Nowadays, we hear companies claiming that they are doing a “business with purpose”. But what does this really mean? For Les Izmoor, this means being thoughtful and responsible in everything we do. Ultimately, we want to create products mindfully, making sure that we are reducing our footprint in the process. After all, beauty is truly in having less. To make our purpose official, we plan to become a B Corporation certified business in the next 2 years.
Have you heard of B Corporation (B Corp) before?
This certification, not limited to fashion, is one of the highest certifications a business can get. According to their own website, B Corp certifies the businesses that “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” Unlike some other certifications, B Corp evaluates a business holistically, not just their products. They are paying attention to everyone who’s involved, directly or indirectly, in the business: from the workers, suppliers, to consumers and communities.
But how exactly do they do this?
To find out, we decided to sit down and chat with someone who knows the process very well. We talked to Tiago Fachada, a B Leader and a co-founder of the company Ecofye. As a B Leader, Tiago is trained to understand the B Corporation’s assessment procedure and help companies in the process. In other words, a perfect person to talk to!
Interested in learning about B Corp? Then keep on reading!
Why and how becoming B Corp certified?
Companies that usually apply for B Corp certification do it because they genuinely care about doing business for good, and they see this certification as an opportunity to evolve in a positive direction. For many, B Corporation is both a validation of their good practices but also a motivation to do more and reach their targets. Because B Corp includes a rigorous assessment, this certification signals that there’s no greenwashing taking place. These are just some of the reasons why an increasing number of companies are interested in becoming B Corp certified.
So, how do they achieve this?
B Corp is essentially a grading system for businesses, which is assessing them in five big categories: environment, community, workers, customers, and governance. All of those are important and a company has to answer a detailed questionnaire to explain their current and future business model. Each question brings certain points, which we’ll explain soon.
Globally, an average score companies get on this assessment is around 50. However, a candidate company must get a minimum score of 80 to get certified. That means that everything from 80+ is considered to be a great score, given to companies that actively work on social and environmental good. Currently, there are just under 4 000 certified companies across the world, many of whom have a much higher score than what is required. Some companies, like Patagonia, have a score of over 150! Thus, a score, which is publicly visible for each certified company, indicates the amount of effort a company is putting towards sustainability in the widest sense. The higher the score, the bigger the efforts that a company does.
Tiago explained that the questionnaire is assessing the business from different aspects, and it requires them to go beyond just performative actions. For example, it’s not enough that a company donates to a charity; they need to have a social and environmental impact at the core of what they do. Even more, this impact has to be clearly written in the legal documents of the company. Therefore, a certified company will have a legal obligation to consider social and environmental aspects when making any business decisions.
Let’s take a closer look at the assessment process.
Here’s how the questionnaire looks like
Currently, there aren’t that many B Corporations certified companies in the world. Yet, especially since the pandemic started, the interest is visibly growing. The whole reviewing process used to last three months but lately, it can easily take up to six months, because of the high demand. Soon, we might start seeing more companies carrying the B Corp logo!
Tiago shared with us that the questionnaire itself is quite heavy. Usually, companies are preparing for months and are often working with consultants and B Leaders, before applying. Moreover, many questions are gating questions, meaning that they open up other sets of questions. Thus, the questionnaire will look different for every company. As mentioned, there are 5 sections of the questionnaire and a company is collecting points across those. While they have to score at least 80 to get certified, there’s no minimum requirement per questionnaire section. In other words, a company can have a high score in, let’s say, the environment, and a much lower score in governance.
That being said, not all questions are worth equally. Each question brings some points, ranging from less than 1, all the way to 10. It’s quite easy to get some points in each section but the further you go, it gets more difficult. It would be quite impossible for a company to have all points in one section of the questionnaire, and none in others.
To give an example, Tiago told us that a question about carbon neutrality brings only around 0.5 points because it’s considered important but companies that can demonstrate reducing their emissions instead of offsetting them will be more rewarded. For these reasons, questions about the supply chain are some of the hardest and most worthy questions, in terms of points. The questionnaire’s design prevents greenwashing and performative actions and rewards companies that are truly sustainable. As Tiago puts it, a company can easily get some points but they can’t get to 80 by just doing small things.
It's about improvement
B Corporation cares a lot about the actual social and ecological impact but also how a company is improving over time. Virtually, any company can apply for the certification, regardless of their size. Both newly founded and well-established companies can take the questionnaire, which will adapt according to their current situation.
Yet, the assessment gets updated annually and, every 3 years, a certified B Corp company has to redo the whole process. Though the annual update isn’t required and is not a reason for a company to lose the certificate, it’s generally a good idea. This is an opportunity to see how the company has evolved and where they are in reaching their goals. So, it’s not enough for companies just to reach the needed threshold and get the certification. Rather, B Corp is encouraging them to actively improve. Additionally, every year, it gets harder and harder for a company to get to those 80 points, which pushes them to work harder. Tiago told us that a company that was perhaps sustainable 10 years ago, wouldn’t necessarily pass the assessment now. Unless, of course, their efforts grew too.
The main reason for these re-assessments is that most companies take on long-term social and environmental goals. There might be no immediate results but the companies are rather thinking of how their business makes changes down the line.
Nevertheless, Tiago emphasises that certifications like B Crop are good and useful, but we shouldn’t rely only on them. When making our shopping decisions, we should always ask questions and look beyond the brand’s claims.
Look beyond certifications: Tiago’s three tips
Finally, Tiago shared with us his top 3 tips, to guide you whenever shopping for something new. They will help you to cut through greenwashing, make an informed decision and reduce your own footprint.
Here they are:
Read the small print
Everything is in the details! Things like where something was made are important because transportation accounts for a large part of emissions. The same goes for the fabric a brand is using (is it a sustainable or recycled fabric), as well as what certificates the company claims to have. Sustainability is complex and a lot of elements play a part!
Ask the brands directly
Today, we can reach out to brands more easily than ever. Use this to your advantage! If you’re unsure about how a brand is manufacturing or what they are doing to improve their business models, reach out to them. Social media and email are great channels that are available to almost anyone.
Always check their claims
Transparency is key here. The more a brand is willing to publicly share about their practices and business, the more likely it is that they are sustainable. If a brand is hiding things, it’s usually a sign that something is going on or that they don’t know their full supply chain.
However, some claims can be misleading, and even greenwashing. A good way to identify this is by checking the brand’s short-term targets. While it’s good to think long-term, targets that will take 10 or more years aren’t ambitious nor clear enough. We need to know what a brand will do in the next couple of years . A truly sustainable brand will aim to reduce (and not just offset) their emissions, as well as demonstrate how they are improving their social impact right now. Always ask for proof!
We want to thank Tiago for sharing his great knowledge about B Corp and certifications with us. If this is something you’d like to know more about, you can check out his company’s website here. And if you want to see all the companies currently certified as B Corp, check out the official directory here.
Have you ever bought something from a B Corp certified company? Let us know!
Text is written by Tena from Thinking Threads.