Going the extra mile
Delivering impact through your core products and services Copy link
You don’t need to have founded your company as an impact-first business to leverage your products and services for impact. The more you bring environmental and social support and impact into your core business model, the more you are leveraging your core business operations to deliver positive impact at scale. Coupling growth with impact is the corporate world’s biggest asset in contributing to a sustainable future.
Read this compelling article on why start-ups should focus on total addressable impact:
“Start-ups have something that the Fortune 500 do not: the ability to choose what problems to go after. The large battleships that make up corporate America are not agile enough to pivot toward society’s most important problems. But as start-ups, choosing focus areas is far easier.”
There are many ways in which products and services can be leveraged for impact, which we’ve summarised into four main categories:
1. Utilising core technology to support a charitable cause (i.e. product philanthropy)
- Kili uses its labelling technology to annotate and clean a dataset for developing a model for plastic detection in rivers.
- Levity puts its AI technology towards groundbreaking study in the study of human trafficking.
- Hotjar offers free business accounts to nonprofits, to help them gain a better understanding of their user base and drive greater engagement. Over 1,000 nonprofits use it and the program is almost fully automated and run by customer care.
2. Facilitating customer charitable giving and impact initiatives
- Ezoic, the AI-driven tech platform for digital publishers serving over 4,000,000,000 charity ads using unsold publisher inventory, gives their clients the option to donate ad inventory to campaigns promoting nonprofits while benefiting their own websites.
- smol encourages customers to give free washes to those in need every time their order processes through their “donate a wash” scheme. Donated products are distributed to the community by the Hygiene Bank (UK charity).
- Stripe offers its customers to direct a fraction of their revenue to help scale emerging carbon removal technologies.
3. Introducing new products and initiatives to mobilise customer action
- The Celonis Shipping Emissions Reduction App and the Celonis Sustainable Spend Management App i helps Celonis customers pinpoint process inefficiencies to cut costs, save time, and improve sustainability.
- GoCardless developed a free greenhouse gas calculator for small businesses and for households.
- Vestiaire Collective created the leaf feature on its app and website to help members reduce the carbon impact of transportation of their purchases by (1) filtering for products that are closer to them geographically and (2) choosing the direct shipping option, removing the intermediary step of warehouse shipping. They also introduced a Fashion Activist badge to reward members who are both sellers and buyers, providing them with boosted visibility on the Vestiaire platform and social channels as change makers for the fashion industry.
4. Tying revenue growth to giving back
Joining the 1% for the Planet movement, committing you to donate 1% of annual sales to environmental causes.
Becoming Bcorp certified Copy link
Why consider it Copy link
BCorp is a private certification of for-profit companies of their social and environmental performance. To achieve BCorp status, firms have to meet high levels of overall social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
Originally developed for small and medium-sized consumer goods businesses, the certification is now increasingly awarded to companies of all sizes and sectors, including large multinationals. This has led some commentators to question the credibility of this widely recognised gold standard - which was born to drive a movement of business as a force for transformational good, rather than being merely “less bad”.
For us however, when it comes to the BCorp certification, the value is as much in the trust, credibility and brand value that comes with the BCorp “stamp of approval”, as with the process of becoming certified.
There are many accreditations and business collaborations (local, national, global, industry-specific) that can be helpful on your ESG journey - BCorp is just one example, there may be others that are more suitable for your organisation.
The B Impact Assessment is one of the most comprehensive corporate sustainability frameworks, breaking down a company’s impact into the five pillars of (1) governance, (2) workers, (3) community, (4) environment and (5) customers. Each question is an opportunity to reflect on your current practices and opportunities to improve them. In this regard, the B Impact Self-Assessment can be a great resource without necessarily pursuing the formal certification process, and can be accessed and downloaded for free.
Going through the BCorp Impact Assessment typically leads companies to:
- Tighten up governance practices
- Hone mission and embed it into the company
- Refine the business model to maximise positive impact
- Become more transparent
- Take better care of employees
- Expand practices for giving back
- Establish a socially responsible and inclusive supply chain
- Increase support of the local economy
“The BCorp community is the unsung hero. From help with the assessment to generating marketing ideas, there’s so much to learn from other businesses facing similar challenges. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of the movement” Peter Kirby, Co-Founder at Tred.
Becoming a BCorporation requires significant commitment and investment in time and resources. However, BCorps all concur on having seen a positive return on investment.
Alongside the “usual suspects” of employee engagement and satisfaction, or attracting customers and investors with shared values–which could arguably be achieved through a robust ESG approach or impact programme–the BCorp status comes with specific benefits of its own, including:
- Cost savings, be it through accessing discounts and benefits from other B Corps, or benefiting from other products and services offering preferential rates to not-for-profits and BCorps. Anecdotally, some BCorps have also reported discounts on their office lease.
- Access to BCorp community: When you register as a B Corp, you also get access to the B Hive – a platform the B Corp community can use to connect, collaborate, access resources and share knowledge. Many BCorps report on the community as the biggest value add of the whole scheme.
How it works in practice Copy link
The B Corp Certification process requires that you complete the B Impact Assessment and get a verified score of 80 points or more out of 200.
You are responsible for carrying out your company’s assessment and attaching all supporting evidence (e.g. organograms, policies). You then need to submit it and wait for the formal verification process run by your assigned BCorp reviewer. Once approved, the certification lasts three years before you need to recertify.
Note that all BCorps must meet a legal accountability requirement to achieve and maintain certification. The exact legal change requirement will vary based on your location and structure; but in essence, it requires amending your articles of association to say that you will consider the impact of your decisions on all stakeholders, not just shareholders.
It’s a B-Corp requirement that you have at least 12 months of trading history (and revenue) when you apply.
The Pending B Corp status is designed to give start-ups and smaller companies time to prepare for the rigorous process of full B Corp Certification. Taking this step signals to current and future investors that a company is already thinking about measuring and managing its social and environmental performance, leveraging one of the market’s leading frameworks.
Some tips Copy link
- Manage timing and resourcing expectations: The BCorp certification process is a notoriously resource-intensive process given the length and breadth of the assessment questionnaire and supporting evidence requirements. Protecting the time of key staff members will be instrumental in completing your submission in an efficient and effective manner
- Plan ahead: While time to submission is within your complete control, it is worth factoring in a minimum additional six months for your submission to get to the top of the verification review pile. With this in mind, consider filling in the questionnaire in anticipation of developments that you know will take place in the coming half-year. For example, project headcount if you’re on an accelerated growth trajectory, or say that you have policies that are currently being drafted. You can always submit the attachment at the verification stage.
- Appoint a strong project manager: While this should be a whole of team effort, it is essential to have a dedicated person managing the process and coordinating the various input needs
- Play to the points: You will see that assessment questions have different weightings in the final score. Approach them strategically.
- Document everything: You will be required to provide evidence across the five pillars, requiring significant documentation. As a general rule in ESG, it’s good to document everything as some stories and anecdotes from the past may come in hand for the future
- Get help from a local BCorp leader: There are local BCorp teams across Europe who can help provide guidance and assistance. They can also keep you informed on local events and workshops. You can get in touch here.
- Factor in submission and annual fees: A one-off submission fee is payable when you submit your company for certification. Certification fees are paid annually and we have fee bands in place to ensure B Corp Certification is affordable for all businesses. See here for the latest fees.
“For our first B Corp certification in 2021, we set up a project group that included our CFO, CPO, co-founder and the Impact team. We met once a week to agree on the areas for progression and deadlines. Then each person was responsible for mobilising the relevant people in their teams. We also communicated toward the whole company as it became a company target that year. We tried to fill in the whole initial questionnaire fairly quickly to get an idea of the number of points we needed to address.” Dounia Wone, Chief Impact Officer at Vestiaire Collective
"Not all aspects of the B Corp assessment questionnaire are logical for all companies. This is why we would advise companies not to wait too long to submit the questionnaire as during the audit phase you are assigned an analyst that allows you to work with B Corp to clarify the logic behind the questions. This helps you to understand what’s needed from your business to meet the criteria." Dounia Wone, Chief Impact Officer at Vestiaire Collective
Further resources: Copy link
- How to BCorp for start-ups - 500 Global
- B Corp Certification for Start-ups: The Complete Guide - Cultivating Capital