Officially a certified B Corp!
Founding Partner Peter Dann led our B Corp certification and he’s been *inundated by questions from Partners, friends, industry colleagues and fellow travellers. Here are some of the answers he considers fit to print.
What exactly is a B Corp?
A B Corporation (or B Corp) is a company that is committed to the idea that business should be a force for good. The movement started in the US in 2006 and has now grown to over 6,000 companies worldwide and over 1,000 in the UK. B Corps make a public commitment to benefit all their stakeholders and the natural and human environment; this is backed up by a legal commitment made by amending their Articles of Association.
This all sounds very worthy but a bit niche, doesn’t it?
It shouldn’t do in 2022. We’re all aware of the challenges facing society and the planet, and every business has a responsibility to respond to these. We’re genuinely surprised by how few market research agencies are B Corps, indeed it’s very rare still across marketing services, but we’re joining some well known, major businesses: Danone, Ben & Jerrys, Innocent, Patagonia, Baileys, The Body Shop and The Guardian are all B Corps. Part way through our certification process Coutts, our bank, announced that they had been certified; then we knew we were doing the right thing. Our lovely cleaners Hive are a B Corp too – it takes all shapes and sizes.
Does this mean you’ll be focusing on social purpose from now on?
No more than we do already. Some B Corps are non-profit or social purpose organisations but most are mainstream commercial businesses. B Corps sign up to what’s called the ‘triple bottom line’ which means balancing Profits with People and the Planet. Making a profit is still the most important thing for any business, but we believe it shouldn’t be at the expense of others or of the environment.
What prompted you to become a B Corp?
Because we’re owned by our employees we’re all Partners in the business and everyone is encouraged to suggest ideas: all are taken seriously and it’s a big part of our Partner Representative’s job to facilitate these and make sure the Board hear them. This was one of the first suggestions that she brought to the Board; we looked into it and realised that the values of B Corps aligned very closely with our own.
What will change in the way you do business?
For some companies certifying as a B Corp is clearly a mammoth effort and I have nothing but respect for a manufacturing and distributing company like Danone or Innocent Drinks – satisfying the rigorous B Corp criteria across such a large scale operation is mind-boggling. For us, the certification was more of a validation that we were doing the right thing, but it has also prompted us to think about areas where we could and should be doing better: a key principle of B Corps is to commit to continuous improvement.
Coming back to that triple bottom line: I’m proud to say that we’ve managed to maintain The Nursery’s profitability over the years; when we became employee owned in 2020 that shifted the responsibility on us as managers to deliver that profit for the benefit of all the Partners, but B Corps definition of People extends to our clients, suppliers and our local community. Of course we’ve always been committed to doing the best work for our clients but we’d like to look at ways of measuring and monitoring our performance. And then we need to focus on the planet – we’ve pledged to achieve Net Zero by 2026 but we’re going to be talking to our suppliers about how we can beat that target, and then continue to improve - by reducing our offsetting for instance.
Does it bring any benefits to The Nursery?
I’m sure it will – we’re looking forward to collaborating with the UK B Corp community and learning from them. I hope it will also help us attract the best talent: people can see what we stand for and judge the kind of company we are. But I think the greatest benefits will be internal: the B Corps principles give us a framework to help us make concrete progress. We’ve always tried to run The Nursery ethically but we’ve always been conscious that that’s a pretty vague ambition: the B Impact Assessment is a really useful tool that gives you benchmarks and metrics across the business which you can use to analyse just how ethical and sustainable you are. And we weren’t marking our own homework – this is a pretty thorough third-party verification which at times felt like we were having our homework marked by the strictest teacher in school!
Whilst we’re all dead chuffed to have performed so well, we also get what’s called an improvement report which we can use as a roadmap to be an even better business, and by learning from other B Corps we can get tangible examples of best practice where we need to improve. Personally I hope that these frameworks will help engage Partners with our drive to reduce our carbon footprint – as a service business our footprint is small, and it’s sometimes hard to see your personal contribution, but that’s not an excuse – in fact it should be a reason for us all to measure and improve our own impact more closely.
How does being a B Corp sit with being employee-owned?
I think the two are closely related, and it’s no surprise that both kinds of business are growing like Topsy at the moment. Since we became employee-owned in 2020 the number of EO businesses in the UK has tripled while the number of B Corps has quadrupled. As an Employee Ownership Trust we’re required to run the business for the benefit of our employees, and that means not just making a profit but ensuring that the business itself is run sustainably – with a focus on profitability and stability in the long term rather than squeezing every last penny out of it each year. That is exactly the kind of business that B Corps have in mind: the movement was founded as an overt response to shareholder primacy and short-term profiteering.
Treating people well – especially employees – is at the heart of B Corps, but it’s not philanthropy. In our business we’re only as good as our people, and it’s the team that our clients work with that make the difference between us and the countless other research agencies they could use. Being a B Corp fixes that focus in our DNA: not only does it mandate that we treat our Partners well, but going the other way it reassures them that the business they own is going to do the right thing in the world – and that’s rightly important to our team and the people we’d like to attract to work here.
It sounds like you just walked through this certification process
That’s not what it felt like! They did warn us that it would be long and hard, and so it was – it took well over a year. There are over 130 different metrics, most of them requiring some sort of supporting evidence, and plenty of challenges from B Lab (the certifying body) to justify our position on a range of topics. But that makes the result more meaningful – we really can say that we do what we say we do, and we have earned the badge to prove it.
Was this really a good use of your time?
I’d say so, yes, and ultimately a very rewarding one too: for the business, and for me personally. This is my last year at The Nursery – I’m retiring in December – and I said I wanted to use this time well to make sure I left the business in the best shape possible. When we were the owners Lucy, David and I tried our best to run The Nursery ethically, sustainably and in line with our own values. When you give up control of your business you have to hope that its values will endure but you can’t be sure, so it’s very good for us to know that those values and plenty more are now enshrined in the Articles, and even more reassuring to know that they’re supported by the new owners – the Partners.
To find out more about our B Impact Score click here