An article published by the Financial Times discusses the growing scrutiny facing the B Corp ecosystem, which certifies companies for meeting specific standards for social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Many smaller companies, who were early adopters of the standards, are concerned about a focus on enlisting multinationals and getting them to be “less bad”.
Many have also raised questions about the credibility of B Lab. Companies, such as Nestle’s Nespresso, have received the certification, despite Nestle being consistently named one of the top plastic polluters globally.
B Lab was started with the goal of creating a different kind of economy where businesses could lead the way towards a stakeholder-driven model. Its comprehensive set of standards, policies, tools and programmes aims to shift the focus of capitalism through behavioural and cultural change in order to “balance profit with purpose” and enact high standards for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
Companies gain B Corp status upon the achievement of a score of 80 out of 200 evaluated on a variety of metrics across governance, worker conditions, customers, and the environment. Initiatives to secure the certification are also required to be written into the mission statement of the company and UK companies must rewrite their articles of association to include a commitment to social or environmental good.
B Lab believes that this legal commitment is what makes the certification more than just a tick-box exercise. However, some critics argue that the B Corp movement stops short of the changes required in the transition to net zero; it simply creates a platform for corporations to talk about, rather than enact real sustainability strategies.
Since inception, B Lab has sought to create a more inclusive economic system for all and has grown to over 6,400 certified B Corps across 158 industries. Major companies such as Danone, Patagonia and Ben & Jerrys have all joined the movement through which B-Lab aims to provide the necessary frameworks to create more mindful teams and leaders to run the next generation of businesses.
The answer is likely to be split based on the companies in question. There will undoubtedly be many B Corps that are going above and beyond to do better but it is difficult to tell who is and who isn’t.
Its assessments do not state that the goals need to be met and instead serves as more of a questionnaire than an audit, requiring no external publication of the data from the assessments. Therefore, the key issue with the platform ultimately comes down to the transparency of it all and, considering the track record of multinational corporates, I must say, I’m a little cynical to say the least.
However, despite any reservations about the programme, one may argue that something is better than nothing. In fact, until legislative change is enacted or the next B-Lab comes along with a strong value proposition for corporates, we must settle for what we have.