Jul 5 '17
B Corp certification is really starting to kick off in the UK. If you haven’t heard of B Corporations, they are for-profit companies certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Essentially B Corp is to business what Fairtrade is to coffee. Today, there is a growing community of more than 2,100 Certified B Corps from 50 countries and over 130 industries working together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business.
Up until last year, the majority of B Corps were US-based, but we have an increasing number of UK B Corps in a whole range of sectors from law and marketing, to food and play equipment. We’re launching a series of B Corp articles aimed at highlighting B Corp status and celebrating UK B Corps. But first off, we’ve interviewed Elephant Creative director Helen Hammond about her journey to B Corp accreditation and why it matters to the business.
Why did you decide to work towards B Corp status?
About a year ago I was doing some work for BWB, who were one of the first companies to become a certified B Corp. I was helping to write their annual report, which included their B Corp journey, and I became really interested in the process. For me it was never really about the end result, and I thought it would be a great way to review how Elephant was working. The best thing about the B Corp status is that it forces you to look at every aspect of the business, from which lightbulbs you’re using, to which clients you work for and your marketing strategy. I felt like Elephant had reached a place where it needed a gear change, and this seemed like a great way to do that. I wasn’t really expecting us to meet the accreditation because of our innovative and virtual business structure, but I thought it would still help us to review our finances and procedures – they’ve got a really handy online checklist so you know what you’re looking for. Whilst I’m so pleased that Elephant did pass in the end, it really was the process it offered that drew me in.
What aspects of your business did you need to change or adapt to meet the accreditation? What was the hardest one to change?
We didn’t have to change that much, actually. Most of what we’re about at Elephant Creative fits instinctively with the ethos of B Corp, and an important part of being offered accreditation is the recognition that you’re already doing well. It wasn’t about changing what we were doing practically, but about being made to really think about why we do what we do. It’s easy in our world, particularly virtual businesses, to not practice what you preach. We spend a lot of time giving advice to clients, but that doesn’t mean we’re always the best at taking it. We wanted to put theory and rigour behind what we were doing and, to put it bluntly, not give ourselves permission to be lazy – and that’s easier said than done.
On a daily basis what does being a B Corp mean for Elephant?
A lot of it is the little things that are easy to ignore. It might not be particularly sexy, but putting out the recycling and using eco-friendly cleaning products is more important than it sounds. After that it’s about making sure we’re choosing clients wisely, and refusing to work for businesses that you believe to be unethical. Purely in terms of the business, it’s put us into a much healthier position in terms of cash flow. By focusing on being sustainable it’s driven down certain costs in the long run, meaning we’ve freed up cash to do more charity and pro-bono work. But mainly it’s about not just focusing on the here and now, but looking at the bigger picture and constantly asking yourself how and where your choices are going to have an impact.
What are the challenges to becoming and being a B Corp?
On a really practical level it’s hugely time intensive – particularly when you’re running a business on your own. There are a lot of hoops you have to jump through, because every tiny aspect of your business gets passed through a fine-toothed comb. I think we took the right approach to the process in that it was about the journey and not the end result. Doing the right thing is often not the easy option, which means you’re going to need commitment and conviction. Sometimes it means that you’re going to have to spend more money to ensure you chose the ethical option, but you can’t put a price on what’s right.
What do you like about B Corp status?
I’ve been really blown away but just how fast we became part of a really wonderful community. We’ve had so many other B Corps get in touch with us, sometimes just to have a chat and say well done but also offers to get together and share ideas. The greatest thing about it is feeling like you’re part of a whole network that, despite its variety, is working towards something that really matters.
Do you have plans to make any further business changes in line with B Corp ideal?
Definitely. This is just the beginning, and we’ve got lots more that we’re working on implementing at the moment. The business-world is changing at a faster and faster pace as technology changes, so we’re always having to reassess what we can do better. We were so excited to have become a certified B Corp, but we’ve got to be careful not to rest on our laurels. It’s a real responsibility you’ve got to keep up.