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Beyond B Corp

Cotswold Fayre founder Paul Hargreaves explains why B Corp certification is only the beginning for purpose-driven business
Customers and staff share a good joke at Flourish's 1st birthday party

This article first appeared in our Organic September issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 08 September 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Let me say at the outset that I love the B Corp movement.

It has been foundational in forming our company purpose and culture, but I believe business leaders need to go beyond B Corp if we are to make a significant impact on the world.

My company, Cotswold Fayre, was part of the launch cohort of around 40 UK B Corps. To our credit we had created a company where benefiting both our people and the global community was just as important (if not more so) than profits – though a company must make a profit in order to effect positive change.

I had come into business from the charity sector; having spent years mopping up the mess created by business and government policy, I was determined to start a company that put people front and centre.

I had been doing that, albeit in a flawed way, for 15 years before discovering the B Corp movement.

To encounter other businesses putting people and planet first was a revelation. Here were many other companies (largely in the USA at the time) who felt exactly as I did about business and were incredibly successful from a financial perspective, too.

What is a B Corp?

The B Corp certification tool measures how good companies are for the world in five areas: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment and Customers.

There are around 150-250 questions, depending on a company’s size and sector. Evidence must be provided wherever points are scored; if the company reaches a score of 80 points, it is entitled to submit for audit to become a B Corp.

From the small start in 2015, the UK B Corp community is now the fastest growing in the UK, with around 1,500 companies now certified.

B Corp has a particularly strong influence in the food and drink sector within which we operate; around 25% of current UK B Corps are food and drink businesses.

Cotswold Fayre has 60 B Corp suppliers, which we believe to be the highest of any B Corp.

B Corp as a beginning

All this is very good news, of course, but if certifying as a B Corp is a destination rather than a beginning then we will fail.

Companies can treat the certification like an ISO standard, tweaking a few things but largely carrying on as before.

This is only the case in a minority of B Corps; Brewdog, which has been ejected from the movement, is one widely reported example.

A fellow CEO wisely counselled me that even these businesses are better than they were due to the changes they had made as part of the certification process.

However, to effect radical change in our businesses and the world we need something more than a certificate.

Characteristics of good leadership

Excited by our first few years as a B Corp and wanting to encourage more businesses to become a force for good in the world, I wrote my first book, Forces for Good, which was published in 2019.

However, in the writing of that book I came to the strong realisation that if we are going to change the world for the better – socially and environmentally – then we also need to change ourselves.

We must become people and leaders with more compassion, more heart and more soul.

Change starts with the mind and setting new intentions for our businesses, but real change involves deepening into more love and spirituality, whatever that word means for you.

Typically, good business is measured on the triple bottom lines of people, planet and profit – I have added personal change as ‘The Fourth Bottom Line’, and that is the title of my second book – on 50 characteristics of good leadership.

Bringing heart to business

Our main business as a wholesaler of speciality food and drink diversified in 2021 into a 7,000 sq. ft retail and restaurant business called Flourish.

In that busy customer-facing environment, the face-to-face interactions between leaders, workers and customers are seen every minute of every day.

Customers notice heartful interactions and it is very evident that we are different from other businesses they visit.

Yes, the B Corp framework is a fantastic tool for becoming a better business, but we need more than that.

We need leaders and businesses that are reaching out in compassion and love to nature and people. Will you join me?

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