Why it isn’t enough to say you’re a B Corp

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Nespresso was recently certified as a B Corp. Why is this blog-worthy? Well, with those convenient little capsules that take approximately 500 years to decompose, and with 30,000 sent to landfill each year, it doesn’t really scream sustainability.

Despite Nespresso’s efforts to make their capsules fully recyclable, only 5% of capsules are recycled, due, in large part, to how complicated the process is. 

Making it so hard for customers to recycle gives the impression that Nespresso is following a box ticking exercise, as opposed to trying to create a genuine positive impact on the planet and being a ‘force for good’ as their B Corp status would imply. Unfortunately, this is a familiar narrative in this brave new world of green and purpose-washing in large corporations. 

Doing good business is multifaceted, and complicated

Sustainability is just one area of ethical business practice. Let’s look closer at the coffee industry to see just how complicated being a truly ‘good’ business can be.

From the shady nature of worker treatment, to the shipping of beans, Coffee in general is a minefield. In my past work life (2014), I was tasked to make the company I worked for as sustainable as possible. One of my first jobs was to find an ethical coffee provider. Simple right? Not quite. 

When trying to be sustainable, it’s often best to shop local. I began by looking for local-based coffee roasters. I found providers who claimed to go to the country their coffee originated, meet the workers, and ensure they are paid fairly. 

The issue? As someone researching these providers, unless you go and also meet the workers and ask them to confirm or deny fair treatment, there is no real way to evidence this. Smaller coffee providers do not have the financial backing of big corporations to pay for things like Fair Trade certification. 

Therefore, I did what most companies looking for a sustainable provider, and attempting to certify their ethical sourcing, would do. I looked for a coffee company that was  Fair Trade. 

The first issue I stumbled across was the lack of Fair Trade coffee providers in my area, increasing the number of carbon emissions I’d create from shipping across the country. The second issue was that small, independent providers often cannot afford the Fair Trade certification, so I had to look for the bigger players, providing a further layer of complications when it comes to ethical business practice and transparency. Additionally, it turns out Fair Trade isn’t always all that fair. We told you ethical business practice is complicated!

So where does that leave us? 

We believe the best option is to support the local economy, where possible. It’s the local roasters who share their commitment to making a positive impact, who acknowledge the flawed nature of coffee and who support their providers. Overall, it could be seen that they are making a Net Positive Impact with their business. But this all still comes down to communication. These businesses need to communicate the effort they put into being a purpose-driven business, and it’s just not enough to say, “well, obviously, we are a B Corp…”

Now, I’m a big fan of B Corp as a way of learning how your business can improve across all processes and practices, applying those improvements and measuring them to create a unified standard of excellence for businesses.

I love the B Corp mission of ‘redefining the role of business within our economic system so that every business is a force for good’, and this aligns perfectly with our vision at The Joyful, which is why we are going through the B Corp assessment process ourselves. However, as anyone who has filled out a B Impact Assessment will know, B Corp status does not make you a perfect business. It also doesn’t tell your audiences anything specific about your values and purpose.

What is the B Corp application process like?

You begin by filling out a B Impact Assessment which covers the key areas of: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment and Customers. The goal with a B Corp application is to score a minimum of 80 out of 200 points across all of the sections. If you score very highly in a few of the sections, and can prove this with evidence, you can become a B Corp. 

B Corp states that, “since each impact area (ie. Workers, Community, or Environment) is worth roughly 40 points, achieving 80 points total would mean that the company has to excel in multiple areas to achieve B Corp Certification.” 

For context, Nespresso has a total of 84 points, meaning they could have scored all of the points in Community and Customers, and only scored 2 points in each of the other sections. Lack of clarity on where they scored well, and what they are doing to score better, may cause audiences to become disenfranchised by their impact messaging. After all, isn’t this the definition of greenwashing?

Again, it all comes down to communication. You can’t say, “we are sustainable, as evident in our B Corp status,” because the B Corp certification is not evidence of sustainability, it is evidence of a business putting in a great deal of effort to being a good business as a whole, but doesn’t necessarily mean a business has perfected all or even any of these areas. 

Instead, businesses benefit from using clear marketing messages to explore the areas they still need to improve and the actions they are taking to do so. No organisation is perfect, and we all benefit when we’re transparent about our processes and practices, and the lessons, failures and triumphs we face on our journey to do better business. 

Surely, if we also report our data that is more than enough evidence of our ethics?

Customers connect with businesses because of shared values and the purpose that drives them. A B Corp status alone doesn’t tell me the ‘why’ of a business or the specific ways in which they are committed to making a positive impact. 

Let’s look at this from the customer’s perspective. The B Corp status is important because it demonstrates a quantifiable commitment to ethical business practice. However, a customer is especially passionate about sustainability from a holistic perspective – that is, financial, social and environmental. They want to know the brands they’re supporting have sustainable practices at every single stage of the supply chain. The B Corp status alone doesn’t tell them that. 

So how do I communicate that my business is purposeful?

You answered your own question. You communicate it.

You need to embed this messaging throughout all of your communications AND your actions if you want to attract the right audiences.

Absolutely go ahead and get that B Corp and report everything excellent you know you are doing. Reporting in particular is crucial to providing evidence of your ethics. If you can’t afford that B Corp or have the resources to fill it out right now (they are beastly applications after all) sign some manifestos or join some wonderful communities. 

Then once you have worked all of that goodness into your business. Shout about it. Communicate what you are doing, specifically, through the messaging on your website, through your social media posts, and through emails to your already loyal customers.

Create infographics and visual alternatives to those boring spreadsheets of reports to increase engagement. 

Participate in podcasts, journals and talks and give examples of what specifically you are doing as a business to be purposeful. Think about the experience you have had since the beginning of your purposeful journey. For example:

  • What part of the B Corp application was most challenging? 
  • Which part of the B Corp application has been your most successful?
  • Where have you personally felt most rewarded in being purposeful?

Finally, get involved in the wider conversation and use your voice to speak up for a world where governments hold all businesses accountable for their social and environmental impact. Things like the Better Business Act are an intrinsic part of campaigning for change.

 

Get in touch with The Joyful if you want help identifying where your business is making an impact. We will support you to communicate your values and enrol your audiences in your vision.

 

Kelsey Swarbrick

Kelsey Swarbrick

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