To B or Not to B Corp

Robert Costelloe, Head of Growth

13. 06. 2024

Robert Costelloe, Head of Growth

At Eat, we have always believed our work must deliver tangible, practical impact and benefit for our clients, stakeholders and communities. There is little point in crafting a powerful proposition and beautiful brand identity if client teams do not have the tools or understanding to use them effectively. This principle applies to our own development, and particularly as we progress through our journey to become a more climate positive, sustainable business.

At the time of writing – June 2024 – we are in the early stages. We’ve been monitoring and benchmarking our plastic consumption to see where we can reduce this fossil-fuel produced material in the office and at home. We’ve tracked electricity and water usage – from how much energy our devices and equipment consume (printers are a big energy black hole we have now learned…), to assessing our energy mix of renewables versus fossil fuels (particularly difficult when in a leased office space and you can only get your energy from a single provider…). To galvanise action further, we’ve become signatories to the Clean Creatives pledge – committing us to not working with fossil fuel companies, lobbying firms or representative organisations. It’s inspiring to be part of a collective of agencies over a thousand strong that are rejecting work from some of the world’s most damaging companies. 

But there is a global certification that we have been exploring – B Corp. Today, B Corp has become the poster child for businesses and brands to show their sustainability and equity credentials. Calculated across six areas including corporate governance, employee well-being and environmental stewardship, businesses go through a rigorous assessment that reveals what they are doing well and where improvements are needed to reach the minimum level (80 points out of a possible 200) for certification – a certification which is renewed on the basis of reassessment and payment of a fee.

B Corp has come prominently into the spotlight in the last couple of years, not only because brands overall are more actively pushing their sustainability plans, but also because of big name brands that have been granted B Corp status whilst operating businesses that are grossly damaging to the environment. Nespresso’s B Corp status saw tremendous backlash given allegations of their poor human rights record as well as the emissions and waste produced from their aluminium coffee capsules. The granting of B Corp status to a number of Danone subsidiaries was met with cries of outrage, particularly given the fact that Danone has consistently been in the top 10 largest corporate plastic polluters on the planet.

Now, we can’t tarnish the whole B Corp reputation by only looking at firms like Nestlé (owner of Nespresso) or Danone. There are nearly 8,000 B Corp certified organisations around the world today, many of which have made tremendous advances in reducing their emissions and enhancing ecosystems and society. As one of the current leading certifications for sustainable and equitable corporate governance, we must try to examine the benefits and pitfalls of the B Corp process and have taken the first step that may lead us to becoming a B Corp certified business.

This is the B Impact Assessment – a questionnaire that evaluates how near or far away you are from B Corp Certification by quantifying your commitments, policies and actions across the ESG spectrum. So what have we seen on our B Corp journey so far and are there challenges or opportunities when we look at the B Impact Assessment through the lens of being a Japanese agency?

The assessment comprises over 200 questions covering six separate areas. However, the need for the assessment to be somewhat relevant and applicable across all international markets, business models, cultures and societal norms, means there are questions that may not necessarily apply to your business or brand, or be actionable. This will negatively impact your assessment score.

In Japan for example, choice of energy provider is highly limited, with regional or prefectural providers having virtually monopolistic ownership of energy production and distribution. And when over 80% of energy production still comes from fossil fuel sources, there is very little option for companies to move to renewable sources. Therefore, questions in the B Impact Assessment that examine corporate energy mix and plans to diversify can be impossible to answer.

This also extends to questions about service providers and suppliers. Asked whether our company bank is a B Corp, independently owned or a cooperative, we can’t get a score for this question. All businesses in Japan, to be seen as reliable and trustworthy, are expected to have their banking services with one of the dominant financial institutions in Japan – MUFG, SMBC and Mizuho for example. And while it is an option to switch to a different provider, this can have big operational implications day to day, particularly in our field of work and being able to process client payments and other financial admin.

One additional element of the assessment that surprised us was not our score (47.2), but the seemingly low barrier to which we could get closer to qualification (a score of 80). By penning items such as a statement about diversity and including it in our job postings, or asking more questions about the diversity status of our suppliers, we can boost our score quite quickly. Granted, these measures would be scrutinized carefully in the next steps of the certification process there certainly seem to be quick wins to pursue.

The number of certified B Corps has climbed more than 30% year-on-year. This can be down to an increased urgency for firms to pursue certifications that are becoming more important in consumer decision making. But does the increase also suggest the qualifications for B Corp certifications could be tightened and push businesses harder to evolve if they want that star of recognition? Something to consider in your own evaluations and something that is expected to happen later this year.

Nonetheless, even if as a business or brand you have no intention in pursuing B Corp certification, undertaking the B Impact Assessment is a highly useful exercise for identifying some of the must dos that should go into a long-term corporate sustainability journey. The process for us highlighted a number of key areas that we could work towards – from developing an authentic corporate mission that has environmental or climate goals embedded within it, establishing a more pro-active volunteer programme for employees, or identifying where advancements can be made with landlords to diversify energy mix or lower emissions in leased office spaces.

As a small firm, we have to carefully balance bandwidth between progressing our client work and our sustainability foundations. The B Impact Assessment is therefore a valuable tool for us to identify the low-hanging fruit and longer term initiatives we can drive forward.

This is just one area in many that we are striving to become a more sustainable, climate positive and equitable business, and we look forward to sharing our challenges and wins as we continue our journey.

We’d love to hear from you – what have your experiences, ups and downs been on your sustainability or B Corp journey? Perhaps there are areas of opportunity for us to accelerate our sustainability ambitions together so do get in touch! 

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