Products of Change


Mon 13 Mar 2023 | by Rob Hutchins

Being B Corp and Doing Good | Heidi Florence and the pursuit of purpose

March is the month for celebrating B Corp – the certification programme that drives the ‘business as a force for good’ ethos across the ever-growing global community of companies that act to strike a balance between profit and purpose. Last year, the UK counted its 1,000th B Corp certified company marking a 77% for the B Corp movement in the space of just one single year. Yet, despite the growing recognition, so much of the process remains a mystery to so many. In honour of B Corp month this March, we chat with Heidi Florence, founder of the Sustainability Impact Consultancy, Fair Enough and Products of Change Advisor, to learn more about the B Corp way.

Heidi Florence is the founder and CEO of Fair Enough, the sustainability impact consultancy.
Hello Heidi, great to catch up with you! Can you tell us about yourself and your expertise in this field?  I’m a sustainability impact consultant and I work with businesses to help them understand their operational impact on people and the planet. I then build strategies to help each business reach its goal by reducing the negatives and increasing the positives. And this puts in close proximity with the B Corp process, doesn’t it? Can you give us the run-down on what B Corp is? Absolutely! To date, the B Corp movement has been largely driven by small businesses who recognise the need to transform our global economy to benefit all people, communities, and our planet. B Corps strive to deliver benefits for all stakeholders. This means B Corps are well-equipped to step up to the scale of the challenges we face and by operating with the intention to reduce negative impacts. B Corps send a ripple through their supply chains and redefine what we previously viewed as a successful business. Redefining what a ‘successful business’ looks like, we love that. Can you expand on that? Okay, let’s see… More people are seeking purpose and meaning from their work. In the past, this was seen as quite a radical idea but a recent 2020 McKinsey survey showed 82% of employees believe it’s important their company has a purpose. This is particularly true of Millennials and Gen Zs, for whom social and environmental issues are top of mind. Let’s approach this from another angle, one we’re all familiar with. The idea of ‘consumer demand’. When we label people as ‘consumers’ we diminish their individual responsibility for the product they are buying. A consumer is seen as being at the ‘end of the line’ rather than as part of a cyclical and interconnected process with the world. Also, by focusing on consumer demand we diminish the responsibility of a business to influence what people want. Advertising and marketing have a huge part to play in helping people make the right choices. When does it stop becoming the responsibility of the consumer to demand a product with a low environmental impact and the responsibility of business to just do the right thing? Historically, when polled people say they want to make better choices. However, recent surveys carried out by Capgemini Research Institute show how the current cost of living crisis has made making sustainable choices a privilege right now. In these challenging times, B Corps and businesses who have embedded long term sustainable principles and strategies will be better placed to navigate as they are more likely to have forged transparent relationships/comms strategies with customers, show transparency within their supply chain, and ensure their employees are paid a real living wage. So, how does Fair Enough help businesses on their steps towards redefining success and placing purpose at the centre of what they do? When I work with a new client, we start by discussing the most pressing internal and external challenges faced by the business. For example, it could be something like high employee turnover. On the face of it, this issue may not seem like it’s directly linked to sustainability, but if you investigate the root cause of a high attrition rate you’re likely to find poor governance. This can be addressed when you create an encompassing sustainability strategy that includes policies and practices pertaining to the company mission, ethics, accountability, and transparency. As well as thinking about how to solve specific challenges in a purposeful way, I find out everything I can about the business from the perspective of how workers are treated, how the business is governed, what’s the environmental impact, how that business is serving their local community, and how customers are treated. This builds a full picture of operations and allows improvements and actionable plans to be created. It’s rare to find a small business who has a sustainability officer or someone who can be fully dedicated to this role. So, I’m always prepared to get stuck in and lead projects to maintain momentum! I join my client’s monthly company-wide meetings to get a heads-up on what each team is doing so I know who will need my support or guidance. What advice would you offer small businesses who may be restricted by costs and budgets? Small businesses may not have a budget for an external advisor so here’s some ways every business can embed a sustainability strategy that sticks:
  • Appoint someone in the team as your sustainability champion but they should be compensated for this extra responsibility.
  • If the company hits social and environmental targets reward each employee with a bonus.
  • List social and environmental responsibilities in employee job descriptions.
  • Add a question to annual employee reviews that asks about how that employee contributed to hitting the company’s social and environmental targets.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the B Corp movement though, has it? I’m sure a lot of us read the headlines around Brewdog, for instance, with great intrigue… What learnings has the programme taken from these case studies, do you think? Momentum of the movement has been driven by smaller businesses and this is where the flexibility of allowing a minimum score of 80 in the assessment has helped fuel growth. Certifying as a B Corp is hard, but if it was impossible for small businesses to certify the movement wouldn’t be growing and spreading the positive change that our economy needs. To date, allowing this flexibility has created a more inclusive community. B Corps are required to recertify every 3 years, there’s an expectation for businesses to strive for continual improvement in this time and work on improving the aspects of their business that still need work. The B Corp assessment process has remained largely unchanged for the past 15 years so a couple of years ago B Corp recognised that to maintain credibility and continue to be fit for purpose by addressing the urgent challenges we now face, changes to the process were needed. This coincided with the controversy of Nespresso certifying as a B Corp and the Brewdog exposé that led to BrewDog’s B Corp status being removed. So changes to the current standards are expected to come in from 2024. The current scoring framework will no longer be a mandatory part of the assessment. Instead, all businesses will have to meet 10 key requirements. What are the common misconceptions around B Corp’s barriers to entry? What tips ahev you got for companies thinking about taking on the process? The key things to consider are:
  1. Making the legal change: All B Corps are required to change their default company articles of association to commit to benefitting all people and the planet, not just shareholders.
  2. Time and resources. It is possible for a small business (even if there’s just one employee) to certify as a B Corp. But you need to weigh up whether you have the time to work through the assessment. Some people are able to gather everything they need within 3-6 months, for others it can take 1-2 years. Just remember, it’s not a race to get a certificate! If a business is prepared to work slowly but steadily it shows a real commitment to embedding long term sustainable change.
  3. If your annual sales are under £150k the certification fee is currently £1K per year which is pretty accessible for most businesses. (It’s worth checking whether your business may be eligible for the relatively new 40% equity discount) 
  4. If you’re a business who isn’t already giving 1% of profits to charity each year or investing in employee training or paying your employees the real living wage you’ll need to be prepared to put some budget into building the foundations of a more positive social and environmentally impactful business. There will be a hit to your profit in the short term as you set some of these new initiatives up.
  5. You’ll definitely need to have at least one person who is dedicated to working on the assessment, it can be broken down with tasks to complete each month and support may be needed from other departments in the business e.g. obtaining Payroll data and collating spend on your suppliers etc. You can do this yourself, but this is where many businesses value support from an external consultant to keep progress on track.
What are the first steps for anyone interested in pursuing B Corp status? I’d recommended setting aside half a day to take a first pass at the assessment. You’ll find the questions in the assessment easier to answer if you have the following documents to hand:
  • P&L for the last fiscal year and the year before
  • Employee handbook
  • Payroll records for the last fiscal year
  • DEI survey results (if you have completed one for your business already)
  • List of suppliers and spend over the past 12 months
You don’t need to work with an external consultant, but some businesses will find it can be helpful to have someone who can provide guidance, drive momentum and inject new ideas. I’ve worked with Creature & Co. publishers of National Geographic Kids Magazine very closely over the past year on their B Corp assessment and all areas of sustainability, but I’ve also worked with other clients on a one day basis just to review their assessment and provide a fresh perspective. The assessment is free and it’s used as a tool by thousands of businesses who are actively benchmarking their sustainability performance and seeking inspiration for improving their sustainability strategies and impact. It’s full of thought-provoking questions and recommendations for impactful data collection so jump in and take a look.