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Being a B Corp in the professional services sector – what you need to know and why it’s worth considering

Author: Alison Powell

Published: 20 Jan 2022

Alison Powell, ICAEW Fellow, Finance Director, Bates Wells, explains what a B Corp is and why it makes sense to make your business more sustainable.

There has been a lot of talk recently about how business can be more purposeful and sustainable particularly in light of the challenges we face in terms of environmental and social justice. COP26 (link) and the movements around the Better Business Act, British Academy Future of the Corporation and ESG reporting requirements have served to sharpen the focus on these issues.

What is a B Corp?

The professional services sector is uniquely placed to make a positive impact on its clients and wider society. One way to address the challenge is by considering B Corp Certification for your business. B Corps are a group of businesses who are certified by B Lab (the not for profit organisation that monitors B Corps in the UK) as meeting the highest standards of social and environmental governance. They commit to balancing profit with purpose, operate in a climate-friendly way, work to support under-served populations and encourage strong local communities. There are more than 4,000 B Corps in 77 countries globally. The UK has become one of the fastest-growing B Corp communities in the world with almost 500 certified B Corps since the movement came here in 2015 and with more achieving certification every month.

To achieve B Corp certification, a company must commit to a triple bottom line. This means its directors have to commit to taking account of the impact of any corporate decisions on their people and the planet as well as considering financial returns. They must also demonstrate how they measure up in the way they treat their people, communities, clients and suppliers. B Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and accountability.

To certify, a company has to amend its articles of association to include a commitment to a triple bottom line, complete the B Impact assessment and score a minimum of 80 points following verification. The average score for businesses is 50.9 so to achieve certification, a company must be able to show how they create positive impact for their workers, community and the environment while operating in a way that is in line with governance best practice.

Why it’s worth it

Impact and authenticity

As a B Corp you can show that you are taking meaningful steps to improve your impact and that your business is operating with integrity. The assessment and verification process is stringent, so by certifying, it is clear to your people, clients and community that you really are acting decisively on the key issues affecting our society. This is increasingly important for clients of professional service firms so it is a meaningful way to differentiate your business from those who make claims but take no meaningful action on the climate and social justice issues that are increasingly important to the UK general public.

Collaboration and networking

The B Corp community in the UK is strong and willing to share. Your actions and reach are amplified when you work with fellow B Corps to address the challenges that we all face from the climate crisis to social justice. And B Corps are good at supporting each other, networking and creating opportunities for business. For example, B Lab UK have recently launched a B Corp FD Forum for collaboration between B Corp FDs with our support.

Engaging employees and attracting talent

B Corps are generally good places to work and have high levels of employee engagement. As a result, they attract and retain talent that in other circumstances might have been beyond their reach. It is well documented that Gen Z are much more interested in working for employers whose values align with their own.

Be ahead of the curve

It seems almost inevitable that the actions B Corps are already taking will become business as usual in the UK as we try to keep on top of climate goals and operate in line with consumer values. Becoming a B Corp now means you are operating ahead of the curve and are future-proofing your business from some of the changes that are likely to become a requirement over the coming years.

Good to know/top tips

Strategy and purpose

Have you articulated your firm’s purpose and values? Does your strategy align with this? If not, what can you do about it? What governance do you have in place, does this need a review?
Get organised: Look at your main constitutional and policy documents – are they in line with your values? What are your contractual arrangements like? Do they go far enough to embed purpose and impact? Have you looked at your suppliers – are they acting in line with your aspirations?

Resilience

Build resilience into your operations. Professional services firms are generally good at thinking about risk, but have you thought your resilience in light of the pandemic, climate change and Brexit? Start to build sustainability into your corporate strategy now to avoid playing catch up if this becomes a regulatory requirement.

Get talking

One of the biggest ways that you can make a difference is by influencing your competitors and your clients. We all have a role to play in addressing social and environmental injustice. Once you start working on this, start talking about it with your networks to amplify your impact.

Alison Powell
ICAEW Fellow
Finance Director, Bates Wells