How to become a UK B Corp
B Corporations – B Corps for short – are taking the business world by storm. Here's all you need to know about this exciting movement, and how to turn your business into a B Corp
They’re all certified B Corps, of course!
But what is a B Corp? And how can a humble startup business become part of the gang?
The B Corp concept revolves around a network of businesses that value people and the environment as much, if not more than profit – aiming to create “a global economy that uses business as a force for good” (bcorporation.net).
Since its establishment in 2006, the B Corp movement has been dubbed “the future of business.” Its visionary mission is to create a community of businesses that are willing to serve as the building blocks for a healthier, more sustainable, and ultimately more ethical society.
An American dream that has grown into a global concern, the B Corp movement began in the US state of Pennsylvania, and has since spread to over 60 countries around the world.
On home soil, B Corp UK launched in 2015, with 62 companies claiming status. There are now as many as 188 B Corps in the UK – 166 of which are fully certified, with 22 Pending B Corp businesses.
Read on for all you need to know about what B Corps are, what a Pending B Corp is, and the three steps to acquiring B Corp status for your own startup business.
In this article, we will cover:
- B Corp definition
- The three steps to becoming a B Corp
- What’s a Pending B Corp?
- The B Corp community
- B Corp benefits
B Corp definition
Being a B Corp means that certified businesses are part of a wider network of like-minded, for-profit organisations that see the business sense in making money, but also the business value in their capacity for positive social change.
Throughout any decision-making process, a certified B Corp will consider how each business move will impact both the community and the environment. Rather than being driven solely by profits, every B Corp has a vision that’s grounded in moral and social good.
Certified B Corp status is awarded to those businesses that meet very high standards in social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. This criteria is verified by B Lab, the not-for-profit organisation behind the B Corp movement.
B Corp requirements
To become fully certified, a business must score 80 out of a possible 200 points in an online survey of 150 questions, as well as pass a phone interview with B Lab. A prospective business must also provide the necessary supporting documentation to validate its claims, and amend its corporate bylaws to include its commitment to positive social and environmental change.
It’s important to know that whilst B Corps are brilliant, they’re not completely perfect. In fact according to B Lab’s Dermot Hikisch “Our expectation is that no company will ever score 200 points,”. By keeping every B Corp striving for the 200 score, the B Lab ensures that there’s always room for a business to build on its positive values. After all, there’s no such thing as too much social good, is there?
Sounding like a lot to take in? Don’t worry, we’ll break it down.
Read on for all you have to do to become a B Corp in three simple steps. Or, if it’s a broader look at business ethics you’re after, take a look at our section on green & social business.
The three steps to becoming a B Corp
Step 1: Complete the self assessment
Used by over 50,000 businesses, the B Impact Assessment (BIA) is a free, online platform that evaluates how your company interacts with your workers, customers, community, and environment.
To qualify, your business must score at least 80/200 in a self assessed performance assessment that focuses on B Corp’s five key areas:
- Community (physical or virtual)
This step will take approximately 90 minutes, depending on the size and complexity of your business. It’s also possible to ‘save as you go’, so you don’t have to do it all in one chunk.
You will receive questions tailored to the size and sector of your business. In fact, most businesses that use the B Impact Assessment are firms that have between 0 and 50 employees. The questions in the B Impact Assessment (BIA) will look something like this:
After completing your BIA, the information from your self assessment is passed to the B Lab team. B Lab will then verify your score, rigorously analysing and verifying the long-term validity of your claims, to determine if your company meets the 80-point bar for certification.
At this stage of the process, you may be asked to produce some supporting documents to verify claims you’ve made in the BIA. For example, if you state that 45% of the ingredients used in your products come from recycled materials, you’ll need to provide documentation proving this claim, such as a spreadsheet detailing all ingredients and specific recycled percentages, or invoices that show ingredient characteristics.
Gathering together this kind of documentation can be time consuming and complex, so be prepared to invest your time and manpower into the job.
Once this step is complete, your business will receive an impact report. Should you qualify as a B Corp, your report will be published online on the official B Corp website, and will look something like this:
Note: reassessment is required every two years. Any company can fill out B Lab’s free self-assessment tool anytime to measure its impact on employees, the community and the environment, and get details on more than 150 best practices.
Step 2: Meet the legal accountability requirement for B Corp Certification
Make sure your business is in-line with the legal stuff. B Corp status is available to companies with at least six months of revenue – including Corporate Leaders’ Groups, Commercial Listing Services and Community Interest Councils – that are able to demonstrate the following:
- The majority of revenue is generated through trading
- The business competes in a competitive marketplace
- The business is not a registered charity
- The business is not a public body, nor is it owned by the state
You’ll also need to have, or adopt, governing documents that include an objects clause stating that the success of the business is designed to benefit its shareholders, and makes a pledge to have a material, positive impact on both society and the environment.
The governing documents of B Corps must also state that board members need to acknowledge a range of ‘stakeholder interests’. This means considering all shareholders, employees and suppliers, whilst justly regarding the impact any business decision might have on both society and the environment.
Critically, the business’ governing documents must stress that shareholder value is not the prime business consideration, but is one factor amongst the many stakeholder interests to be taken into account during the day-to-day running of the business.
Please note that the above is by no means extensive legal advice. If you’re looking to amend your business values to incorporate the interests of employees, consumers, the community, and the environment into your corporate governing documents, we strongly suggest that you discuss this move with your legal advisors.
Doing so keeps things watertight, making sure that you don’t leave your business open to any risks or loopholes that might occur if you reshuffle your corporate structure.
For a helping hand along the path to legal compliance, here’s a step-by-step guide to amending your constitutional documents. And, for a more comprehensive breakdown of ‘the legal stuff – including which aspects of the B Corp legal language you’ll need to incorporate into your constitutional documents – take a look at the full legal agreement for B Corp certification.
Step 3: Sign the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence, and pay the fees.
The declaration of interdependence states that all B Corps “must be the change they seek in the world.”
Also stated within the declaration is the following:
“All business ought to be conducted as if people and place matter.
“Through products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
“Businesses must act with the understanding that we are dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.”
Your annual certification fee will depend on your annual sales figures, as detailed below:
|Annual sales:||Annual fee:|
|£0 – £149,000||£500|
|£150,000 – £1,999,999||£1,000|
|£2m – £4,999,999||£1,500|
|£5m – £9,999,999||£2,500|
|£10m – £19,999,999||£5,000|
|£150,000 – £1,999,999||£1,000|
|£20m – £49,999,999||£10,000|
|£50m – £74,999,999||£15,000|
|£75m – £99,999,999||£20,000|
|£100m – £249,999,999||£25,000|
|£250m – £499,999,999||£30,000|
|£500m – £749,999,999||£37,500|
|£750m – £999,999,999||£45,000|
|£500m – £749,999,999||£37,500|
|£1 B+||£50,000+ (company structure dependent)|
What’s a Pending B Corp?
Only available to companies that have been operating for less than 12 months, Pending B Corp status is designed to help early stage companies make that commitment count.
It’s a stepping stone towards becoming a fully certified B Corp (although full certification is not mandatory beyond the pending stage).
After 12 months, Pending B Corps can then go through the full B Corp Certification process. However, with a head start on the legal requirement and full knowledge of the B Impact Assessment, Pending B Corps should certify with ease.
How to become a Pending B Corp
To become a Pending B Corp, you simply go through the B Impact Assessment with best estimate answers, and meet the legal requirements for certification.
Then there’s the £500 fee, for which your company can use the “Certified B Corp: Pending” intellectual property, so you can publicly communicate your commitment.
Why become a Pending B Corp?
To show current and future investors that your company is already beginning to measure and manage its social and environmental performance with the best tools available
Demonstrate strong governance by adopting the legal framework early, protecting mission and brand equity from the beginning
Become part of the B Corp community, helping you network with like-minded, ethical businesses
Pending B Corp Case study:
Don’t Cry Wolf, a communication consultancy that runs with an ‘honesty is the best policy’ attitude, proudly displays its Pending B Corp status as a true badge of honour by incorporating the Pending B Corp logo into an attention grabbing graphic on its website.
We caught up with John Brown, founder and CEO of Don’t Cry Wolf, to find out a little more about their B Corp journey – and what transitioning from pending to certified status will mean for them.
Why did you decide to gain B Corp accreditation in the first place?
“We wanted to be held accountable for the promises we were making. It’s all well and good to bang on about how ethical or environmentally friendly you are, but without some independent verification and having your feet held to the fire, it’s all just words.
“Being a Pending B Corp gives you that accountability. The B Corp promises also become a little voice in your ear when you’re making day-to-day decisions, so you’re constantly pushed to be better, do good things, and focus on much more than just the bottom line.
“It’s also a community we’re proud to be a part of and we’ve really got stuck into. Our accountants and HR team are B Corps, and we’ve partnered with a fantastic creative agency, Leap, to work on exciting projects together. None of these connections would have been made without being part of the B Corp community.
“Finally, I am convinced it’s a competitive edge. More businesses are going to be under the microscope from an ethical and environmental perspective. This will have an impact across their entire supply chain. So, being able to wave the B Corp flag gives you that edge in pitches and procurement procedures.”
How long has the process taken?
“We were able to submit all our documents and certification content quite quickly, taking about a month in total. That’s the benefit of going for B Corp early in a company’s life, because you start creating a B Corp from scratch rather than trying to turn an existing business into one.
“So, getting your house in order is dependent on how messy it is. That said, there’s huge interest in B Corp now, so even if you’re pretty fast at sorting things out, you can wait for about three to six months to go through to full certification.”
Do you have any top tips or warnings for startup businesses looking to become a B Corp?
1. “Start early! The less you have to change, the better – plus you can build things from scratch.”
2. “Live the philosophy. B Corp should be at the front of your brand, and should guide your decisions.”
3. “Get involved. The community is outstanding and, obviously, share similar beliefs as to how a business should be managed. Be an active part of the movement.”
The B Corp community
Fruit Towers, the headquarters of Innocent Drinks, recently played host to an exclusive event – the guestlist for which consisted entirely of B Corps and Pending B Corps.
According to Don’t Cry Wolf’s online blog, it was well worth attending for the delicious snacks produced by B Corp businesses.
But there’s more to it than just good grub. The B Corp community offers a wealth of networking opportunities to build relationships with other businesses that run to similar standards, spending time with like-minded entrepreneurs who also value business ethics.
B Corp community news:
Another snippet of recent B Corp community action comes in the form of Waitrose’s newest addition to its online shop: a specific B Corp section that only sells products made or supplied by certified B Corp businesses. Although the John Lewis–Waitrose partnership isn’t a B Corp itself, having a section of their online shop dedicated to selling B Corp only products shows how big businesses are looking to do business with B Corps, and promote companies with ethics-based values.
Partially designed as an experiment to understand more about conscious consumerism, the Waitrose B Corp online trail has been in place since early 2019. It groups together 50 products from 20 different brands, raising awareness of the B Corp movement and gauging its marketable value.
So, who’s actually in the British B Corp gang?
Big, small, startup or corporate, there’s a huge variety of businesses proudly flying the B Corp flag. We can’t list all 188, but for the full directory, head to the official B Corp website and check out who’s ahead of the B Corp curve.
B Corp benefits
But “why do you need to become a Certified B corp to be a good business?” we hear you cry. Well, it’s easy enough to grow a business with the best of intentions – but how will your customers, employees, investors and partners know that you’re oh-so-socially good without an official stamp of approval?
Being a B Corp is more than just a badge – it’s a clear sign to all stakeholders, both internal and external, that you’ve got your business in order and you’re running an ethical enterprise. The B Corp certification process is no walk in the park – B Lab are very thorough in ensuring the ethical credibility of all B Corps.
Certifying as a B Corp is a true test of business mettle – showing that, as a business, you’re fully transparent, accountable and profitable.
The B Corp movement is a moral compass for best business practice – existing to guide business owners and entrepreneurs in a direction that’s ethical and sustainable, as well as profitable and successful.
B Corp Benefits case study:
Bournemouth-based concierge service Just Move In is one such business that is able to vouch for the benefits of being a B Corp. We asked co-founder Ross Nichols: what does being a B Corp mean to Just Move In, and how has the status benefited the business?
“For us, it’s embedded into everything we do – from the first time we interview a prospective new member of the team, right the way through to how we engage with and speak with suppliers.
“There’s been a huge shift – at least within the UK – whereby consumers and brands are wanting to align themselves to products and services which have a positive impact. In being a B Corp, we’re opening ourselves up to a growing audience that is thinking more about what they consume, and their impact – be that on society or the environment.
“We were fortunate to certify the week before Innocent did, so for a couple of weeks, we had lots of people getting in touch to find out more, because we were listed directly next to them on the B Corp website. We now also know the Innocent sustainability team, so that’s been pretty cool.
“Aside from that, we’ve found [being a B Corp] to be a huge benefit across the board, not just from a sales perspective but also from a recruitment point of view, and everything in between. Increasingly, we want to align ourselves to other B Corps, and we’re also now seeing our non-B Corp partners are super-interested in finding out more about B Corps too.”
Gaining B Corp status means that as a business, you are committed to treating people, communities and the environment as they should be treated: respectfully, sustainably, and ethically.
The status itself is certified by B Lab – the not-for-profit organisation behind the B Corp movement – who are responsible for individually assessing the transparency, accountability and performance of every B Corp.
Cutting corners and turning a blind eye to discimination or unethical business practice is not in-line with the B Corp vision. As such, those businesses that are already flying the B Corp flag are proving their commitment to the society in which they operate – showing more than just a keen sense of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), but proving via credible means that they’re a business committed to making positive change.
The B Corp status is attractive to so many businesses because it’s a way of proving that a company walks the walk, as well as talking the talk. What’s more, startup businesses are in the best possible position to gain B Corp status. This is because, if the business is running lawfully, ethically and sustainably, the model will already align to the B Corp values – so a huge infrastructural upheaval to qualify as a B Corp shouldn’t be necessary.
There’s really nothing to lose. Why not fill out the B Impact Assessment (BIA) today, and see how close you are to that magic score of 80? You can also find out how you compare to other businesses, and gain a greater understanding of what you can do to make your business even better.