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A guide to B Corp

By Shaunagh Duncan

There are now more than 3,000 B Corporations worldwide. We look at what a B Corp is, how you get to be one – and what it means for Bulb.

A set of scales balancing profit with a force for good.

What is a B Corporation?

B Corporations, or 'B Corps' for short, are for-profit businesses that commit to having a positive impact on society and their environment. To be a B Corp, businesses must go through a rigorous certification process which measures their entire social and environmental performance. And once they're certified, they must sign a legal agreement to confirm their board members will always consider the impact on their stakeholders when making decisions. For B Corps, 'stakeholders' aren't just shareholders, they include employees, suppliers, society and the environment too. 

A hand holding a city with trees, people, and a wind turbine.

B Corporations usually address a social or environmental need, either as part of their core business – like Bulb, for example, an energy supplier helping our members lower their carbon impact, or through the way they operate – like The Big Issue, where part of their business offers employment opportunities to people in poverty.

Being a B Corp is more than a mission statement. It's about meeting higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance – it's about balancing purpose and profit.

Today, there are more than 3,000 certified B Corps across 150 industries and 71 countries. B Corp brands you might recognise include Ben and Jerry's, Patagonia, Innocent, Keep Cup and Etsy.

What does the B stand for in B Corp?

B Corp themselves say, “B stands for 'Be the change' - inspired by Gandhi's famous invocation that we must be the change we seek in the world”. They continue… “It also stands for 'Better Business', 'Best for the World' and 'Benefits for Stakeholders'.” Think of the B as a call to action, “B Inspired, B Innovative, B Disruptive, B Responsible”.

How do you become a B Corporation?

There's a certification process, managed by the not-for-profit organization, B Lab. To be eligible to start the certification process, you should be a for-profit business, operating for at least a year. 

To start, you need to fill out the online B Impact Assessment, which is free. There's around 150 questions about different parts of your business, including your employees, community, customers and the environment. The time it takes to complete the assessment varies depending on the size of your business. For a small business it takes between 1 to 3 hours. The good news is that you can save your answers as you go, and mark questions you want to revisit, so you can double check your facts and figures at your own pace. 

A B Corp application being put into a ballot box.

After filling out the assessment, the team at B Lab will verify your score to check your company meets the minimum score of 80 points. You can meet virtually with someone from the B Lab team, too, to go through your assessment and send them documents to evidence your answers. 

Certified B Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on all their stakeholders. These legal requirements depend on the type of company, and where you are in the world. You can check the legal requirements on their website, which also determines which B Corp Agreement you sign.

To complete your certification, you need to sign the Declaration of Interdependence, which acts as your 'contract' with B Corp.

What sort of questions do B Corp ask

You're asked questions about every part of your business, from your supply chain and charitable giving, to employee benefits and customer satisfaction. It's the only certification that looks at your company's entire social and environmental performance.

The total number of questions you're asked depends slightly on your business model. For Bulb, we usually answer around 190 questions. Most of them are multiple choice, and you'll get a proportion of the maximum available points depending on your answer.

Here are some example questions for each impact area:

Workers: “How many of your employees are paid a Living Wage?”

Community: “What written local purchasing or hiring policies does your company have in place?”

Environment: “Does your company monitor and manage water usage?”

Customers: “What percentage of your products or services are covered by a warranty or guarantee?”

Not every question adds points to your score. Some are just to help the assessment panel understand a bit more about your business. For example, how many employees you have, or if your company has ever committed fraud (eek!).

Who certifies B Corporations?

B Corp certification is managed by B Lab, a nonprofit organisation with the aim of helping businesses reinvent themselves as a force for good. Their vision is that companies strive not just to be the best in the world but the best for the world.

The B Impact Assessment itself is overseen by B Labs's independent Standards Advisory Council. Each of the members of the council has deep industry or stakeholder expertise from business or academia. The committee is divided into 2 groups, one to oversee companies and funds in developed markets, and the other in emerging markets. Find out more about B Lab's Board of Directors, and Standard Advisory Council.

What do you have to do to keep your B Corp certification?

Once you've been certified as a B Corp, there are 2 things you need to do to stay a B Corp:

A cat calendar with a specified 'B corp test' date

  1. Complete the impact assessment and have it verified by B Lab every 3 years

  2. Meet the legal requirements.

At Bulb, we last recertified in 2018, where our official score was 94.3. So, we're recertifying in Summer 2021. 

We're committed to improving our B Corp score. We've scoped out the impact areas we need to work on most. And we've created a plan of changes to make between now and 2021.

Do I have to pay to be a B Corp?

Yes. If you certify as a B Corp, you'll need to pay annual fees, which vary based on the size of your business and where you are in the world.

What resources are available to help me become a B Corp?

Well, other than this guide (ahem), there are plenty of resources out there to help you on your B Corp journey. Some things we've found helpful:

Should I become B Corp certified?

There are lots of great reasons for businesses to become a B Corp. More and more people want to work for, buy from, and invest in businesses they believe in. Getting B Corp certified is a great way to show credibility, trust, and value for your business. 

You'll also be joining a community of like-minded business leaders. And maintaining certification is a great way to set targets to create more positive impact.

For Bulb, being a B Corp is a no-brainer. It's fundamentally aligned to our mission to help people lower their bills and lower their carbon impact.

What does being B Corp certified mean for Bulb?

For us, being a B Corp celebrates our belief that a business impacts more than its shareholders - it has a responsibility towards its customers, its workers, its community and the environment, too. In short, being a B Corp is about believing in the equal importance of people, planet, and profit.

We've been a bona fide B Corp since 2016. And we were the first energy supplier in the UK to become one (sound the trumpets!).

As a fast-growing tech start up, you might think being one of the good guys means putting a ping pong table in our office and coming in late on Fridays. Never say never to the ping pong, but becoming a B Corp is serious business. As a community of 3,393 certified B Corps (and counting) meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, we're proud to be part of a global movement using business as a force for good.

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