Fed up of people and companies talking a good talk but doing nothing about it?
So were we.
At UrbanVolt we created Light as a Service (LaaS®) so that we could have a measurable impact on the environment.
We deliver our clients immediate and measurable energy savings and we’re really proud of the fact that we have helped our first 250 clients to save energy equivalent to permanently taking more than 8,500 homes permanently off the energy grid.
But we still felt that we weren’t doing enough. How could we amplify and grow what we’re doing? And also build it into the DNA of the company?
Businesses have to make money to survive – that’s a given. But that’s not enough anymore. We must collectively do the right thing, and especially when it comes to the environment.
That was when we started to explore becoming a B Corporation – B Corp for short.
B Corps are for-profit businesses which are primarily trying to solve a social or environmental issue through their enterprise. In other words, there is more than just one bottom line. The aim is not only to be the best in the world (as all businesses want to be), but also to be best for the world.
So what exactly is a B Corp and how do you become one?
We first heard about B Corps while listening to an interview by the CEO of Patagonia outerwear. For Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet. They donate time, services and at least 1% of sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental groups all over the world who work to help reverse the tide.
In other words, they’re not just talking about doing the right thing, they’re actually putting action behind their words. They’re #DoingNotJustTalking.
Patagonia’s values reflect a desire to use the power of business to fundamentally change the world for the better, and we found this inspirational. We believe that it is not only possible to balance purpose with profit, but that it is the future of the western capitalist model.
So we began to formally explore how to become a B Corp.
In total, it took UrbanVolt about six months to complete the process, from initial application to approval. To become a B Corp, companies first fill out an online assessment. After getting their score, they can elect to continue the detailed process through a review with a B Lab staffer.
To complete the certification, companies then must meet certain legal requirements that vary by jurisdiction and also reshape their legal structure for the company’s management and board. This means that the company can make decisions which benefit stakeholders besides just investors.
As well as taking a significant amount of senior management time, we had several months of review of each topic. The final piece of the approval requires that your application is peer-reviewed by existing B Corp members, who must approve your application. Companies are then subject to a re-certification process every two years.
So it is not for the faint hearted or the semi-committed. It is not simply a tick box exercise and every question we were asked was deeply analysed and commented upon.
But the huge advantage that comes along with that?
We know that every other member of the B Corp community has gone through a similarly stringent process and has met the same criteria. And the same goes for members of the public, or businesses, who are looking to do business with brands who stand for something other than just the bottom line.
Being a B Corp elevates members above others who are chasing only the bottom line, sometimes to the detriment of all else.
So how did we score?
We scored above the median for B Corp status, but we still have a ways to go to reach the levels that we want to attain.
While we help communities to reduce their CO2 output and consume less energy, we want to work on improving the benefits we deliver to the wider community. Some of the questions we’ll be asking ourselves is what are we doing to promote and use local suppliers? How are we scoring our local suppliers for their environmental impact? How often are we lending our work spaces to community causes to meet? These are all things we will be improving on so that we can add even more to the wider community.
Since achieving B Corp status, we’ve been approached by a number of companies who are considering going through the same process.
Our advice? You must be committed in order to enter the process and come out the other end. This is not something you can just pay a fee for and then use the certification in your marketing. Becoming a B Corp requires a deep level of commitment from ALL of your stakeholders. It can make sometimes make the investment community nervous when you say that you will rank your obligation to your employees, customers and your community at the same level as your creditors and your shareholders.
It is very easy to talk the talk, but when you have to change your legal structure as well as your corporate governance documents, it becomes a lot more difficult. There is a huge commitment required and we believe that being publicly proclaimed as a B Corp reflects this commitment to the world.
As there are no other indigenous B Corps in Ireland, it probably isn’t as well known in our first market.
But we are proud to nail our colours to the mast and publicly commit to using the power of business to do good and influence positive change in the world. The company you keep tells the world a lot about your mission and your values. And the B Corp brand associates us with other exceptional B Corp companies, such as Patagonia, Warby Parker, Toms Shoes and Ben & Jerry’s.
Will you join us?