B Corporations ('B Corps') are companies that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. The B Corp movement has now become global, with over 3,600 certified B Corps based in 75 countries and spread across 150 industries. With the movement’s influence on the rise, it is worth noting why the time is right for a cultural shift and change of practices in the business sector and why B Corps are best placed to contribute towards this goal.
Opportunities for change: unsustainable businesses and conscious consumers
We are at a pivotal point in time when the need for change is vital to combat the issues of the climate crisis. The pandemic has also presented an opportunity to stop and re-evaluate the key driving forces of businesses, and the younger generations – who are sharing a greater portion of buying power and the job market – are demanding more from companies.
From a scientific perspective, the data has been clear for decades that current business practices are not sustainable. Numerous documentaries, such as Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’, have shown the damage that such practices are doing to the environment and to wildlife. Businesses and government regulation have made some steps towards more sustainable practices, but not at the rate or level required to fully tackle these climate issues. Covid-19 has also accentuated that these inadequacies and inequalities are still embedded in the system. Protecting the planet is perceived by Millennials and those in Gen Z as being a top priority, both before and after the pandemic began, but there is renewed optimism that the Covid-19 crisis has provided an opportunity to prevent us reaching a point of no return and to reverse some of the damage caused by human activities.
Due to this concern with the environment, a larger proportion of consumers are wanting the products and services they buy to align with their values and their greater sense of individual responsibility. However, although consumers are becoming more conscious of their impacts, personal actions can only go so far. Furthermore, while globalisation has connected people across the globe, the vast distances involved – both metrically and relationally – mean that we often forget these connections and the impacts that our choices can have.
As Christians, we are called to be concerned for the poor and oppressed and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, so Christians need to step into this space and engage with the structures that have undervalued individuals and exploited an environment that we should be stewarding.
The B Corp movement
Business culture, norms, and laws and regulation need amending to achieve systemic change. For change to be trustworthy and worthwhile, an holistic approach is required. B Corps attempt to fulfil this, as they are measured across five impact areas (governance, the environment, workers, customers and the community) and only once a company has achieved the benchmark in each of these areas will it be certified. The B Corp movement is also one of the only Multi-Stakeholder initiatives that requires businesses to make legal changes to their business charters: this commits them to caring for the needs of stakeholders beyond their shareholders and increases levels of accountability. However, the movement’s influence is wider than purely certifying companies: the B Impact measure is being used by over 100,000 companies to measure their impact and help them improve on these areas. Certified companies are also being used to model the profitable success of more ethical and sustainable practices, since certified businesses grew 28 times faster than UK GDP in 2017. Moreover, purpose-driven companies, such as B Corps, are not only attracting talented employees, they are also keeping them for longer; staff are generally treated better within these companies and employees tend to enjoy working for a company that has a mission beyond profit.
The founders of the B Corp movement want to impact attitudes and policies right across the economy, so that all companies and investors are held accountable for the negative consequences their operations may have on all stakeholders and the economic system as a whole. This mission is ambitious and requires the involvement of actors beyond the B Corp community and it is to be hoped that, as Christians, we would be a part of this effort to affect positive change for people and the planet.
Sophie Ford is one of the participants in the Jubilee Centre's 2020/21 SAGE Graduate Programme. She has a degree in International Relations from the University of Exeter.
To read Sophie's full research essay - and to see a video of her presentation at the 2021 SAGE Conference - click here.
This is a post by a guest contributor. The views expressed by guest writers are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jubilee Centre.