Last week, Vineeta and I attended B Together 2018, the annual retreat for members of the UK B Corp community. We spent two days sharing experiences with founders, owners, managers, marketers and CSR experts on the incredibly beautiful West Lexham Estate in Norfolk. As described on their own website, West Lexham is “an eco-friendly paradise” in converted farm buildings run primarily on renewable energy. We even got to stay in a tree house. I have to admit that there were times when I forgot that I was at work, and I felt a little bit guilty that I was having such a good time.
Here are a few of my personal highlights:
On Tuesday morning, we had a talk from John Elkington of Volans about the future of business and looking ahead at what comes beyond the B Corp movement. It takes guts to stand in front of a room of people who are leading the field in positive business practices and say that we need to do more, and think bigger. He is absolutely right and B Corp is a movement that is literally moving business in the right direction, but the end goal must be true sustainability and we are all still a long way from that. The talk itself was insightful and inspirational, as you would expect from the guy who coined the term “triple bottom line” roughly 10 years before I made it a central concept of my university thesis. John highlighted that we need to be looking at topics as diverse as the circular economy, exponential progress and artificial intelligence to create a vision of where the world may be going and where we want to steer it.
Later we had some interesting group discussions, and a common thread in these discussions was that the B Impact Assessment should be used only as a guide to continuous improvement. It should not become a points scoring exercise nor should companies do things that they do not feel are right for them just to achieve a higher rating. As business we have a lot in common but are also unique, and ultimately we each need to make a decision about what we feel is right to do in each scenario. By taking the assessment as a guide and not god, we can accept when there are things that we do that don’t get credited, and we can avoid pitfalls such as positive discrimination because we are not trying to force reality to match the assessment. It was good to hear this from other businesses and recognise that although the B Impact Assessment is probably the most rigorous overall assessment and certification of responsible business practices currently available, we should all follow our own path and have confidence in our ability to make the right decisions.
Just as with last year’s retreat, there was an incredible sense of openness within the community, and I think B Corp is one of the rare groups that can actually justify being called a true community. People from all walks of life, a wide range of industries, and even direct competitors were happy to spend time together learning and sharing for mutual benefit. B Corp is a community that truly believes that business can be a win-win and it is the amazing people that make it such a great thing to be a part of.
Finally, I can’t write about my favorite experiences without mentioning swimming in the lake. I think a few of us stayed in a little bit too long, but it sure did wake us up in time for a day of deep learning and conversation. The retreat helped to both clear my head and at the same time fill my head with new ideas, thoughts and questions about where we should go next.
Next year I’m hoping to take some fellow Wholegrainers along to get involved. It’s just too good to keep it all to myself.