In the past year New Zealand has seen a significant increase in companies becoming B Corp certified, with the number having doubled to now over 85. To find out more about this movement we talk to the people behind the B Corp certification and the companies that have gone through the rigorous certification process.
Headed by B Lab, the B Corp certification is a movement that encourages the business world to transform the global economy to benefit people, communities, and the planet.
The B Corp certification looks at five areas of the business to understand how the company is contributing to transforming the industry: environment, workers, customers, community and governance.
Over the past year, more and more companies are becoming B Corp certified, with a big shift from being popular within SME’s to now being popular with bigger companies.
Qiulae Wong, Manager of B Corporation in New Zealand says at the beginning of 2022 the country saw around 35 companies with the certification. It has now reached 85 heading into the end of the year.
“The B Corp movement was founded in 2006 and was built on innovative and amazing small to medium companies. Now we’re definitely getting larger corporates and complex businesses,” she says.
In 2022 a number of large companies in New Zealand became B Corp certified such as Unilever and Stuff.
“I think it is great we have larger companies join the movement because we are not going to shift the dial on some of these massive social and environmental challenges without big businesses changing the way they operate,” she adds.
“It is really exciting to reach this tipping point.”
However, getting the certification is not easy, with Tim Jones from B Corp certified company Grow Good saying the process is “rigorous”.
To become a B Corp certified company, all companies have to undertake an assessment and achieve a mark of 80 out of 200.
“The average score for businesses that fill that out is around 50,” says Wong.
“Often businesses will think it’s all about environmental sustainability or maybe about diversity and inclusion. But the assessment really opens their eyes to the breadth of the certification and assessment.”
Jones, Founder of Grow Good, a company that helps companies navigate the B Corp certification journey says that those that achieve an 80 are “already outperforming general business”.
He says that many companies undertaking the B Corp certification journey already are behaving like one, focusing on what benefit their company brings over profit.
“Globally we’re in this interesting phase where we have a lot of companies who are doing the B Corp certification as a natural progression to prove the good that they are claiming,” he says.
“But now we’re getting more and more legacy companies, operating very much on the ‘we’re just making as much money as possible’ mindset and are now realising that they have to stand up and be better and are using the B Corp framework to figure out how to be better.”
But the process doesn’t end when a company receives its certification.
Wong says that rather than a test for companies to pass, the B Corp assessment is seen as a framework for “continuous improvement” and getting businesses on a journey of improvement.
“It’s a never-ending journey, there is no perfect way to do business, nobody has cracked it globally,” says Wong.
Steph Mearns and Laura Wilkinson, Founders of dog treat company Gourmate Pet Treat Co is among the many that achieved a B Corp certification in 2022 and says that from their launch they have been thinking about what was best for the planet but are continuing to improve their score.
“The B Corp approach provides a clear focus for what we do internally and also how we can communicate that to our customers and wider stakeholders,” says Mearns.
“Being a B Corp does not stop at your first certification – your score is assessed every three years and it’s expected to improve. Fortunately, it seems to snowball in a good way, and you become a part of an amazing network of like-minded people.”
For both Mearns and Wilkinson, the process to become a B Corp certified company took them 10 months and was a rigorous process that involved a lot of evidence and documentation.
“For us going through the B Corp certification process and committing to an impact business model for the long term is like putting a bubble around the business,” says Wilkinson.
“It keeps us focused on our values, our stakeholders and our environment as we move forward and grow, and it reminds us what we are not.”
Alongside Gourmates, the latest addition to the B Corp world is the large New Zealand company, Karma Drinks who have recently turned 10-years-old.
Simon Coley, Co-Founder of New Zealand’s Karma Drinks says from the get-go they have been focusing on making an ethical soft drink and have been aware of the movement for a long time.
“We sort of followed the progress of the movement and always been very impressed with the idea to use an external lens to look across that triple line of responsibility, profit, social impact and environmental impact,” he says.
Karma Drinks achieved its B Corp certification with 127.4 points giving it the highest score in New Zealand and putting the company in the top five percent globally.
For Karma Drinks, the process took one year to achieve and to Coley became more and more relevant over time.
“I always thought that it was kind of important to me that having this external framework to look at aspects of the way we operated, including the way we treat the people that work for us, and our customers was a pretty good holistic view of a company,” says Coley.
He adds that with the company’s aim to become the most ethical soft drink company in the world, a benchmark is needed.
“It’s pretty easy to make claims about how green a company is but it takes real effort to deliver on them and that is why I believe you do need those third parties that audit claims to prevent greenwashing,” he says.
Despite the high score, Karma Drinks is still working to improve where it has fallen short and to live up to becoming the most ethical soft drink company in the world.
Wong says that the certification is a “well-known mark of good business”.
As the world evolves and the mindset changes to prioritise aspects such as the environment and people, companies will soon be looking at working alongside other good companies and the B Corp certification can be a sign for that.
In New Zealand this can already been seen in intitatives such as Kiwibank’s preferential interest rates for businesses implementing sustainable initiatives.
Between New Zealand and Australia, New Zealand is growing faster in terms of producing B Corp certified companies, and Wong says to expect more in the next year.
“New Zealand is a very B Corp ready country. If you look at the mindset, the ethos, and the beliefs that underpin Kiwi-ness at its greatest, we stand up for the underdog and we want to do the right thing,” says Jones.
“That is kind of what the B Corp stuff is all about, taking a stand, do good, take on a challenge and be the best you can be.”
The B Corp movement is currently about to welcome a new and improved version of its assessment as it reviews its standards during a time where the world’s attitudes around sustainability continue to evolve.