How can businesses be better stewards to their customers? There are lessons to be learned from the B Corporation movement.
Throughout March 2021, Springwise will be exploring the five themes of B Corp Month. This week, the focus is on how to be a better steward to customers. Springwise, and our partners at Re_Set, are both proud Certified B Corporations.
As a consumer, I’m a sucker for “green packaging”. The unwitting target of many a greenwashing scheme, I am regularly deceived into purchasing a laundry detergent that is not as plant-based as I was led to believe, or a mascara that later reveals itself to be less than “100 per cent organic”, and I’m far from the only one.
“Surveys have shown for years the desire from consumers to buy sustainably – but there has been a gap in action – mainly due to quality concerns and price differences,” says Rick Benfield, a Director at the London-based consultancy Re_Set. “All else being equal, the vast majority of people will choose the sustainable option when it comes to purchasing.”
For many consumers, what begins as an attempt to shop in earnest, to purchase ethical, socially-conscious brands that advocate sustainability, becomes a pursuit for truth, an infuriating quest that breeds cynicism and resentment, not to mention distrust. This is where Certified B Corps come in.
“B Corps are increasingly showing that they can be competitive on price and provide the right quality. This is where it gets exciting,” says Benfield.
You may have spotted the distinctive seal of approval — a black capital B encircled — stamped on better-known brands like Ben & Jerry’s, The Body Shop and Patagonia. While sometimes overshadowed by the colourful branding of companies it endorses, there’s no denying the gravitas that the accreditation represents. That is to say, it means a lot.
A Matter of Trust
The B Corporation movement was established in 2006 to formally distinguish those mission-driven companies from their competitors, thereby signifying a company’s absolute adherence to the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, legal accountability and public transparency.
Once attained, a company’s B Corp accreditation conveys to the public that they have passed a highly rigorous and multi-layered assessment that measures its impact on all areas of the organization: employees, customers, the community which it serves, governance, and, of course, the environment.
From the consumer’s perspective, knowing whether a company is a B Corp or not could be a powerful game-changer in their purchasing habits. As opposed to simply evaluating a product or a purchase, the B Corp certification gives customers a 360-degree view of a company’s impact.
As one participant of a recent study into the consumer motivations to purchase from B Corps puts it: “When I know that a product is B Certified, I trust how it was made. Instead, if a product mentions that it is eco-friendly, I have to ask someone to make sure that the product is really eco-friendly. If I know that it is B Certified, then I will quickly trust the product.”
The combination of third-party validation, transparency and accountability, generates a culture of trust and value, which, according to Hannah Williams, a business manager for the B Corp Certified ethical ad agency Good-Loop, has the potential to instigate change on a much greater scale.
“If you can impress your customers through your stewardship of the planet, the community, and deliver positive actions, then you can perpetuate positive change in the world,” she tells Springwise. By aligning a company’s values with “what the customer wants and hopes for”, the customer will come to “expect it from others. Each time we raise the bar and dazzle a customer, it’s to the long-term betterment of all.”
Similarly, Simon Hombersley, CEO of the B Corp Certified sustainable packaging material manufacturer Xampla, tells us that being able to demonstrate to customers that they are “genuinely sustainable, ethical and a viable option to tackle the plastic crisis is paramount.”
“We can create a sound product that has the potential to change the world, but without also showcasing Xampla’s role in society we would not be able to drive the business forward and scale up our impact for the future of our planet”, he adds.
An Exclusive, Innovative Club
The certification carries a lot of weight, in large part, because of the rigorous assessment process a business must undertake, and the accompanying innovation that often spearheads the positive change being aimed for.
The B Impact Assessment is tailored to each individual company and examines the impact of day-to-day operations and its business model. As a result, such scrutiny makes acquiring the minimum rating a difficult feat, thus ensuring that the B Corp community remains highly selective and undersaturated.
It’s an ongoing commitment as well. In order to maintain B Corp Certification, a company is required to update its assessment every three years. In line with this, the assessment questions are also updated, which requires companies to provide additional documentation to verify their answers.
In other words, it is not simply a case of when you’re in, you’re in — you have to be continually striving towards self-betterment. By stipulating that companies must “set improvement goals against the most-up-to-date standards and benchmark their performance over time”, recertification and the degree of honesty which it incites allow businesses to build stronger, more meaningful relationships with customers and clients.
During a panel discussion from this year’s edie Sustainability Leaders Conference, for which Springwise served as a proud media partner, Solitaire Townsend emphasized this very point. The co-founder of the change agency Futerra said that by not admitting that everything is perfect, companies are far more likely to succeed.
Far from being a communication barrier, this level of sincerity engenders greater trust and support from the customer who becomes more engaged in what the company is doing and the exciting potential for improvement and innovation.
Indeed, Carla Heim, a Senior Adviser for Purpose Entrepreneurship at the BDC, describes B Corps as being at “the cutting edge of innovation, good governance and corporate citizenship. They are tackling major systemic challenges. These are truly innovative businesses.”
This convergence of innovation and purpose amongst B Corp Certified companies is something Springwise has been aware of for quite some time, across sectors and from brands big and small.
Not many had heard of Lemonade — a peer-to-peer insurance provider that donates unclaimed money to charities chosen by its members — when we spotted them in 2016. Many more did after they were valued at €1.6 billion three years later.
While a successful business depends on several different factors, the role of consumer trust related to a company’s values is impossible to deny. For many customers — myself included — there’s also something to be said about the self-satisfaction and feeling of agency that comes from purchasing from B Corps. To quote another participant from the aforementioned survey:
“I purchase B Corps because I feel that this is the way to change the economy a bit, and to generate equity also. Consumers should put pressure on companies to produce less damaging products for the environment and [that are] more socially fair. I think that it is good to start with your own consumption behaviour and then more people will add up.”
Written by: Tabitha Bardsley
Our Better Business series aims to provide actionable takeaways for companies and entrepreneurs looking to bring more purpose to their work and create positive change within and beyond their sectors.
10th March 2021