The Journey To Becoming a Certified B Corp
Why become a Certified B-Corp?
“Becoming a Certified B Corp has made us a better company, a better corporate citizen, and a better employer. It has helped us see our social and environmental practices under a microscope. The process of certification has been a tremendous education and has offered us a pragmatic way to measure our performance and set improvement goals.”
— Erin Douglas, Banyan Botanicals Press Release
- We wanted to measure how we were doing in terms of social and environmental responsibility and B Corps provides a template for being able to assess how well we were really walking our talk. We also wanted to take our work to a new level. By measuring, we could see what we were already doing well and identify some areas for improvement.
- Certifying is a differentiator and helps attract new customers and employees to Banyan. And so we became certified to deepen existing relationships and build loyalty. An unexpected positive outcome of becoming certified has been the positive feedback we have received from our employees and our customers.
- We are inspired by other Certified B Corp companies like Patagonia and Ben and Jerry’s. We wanted to join the B Corp tribe and learn from others.
- B Corp certification is a pragmatic way to address some of the world’s most pressing issues such as climate change. We want to do more to reduce our carbon footprint and this is a way of working toward that.
- Note: Since Banyan’s certification, B Lab and the United Nations Global Compact have created the SDG Action Manager, a free web-based impact management solution to enable businesses to take action on the SDGs through 2030. The SDG Action Manager enables users to complement the BIA’s comprehensive, stakeholder-based view with a more focused look at their performance on individual Sustainable Development Goals.
“Being a B Corps doesn’t mean much to most people. But for those that do know what it entails, and after going through the process and seeing that for ourselves, we have even more respect for our peers who are certified because we know what you have to do to become certified, and it’s quite rigorous.”
— Kevin Casey, Co-Founder and CEO, Banyan Botanicals
We started our journey by first taking the Quick Impact Assessment (QIA) which is a free tool that any size company can use to see where you stand. B Corps says it takes 30 minutes. It takes a lot longer just because you want to make sure you are answering the questions as accurately as possible. Even that was a hugely educational process. Answering the questions helped us look at things from a different perspective and learn new ways to make positive social and environmental impact we hadn’t previously known about. We highly recommend the tool for benchmarking and setting goals even if a company then chooses not to certify.
Once you complete the Quick Impact Assessment (QIA), you can convert it into the full, 200 Question, B Impact Assessment (BIA). A company completes this on its own until they hit 80 points. Then a B Corp analyst, someone who knows the assessment inside and out, will be assigned to your company to review your assessment. They ask you lots of questions and will coach you to help you get more points. Your analyst will also tell you if you’ve answered questions incorrectly. During our first Analyst call, Banyan lost some points and gained some points. When you reach 80 points or higher, you then have the option of submitting your assessment for verification, and then you enter the verification phase. You will only submit your assessment for verification if you plan to certify and are prepared to pay the annual fees to certify.
The verification process, to validate a company’s answers, requires showing proof in the form of policies, documentation, meeting notes, and sometimes even photos. For example, B Lab (the certifying organization) requested meeting notes, and photos from supplier visits, as well as photos of how we compost our herbal waste. You work with the same analyst you had your call with, and she/he will randomly select questions in the assessment for you to upload documents directly into the assessment to verify your answers. The analyst may then ask for additional or different documents. “It’s very rigorous,” Erin said. In this way, it really proves that a Certified B Corp is committed to social and environmental performance.
This process took several months because there was a lot of back and forth communication and because B Lab, the certifying organization/team, is at capacity, they are very busy certifying companies.
Some key take-aways from going through the process:
- The free B Corp assessment is the most credible and rigorous tool a company can use to measure its impact on its workers, community, environment, and customers. We were not measuring these impacts in a tangible way prior to beginning the B Corp assessment.
- Taking the assessment helped Banyan to better measure and benchmark our social and environmental efforts and impact. Identifying our successes and most importantly, shining light on the areas that need attention, helped us set our improvement goals year over year.
- Going through the assessment is like getting certified in sustainable practices. Each question offers the organization an opportunity to better understand their own business practices, and then research and discover new and better ways to positively impact stakeholders. For example, during the assessment Banyan learned about the importance of paying a “living wage” to our employees, which, we discovered, is not just based on what you pay, but the cost of living in the counties you employ in. Our HR Manager now checks MIT’s living wage calculator every year to ensure we are paying living wages to our employees.
- Going through the assessment was an education in itself. We would take the questions back to the leadership team and explore them together. Each change requires action items. Say for the living wage, we had to develop a way to gather the data and make the assessment, to come up with a plan to implement and follow through on those action steps, and to add a framework for measuring the issue in an ongoing way. Sometimes that just involves one department, but other times it involves more.
- The assessment awards points are based on positive actions, so it’s rewarding to watch your assessment score improve while implementing/measuring positive actions across the company.
- To become certified, you need to fulfill the legal requirement by becoming a Benefit Corporation or updating your operating agreement to state that you are considering other stakeholders (employees, community, environment, customers). We now have a clause in our operating agreement that states we are not just in business to serve the company owners, but to consider the impacts of our day-to-day management decisions on all stakeholders, including the environment. The CEO of the company now has legal coverage to make decisions that don’t maximize profit. In contrast, traditional operating agreements only use wording that considers shareholder primacy and maximizing profits. If the business is ever sold, any new owner needs to uphold these values.
B Lab makes it clear that these steps have to be on paper and in practice. You can’t just write a policy. You have to train on it, make sure your employees have bought in, and that they continue to have buy-in. For Banyan, it wasn’t that hard to get employee buy-in because we hire people who are committed to being socially and environmentally conscious. Even so, it still required a lot of education across various teams and departments to get the entire company on board with new policies and procedures.
See Promoting Livelihoods the FairWild Way for a story of FairWild certified haritaki, which Banyan has helped establish.
Costs and Challenges
“B Corps is not just about getting a certification. It’s a way of approaching business that is holistic. You really need to commit to it and make it part of your culture. You don’t want to just become a B Corp, you want to be a B Corp. If you have the attitude, “Oh, I’m just going to knock out these points and get a certification, and then I’m done” then you won’t get as much out of it as truly embracing it as a mode of operating in business.”
— Kevin Casey, Co-Founder and CEO, Banyan Botanicals
- The assessment is a free tool available to any company or industry.
- Annual Certification Fees are based on annual sales. Banyan paid $5,000 to certify in 2019. This will be their annual certification fee. Fees are increasing. Read more about certification fees here.
The biggest cost was the time investment. It is a lot more complex and time consuming than we expected. Because B Corp is at capacity, companies are really on their own to figure out the mechanics of the assessment as well as to research and create templates for new policies and procedures. Had we known how much time it would take us, we would have probably sought out the support of a B Corp Consultant to help coach us and map out a process.
We started the assessment in Fall of 2016 and were certified in May 2019. The biggest challenge was creating the time to complete the assessment. We needed already busy managers to gather information across departments and integrate new policies/procedures. We chose not to rush through the certification process and used it as a time to educate our teams and get buy-in from department stakeholders about why we were creating new policies/procedures.
What was easier than you expected?
- Businesses that have an “Impact Business Model” can qualify for a big chunk of points at once. For us, we were able to earn these “Impact Business Model” points because our products are organic. Read more about Impact Business Models.
- Once we submitted our documentation during the verification process, we were certified as a B Corp the very next day. It happened very quickly once documentation was complete.
Overall Changes Made Since becoming B Corps Certified
- We launched a 401k matching program.
- We’ve been motivated to do more in our communities and launched a new community grant fund in June, something we have been talking about for years.
- We have made sourcing more environmentally friendly packaging a higher priority.
- We created our first public-facing Social and Environmental Responsibility report.
- Because of certification, we now make more time and have a structured system for setting goals. During the certification process, we created the new role of Corporate Responsibility Manager to ensure we are properly managing and evaluating our impact. Erin, CR Manager, and Kevin, CEO, meet weekly to review impacts and improvement opportunities and goals.
- During our annual planning process, each department now includes social and environmental goals for the year to inspire more positive change and hold various departments accountable to our goals. Most of our managers now have an area of responsibility written into their job descriptions that concerns social and/or environmental impact.
What other unexpected pay offs/values have you found?
- It has been really fun to celebrate our B Corp status with our team. Employees have a new level of energy and excitement about our future together and the future of humanity.
- We have new inspiring and meaningful stories to share about how we are using our “business as a force of good.” And we receive constant positive feedback from many employees and customers.
- We get to be a part of the broader B Corp community and attend the annual B Corp Champions Retreat where B Corps from around the globe discuss ideas and share best practices.
- Certified B Corps have access to the B Hive: an online community of peers and leaders. Take advantage of sharing best practices, asking questions, and exclusive discounts for B Corps and their employees.
Tips for other organizations considering taking the B Impact assessment and certifying
- It’s important to have the buy-in and support from the CEO and leadership team on the value of B Corp Certification. It makes the process of certifying more meaningful and productive.
- Start with the Quick Impact Assessment to get your feet wet.
- Once you are ready to dive into the full Impact Assessment, start with the workers section, as B Lab recommends. There are five sections in all. Once you complete the free assessment, you can identify the lower hanging fruit and start with that.
- Brief the entire company that this is coming and will involve work and commitment.
- We recommend having one person at the company act as the main “B Corp Champion” to enter answers to all the questions into the final assessment. This person exports the questions into a shared Smart Sheet or Google sheet as a working document so that each stakeholder can answer their specific questions when they have time.
- It may also be helpful to give each internal department champion (such as an HR Manager and Supply Chain/Purchasing Manager) a tour of the online assessment to give them a birds-eye view. This can generate excitement and get buy-in before starting the assessment and assigning questions.
- If you can enlist the support of a consultant, it may save your organization loads of time (and therefore money!).
- Companies must recertify every 3 years, and B lab revises the assessment every three years. Banyan expects recertification to take a good amount of time as all 150+ questions must be re-answered and verified.
Erin is passionate about the B Corp movement and using business as a force for good. If you have any questions about Banyan’s certification journey or getting started, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org