Like many big ideas, B Lab started small. It was created a decade ago by three Stanford University friends with a shared passion for creating a better world through business, but now the independent, non-profit company’s B Corp certification is the gold standard for sustainability in business, like Fair Trade certification is to coffee.
B stands for ‘benefit’ and refers to workers, the community and the planet. These entrepreneurs took these values into their successful corporate careers – two in a sports footwear start up, and the other as a private equity investor – and recognised its positive impact. But they also experienced the challenge of maintaining these values as their business grew, with all the demands that that entails, which is what made them realise that social and environmental practices needed to be part of a company’s defined goals.
The B Lab’s ‘Declaration of Interdependence’ urges companies to ‘Be the change you seek in the world’, and it certifies companies that benefit society and the environment, as well as their owners. From humble headquarters in Philadelphia, B Lab has expanded worldwide, opening offices in Europe and the UK in 2015.
‘B Corp is more than a certification and a community, it’s a global movement using business as a force for good,’ Nathan Gilbert, co-executive director at B Lab Europe, told NOW. Some 2,162 socially and environmentally responsible companies in over 50 countries (from Afghanistan to Uruguay) and in 130 industries are now certified as B Corps – including around 30 in the travel industry.
NOW Transforming Hospitality GmbH (www.itmustbeNOW.com) is a Certified B Corporation. Launched on Earth Day – April 22, 2017 – the mission of NOW is to boldly advance sustainability, social responsibility and principled business practice in the travel and hotel industry.
Other B Corp companies for travellers include the well-known outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, a member of the ‘1% for the planet’ scheme which helped grass roots activists stop the building of the Susitna Dam in Alaska in 2016, and NYC-based visit.org, founded in 2015, helps NGOs create local authentic travel experiences for free and reinvests the profits in the community. Flooglebinder in the UK, also a member of the ‘1% For The Planet’, is a travel company that provides fun, ethical and sustainable educational programmes abroad for Uni students studying animal behaviour, ecology, marine biology and conservation and eager to learn Gen Z secondary school students.
B Corp companies in the hotel industry include the Church Palace hotel in Rome, whose zero waste policy helps feed the homeless; and Montagne Alternative in Switzerland whose philosophy to connect with nature is a powerful tool to develop self-awareness and inspiration to create a better world. And there’s Qbic Hotels in London and Amsterdam, the world’s first B Corp certified hotel group, whose eco-friendly measures include solar roof panels, handmade organically produced mattresses from recycled denim, lambswool and coconut fibre and chemical-free cleaning products.
To become a B Corp, companies undergo a rigorous assessment, which includes an onsite review of their social and environmental performance to working conditions and governance. The score is made public, and the top 10% make it onto the Best for the World list, helping redefine the nature of success. B Corps must then work to become a ‘Benefit Corporation’ where profit plus positive impact is written into its legal DNA.
‘We shine a light on an alternative path, rather than finger point,’ says Gilbert. ‘Focusing on positive, easy solutions, we meet businesses where they are and inspire, engage and help.’
B Lab’s ‘measure what matters’ initiative – a free online sustainability tool – can be used by companies – 50,000 so far – to measure and manage business impact. The company also works with the B-Team, a network of well-known business leaders – such as Richard Branson – that provide a call to action and promote the idea of profit with purpose.
This small movement to put purpose at the heart of business is about to become big – with several multinationals considering B Corp certification as 21st century businesses redefine the definition of success. ‘Business is the driving force in the change that we seek and can tackle some of our greatest social and environmental challenges,’ says Gilbert. ‘We have a dream that one day companies will not only compete to be the best in the world, but the best for the world.’