Musings

6 tips on how to become a Certified B Corporation

Certified B Corporations, or B Corps, are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. From Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s to Warby Parker and thinkPARALLAX, we all have committed to building our businesses as a force for good. We are part of a global movement to redefine the purpose of business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

But becoming a B Corp isn’t easy. Companies must undergo the rigorous B Impact Assessment (BIA), a list of some 200 questions that evaluate a company in five specific areas: Workers, Community, Environment, Customers, and Governance.

Companies of any size and from any industry can take the free online assessment and choose whether or not to pursue certification. The B Corp community mirrors the global business landscape, ranging from sole proprietors to publicly-traded companies, and most of the 3,800+ B Corp are small businesses.

A company’s size, business sector, and geographic market determine the questions on the BIA. Because the assessment measures performance over the previous 12 months, only a company that has at least one year of operations under its belt is eligible for B Corp Certification. Companies less than a year old are eligible for Pending B Corp Status, and many startups find the assessment to be a useful tool to help shape their future policies and practices. The entire application process can take between six months to a year depending on the improvements necessary to pass certification.

The BIA is based on an impact scale of zero to 200, with 80 being the minimum score needed to receive certification. Most businesses fail the first time they take the assessment, with the average first score being around 50. Don’t let this deter you — certification is a journey and, with a strong growth mindset, you will get there. Here are some tips to help you be successful in achieving certification:  

1. Take the full assessment: If you’re considering certification, it is a good idea to take the full assessment and estimate answers just to get a rough baseline of where your company stands. Don’t go down a rabbit hole with any particular question, just mark it “N/A” and move on. The assessment saves answers as you go along, and you can revisit any question at a later time.

2. Formalize sustainability strategy and policies: While your company may recycle or prefer certain local suppliers, the BIA rewards only those practices that are formally spelled out in company documents, such as an employee handbook. Improve your score by creating policies that apply to all of your employees or formally documenting practices already in place but not yet written down. B Lab needs to see documentation of the policies to verify your answers, and having them in writing means they’ll be more accessible to your employees and more likely to remain in place throughout changes in leadership.

3. Measure sustainability performance: B Corps walk their sustainability talk. This means you need to be able to demonstrate that your company is working to improve its sustainability performance. To maximize points, it is imperative to track metrics for things such as employee attrition, energy use, or even how many employees take part in professional development opportunities. If you don’t track all of the metrics in the assessment, pick a handful of those most relevant to your business. You can’t improve your impact if you don’t know where you’re starting from.

4. Prioritize supply chain responsibility and diversity: All businesses have suppliers, whether those are printers, independent contractors, or raw materials. Discerning how you select and engage with your suppliers will open up several opportunities for more points in the Community section of the assessment, whether it’s a commitment to support women-owned businesses or a supplier screening tool that evaluates a potential vendor’s societal and environmental commitments. B Lab evaluates how a company spends its money as well as how it makes it.

5. Embrace sustainability in your corporate structure: Certified B Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on all of their stakeholders. You can make this legal change by updating your Articles of Incorporation, reincorporating as a benefit company or benefit corporation, or making other structural changes. In doing so, your company’s mission is less likely to fade with time or a change in ownership, and adopting a mission-aligned structure can earn you anywhere from 2.5-7.5 points in the Governance section of the assessment.

6. Be ready to back up your claims: Once you have done the groundwork, made the necessary improvements, and formally submitted your BIA, you will then be paired with a B Lab Standards Analyst who will conduct an in-depth virtual audit. For the audit, B Lab will randomly select six to 15 assessment questions and ask that you upload supporting documents in advance of your review call. During the 60-90 minute call, the Standards Analyst will review both the answers to your assessment and the documentation provided. At this point, it is typical to see your score adjusted (positive or negative) somewhere around 10 points.

After any score adjustments, if you have reached the verified 80-point threshold, met the legal requirement, and submitted supporting documentation, you can become a Certified B-Corp. You will first sign the B Corp Agreement that certifies your company for three years. It also commits you to participate in a more in-depth, future site review or audit (in-person or virtual) if your company is one of the 10 percent of B Corps randomly selected. This is meant to provide additional assurance that your company’s operations are accurately reflected in the B Impact Assessment.

To comply with the transparency requirement of certification, a public profile with your company’s score and impact report will be published on www.bcorporation.net.

In three years, you will need to complete an updated BIA and go through the verification process again in order to maintain certification.

Congratulations! You are now part of a global community of like-minded, mission-driven businesses. We are glad you’ve joined us.

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