustainability strategies, B Corp is a big red independent stamp of approval, proving that certified companies meet the highest standards of social and environmental impact anywhere around.’
Profits from purpose
B Corp was born at the same time as Ella’s Kitchen, which is just one of 2,441 B Corps around the world. ‘Our founder Paul Lindley launched Ella’s Kitchen in 2006 with a mission: to improve children’s lives by developing healthier relationships with food’, says Mark. ‘Paul set up Ella’s back when people thought being a ‘socially responsible’ business meant compromising on profit.’
That myth was quickly debunked: by offering innovative, tasty, healthy, organic products, Ella’s Kitchen quickly overtook industry giants to become the UK’s number one baby food brand, with a global turnover of $100 million.
Mark puts a lot of the company’s success down to the fact it’s a purpose-led brand based on principles that resonate with customers and attract ‘brilliant people’ to the team. ‘We applied for the B Corp certification for our 10th birthday as a testament to all we’d achieved in our first 10 years’, Mark says. ‘We also promised to do even more in the next.’
Re-wiring the corporate world
In 2018, a survey was commissioned by B Lab, the body that created and awards B Corporation certification, to explore the power of B Corp certification in driving bottom-line growth. Recertifying UK B Corps reported an average growth rate of 14% – 28 times higher than the national average of 0.5%.
The survey also showed that over a third of B Corps are attracting new audiences, including investors, customers and suppliers, through their certification. ‘What’s more, almost half of UK B Corps say they are attracting new talent because of the certification’, Mark says. ‘That all holds true for us, too; we’ve recently hired two brilliant people who came to us because we are a B Corp. One actually joined from another B Corp, showing that employees want to work for businesses that share their personal values.’
Mark knew B Corp certification would have ‘tonnes of advantages’ for Ella’s Kitchen, but becoming a B Corp is about something much bigger than any one brand. Certification unlocks access to a community of over 2,400 companies that stretch, support and inspire fellow businesses more than many could ever have anticipated.
For Ella’s Kitchen, becoming a B Corp meant helping to lead a movement that would re-wire the corporate world so it would work better for everyone – for people and the planet. ‘We’re not alone in that’, Mark reveals. ‘81% of recertifying B Corps in the UK say a big motivator for certifying was the ability to join a community of like-minded businesses.’
Bound by a mission
To achieve B Corp certification, a commitment to the triple bottom line must be locked into the company’s legal articles of association. This means its mission must be to conduct business in a way that benefits society and the environment as well as shareholders.
In order to advance its mission, Ella’s Kitchen has launched a national campaign – Veg for Victory. ‘Today, one in five children in the UK enters school already overweight or obese, but government policies start after the age of five’, Mark explains. ‘We launched Veg for Victory to focus attention on weaning, which is where eating habits – both good and bad – are really built.’
Ella’s Kitchen’s ‘Greener Paper’, which contains research conducted with the British Nutrition Foundation, has been delivered to parliament. The paper calls for weaning guidelines to be enhanced to promote the importance of vegetables.
‘Our mission has always been important to our customers – it’s why our customers aren’t just loyal, they’re proactive ambassadors for our brand in their networks’, Mark tells us. ‘That’s firstly because they love our products and secondly because they love our brand and what we stand for.’
Customers who are aware of Ella’s Kitchen’s B Corp certification see it as a further endorsement of the company’s mission, but B Corp isn’t currently a big enough consumer brand to carry huge clout when it comes to purchasing decisions. ‘That’s the next big challenge’, Mark says. ‘As one of the biggest consumer-facing B Corps in the UK, we see a huge part of our role as inspiring businesses from every sector to certify as a B Corp. One way we’re doing that is through a new working group, which brings a group of consumer brand B Corps together to spread the B Corp word as a collective.’
Power and responsibility
For Mark, the Spider-Man quote that with great power comes great responsibility rings true. ‘Last year, the world’s 10 largest companies made more money than most countries in the world combined collected in taxation’, he tells us. ‘Businesses are uniquely placed to effect real change – and they have a duty to protect not only their employees but also communities and the environment. We believe certifications like B Corp are the best route to ensuring the corporate world lives up to those values in the long term.’
At the same time, you don’t have to look far to find evidence that the next generation is demanding higher standards from the brands they buy from and work for; this shift in consumer priorities is helping to spark and accelerate corporate change.
‘I hope conscious businesses of the future will see our corporate system as a bizarre relic of a time when our priorities were way out of order’, Mark says. ‘I hope the B Corp movement continues to grow and that we can inspire other businesses to join us on this global mission to redefine the meaning of success in business. Ultimately, I hope all businesses will be competing to be not just the best in the world, but the best for the world.’