Special ESG report: For the benefit of all

By Ged Henderson

01 Jun 2023

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Is the world better off because your business is in it? That is the big question that Celia Gaze and a growing number of Lancashire business leaders are asking themselves.

Celia is the founder of The Wellbeing Farm, a wedding, party and corporate events venue based in Edgworth. It is the first independent events venue to be B Corp certified in the UK.

Certified B Corporations, or B Corps, are companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, legal accountability and transparency.

To certify, a company must measure and improve their impact on their workers, customers, community, and the environment.

B Corps change their legal articles to consider the impact of their decisions on people and the planet alongside profit. The B stands for ‘benefit for all’.

Only around 1,200 businesses in the UK have the certification which covers five key impact areas of governance, workers, community, environment and customers.

Celia says: “B Corp’s ethos is using ‘business as a force for good’, using business as a vehicle to improve the planet, staff conditions of employment and the local economy. It’s no surprise it is the fastest growing business movement in the world.

“Organisations that are certified as B Corp have to meet rigorous social and environmental standards which represent its commitment to goals outside of shareholder profit.

“Achieving the B Corp certification has made a massive difference in our business, but the main one is raising trust – being viewed as a venue which looks after its staff, its local area and the planet. It’s validation of business commitment towards corporate social responsibility.”

She adds: “In five years, if you are not a B Corp you will be left behind. Half of millennials seek out socially conscious brands; investors look for organisations that impact environmental and social change.

“And 66 per cent of global consumers will pay more for sustainable products and practices and potential employees seek out employers that reflect their values.”

New research has also revealed that 80 per cent of the UK public would favour shopping from companies that are doing good for people and the planet, yet only 22 per cent find it easy to identify whether a company means what they say when considering buying from them.

Once accredited the’ B Impact Assessment’ provides a benchmarking tool providing opportunities for future improvement. As part of its accreditation, it demands that companies report their impact annually and must re-accredit every couple of years, ensuring it’s a tool for continual improvement.

Celia adds: “The changing focus also reflects the changing nature of sustainability and society so B Corp really does prepare you for the future.”

Blackpool-based energy consultancy Optimised Energy says its B Corp status represents its commitment to goals outside of shareholder profit. Managing director James Wood believes the company and its workforce’ values “naturally align with the principles of B Corp and that is what pushed it towards aiming for the certification, going through what is a rigorous process.

He adds: “Optimised Energy has always been about much more than just profit. We take our commitments to our clients, our employees and the world around us very seriously as we strive to balance environmental and economic sustainability in everything that we do.”

Preston headquartered recycling and waste management company Recycling Lives achieves its B Corp certification last December.

The firm was founded on the principles of creating social value in 2008 and it says the accreditation recognises its commitment to delivering positive social impact, driving a sustainable circular economy and making its operations greener year on year.

Chief executive Gerry Marshall says: “It has always been hugely important that we make a genuine, positive difference on both a social and environmental basis - it’s the reason we exist.

“The B Corp process is an incredibly demanding and highly individual assessment, and this certification is a fantastic result of our purpose and beliefs.

“However, whilst we’re immensely proud to be recognised, this is just a step on our journey in making further progress toward our sustainability targets, whilst delivering meaningful opportunities across schools, colleges, the justice system, and disadvantaged groups.

“Above all, we’ll continue to strive to do good business by looking at how we can improve and grow in every aspect of the work we do, for the future of our people and our planet.”

Stefanie Kneer is head of ESG and sustainability at Three Hills Capital Partners, Recycling Lives’ investor board. She says: “B Corp is one of the most relevant international social and environmental accreditations.

“For investors and advisors alike, it sends a strong signal that there has been real focus on positive value creation, adhering to or surpassing some of the highest ESG standards.”

Colne based The Modern Milkman is another recent addition to the B Corp list. Sustainability is at the heart of the operation, “resetting the throwaway society”.

All The Modern Milkman’s products, which also include a growing range of groceries, are delivered using single-use plastic free, returnable bottles or containers, or recyclable home compostable packaging. The business also works with independent suppliers and farmers to deliver products.

Founder and chief executive Simon Mellin says: “Becoming a certified B Corp is a huge milestone in the Modern Milkman journey, showing that we are a purpose driven business.”

Nicky Hodgkiss-Cook, the company’s head of brand and sustainability, says: “B Corp certification is one trusted indicator of a business’s real commitment to environmental and social sustainability in the sea of companies claiming to be green.

“The movement aims to shift focus from profit to purpose, transforming the global economy through the positive impacts of participating businesses on people, communities and the planet.

“But being a B Corp also benefits your business – that’s what makes certification so sought-after, with over 5,000 global businesses now on board.”

She also emphasises it is not an easy certification to gain. “Your business will have to meet strict requirements to comply. While it is hard work to qualify, the value is worth the effort.

“Certification encompasses all areas of your business. It’s not just a label or logo to aid your marketing. It’s essential that all of your internal teams understand why you’re starting the B Corp journey and what it means for them.

“Obtaining B Corp status is a long-term aim and a lasting commitment. The movement expects continuous improvement. The assessment also provides a really useful framework for improvement.”

She adds: “To ensure we stay worthy of our B Corp status we’re continually looking at ways we can improve and grow as business to not only support our planet in a greener future but also in our commitment to our colleagues and customers.

“Gaining a B Corp certification is just the beginning.”

Chris Turner, executive director of B Lab UK, the non-profit organisation that oversees the certification, says: “The economic challenges we’re facing are urgent, and it’s clear the UK public expect more from the brands they shop from and the organisations they work for.

“B Corp Certification provides an opportunity for companies to measure and improve impact for all stakeholders, across all areas of their business.

“But for systems change to be adopted at the rate that’s needed, we need leaders across the wider UK economy to reinvent how business is done.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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