Five years as a B Corp. What’s the business case?

Written by Tom Greenwood - March 28, 2022

Here at Wholegrain Digital, we’ve just passed our fifth anniversary of being a certified B Corp. B Corp is one of the most robust independent certifications assessing whether a business is run responsibly in terms of its environmental impact, its treatment of workers and suppliers, its impact on communities and its governance.

As one of the longest-standing B Corps in the UK, we’re increasingly asked for advice by companies considering going through the B Corp assessment process, known as the B Impact Assessment. There is one question that seems to come up more than any other, and is, “Is there a business case for becoming a B Corp?”

In this post, I’ll share my own perspective on that question, based upon what I’ve experienced in our business and what I’ve observed from other B corps that I know. 

Do it for the right reasons

First of all, I need to highlight what B Corp is not.  It’s not a marketing gimmick. There are loads of certifications and badges that companies can get to make themselves look good, but which don’t really mean anything. 

B Corp is different in that it’s both independent and really hard to obtain. The difficulty of the assessment is exactly what makes it meaningful. Therefore, if you’re thinking that the business benefit is that it’s a cheap marketing gimmick, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. B Corp certification can have significant benefits to any business, but only if it’s pursued for the right reasons and with a genuine commitment to become a more responsible business.

So, let’s look at the real benefits. 

#1 – It helps small businesses grow up

From day one, we always tried to run Wholegrain Digital as a responsible business but it was hard to ever know how well we were doing. When we first started the B Impact Assessment after being in business for about 9 years, we quickly realised that we needed to get more organised about how we manage things across the business.

We needed to put some structures and policies in place and properly document evidence of what we’re doing. As a small creative business, this was something that we were not very good at and so the process of going through the B Impact Assessment helped us to grow up as a business. It not only gave us better visibility of our performance, but it also encouraged us to put in place the structures that the business needed in order to grow and progress.

This benefit is probably mostly applicable to small businesses, but it’s one that can help take a business over that hurdle from a small scrappy startup to a serious, mature business. 

#2 – It guides you to better performance

The B Impact Assessment is largely multiple choice, with evidence being needed to prove that you have delivered the options that you select. The beauty of this multiple choice format is that for every issue, you can see a variety of options and you can see which ones are considered more responsible than others.

This is a great learning tool because in most cases, you probably won’t be able to select the “best” option, but will then know what the best option is considered to be. With this knowledge, you can take action to improve in the future. The assessment process therefore helps accelerate progress and give you some targets to aim for.

#3 – It helps create a culture of positive change

As mentioned, the impact assessment process can help you see where you could create more positive impact, but the positive change that can come from certifying as a B Corp can go well beyond the things actually included in the assessment. The process gets you thinking more deeply about where you have impact and it sends a signal to everyone in the organisation that there is a deep commitment to creating positive impact.

The result is a stronger culture of positive change from which new ideas and initiatives emerge. For example, we’ve implemented schemes such as Climate Perks, extra holiday for using renewable energy at home and a vegetarian food policy, even though they don’t gain us any points in the B Impact Assessment. More significantly, the thought process that was sparked by our first attempt at the B Impact Assessment led us to research the environmental impact of digital technology and go on to become world leaders in the emerging field of sustainable web design

The innovation inspired by this pursuit has led us to learn new skills and constantly improve the quality of the work that we’re delivering, not just environmentally, but across the board. It’s inspired, motivated and educated us to perform at the highest level, making us truly proud of the work that we’re doing and in turn, helping us to be more commercially successful too.

#4 – It shows that you are serious 

Two of the benefits that I often hear mentioned are that B Corp certification can help attract talented staff and new clients. In my experience running a digital agency, I would say that this is partially true. I don’t think it’s a magic bullet in delivering either of these things, but it certainly can help.

Awareness of B Corp certification among the general public is still relatively low in the UK so many people won’t think much of it. However, for anyone who cares about creating a positive impact, it’s a great way of demonstrating that you are serious about it. It helps you to earn their trust and respect and this can definitely help in attracting employees and clients with similar values.

#5 – It’s a real community

There are many things out there today that claim to be communities, but almost none of them are. However, when we first achieved B Corp certification, we were amazed to find ourselves welcomed into a community of business leaders who genuinely cared about creating positive impact and wanted to support other businesses to do the same. 

The openness and enthusiasm to share and collaborate was refreshing. We’ve made some great friends, had some amazing shared experiences, and learnt a huge amount from others. This has helped us to stay engaged and motivated in the journey of evolving our own business, as well as providing practical support where we needed it. We are a more successful business as a result.

When we joined the B Corp community, it was very small in the UK, so it was a very tight-knit group. The pandemic paused most in-person activities and so some of this community energy was lost temporarily. I hope it will soon return to full force.

As the UK B Corp movement is now catching momentum, with 700 companies certified to date and a huge waiting list, there is of course a risk that the true sense of community gets diluted. I therefore hope that the sense of community will be able to be maintained over the long term. 

So is being a B Corp good for business?

As Managing Director, I have found that becoming a B Corp has been hugely beneficial to us as at Wholegrain Digital and has contributed to our success in recent years.

I believe that it should only be pursued if you truly want to run a more responsible business. It’s a lot of work that won’t immediately pay for itself but if you’re in it for the long term, it can pay dividends for people, the planet and financial profit too.