30 Mar 2021

Operationalising purpose – the B Corp way

By Dama Sathianathan

Happy B Corp Month everyone! 

Every year March sees a flurry of activities highlighting the many aspects of B Corps and shining a light on the global movement of business as a force for good. 

As the rise of purpose-driven business only continues to grow, more and more companies are looking to B Corp certification to help operationalise their purpose and communicate it to the outside world. 

Back in 2015, Bethnal Green Ventures became a founding member of B Corp UK and one of the first UK venture capitalists to do so. As a proud member and advocate of the B Corp movement, we’re sharing our learnings and insights to help demystify what it means to be one and how to operationalise your purpose – the B Corp way. 

 

What does it mean to be a certified B Corp? 

Generally speaking, companies that go through the verified certification process and pass the assessment, commit to a rigorous standard of social and environmental performance and accountability. 

In our team it’s our Operations and Insights Manager Yumi, who works closely with the B Labs team on our recertification process. Our current score is 94.7, and we’re excited to see how we’re faring after implementing a range of processes that allow us to act with integrity and lead the charge for more transparency and accountability in VC. 

 

With a significant rise in impact investing, and traditional and generalist investors increasingly interested in adhering to standards of better environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), it is not only imperative, but essential to consider which pathways exist for companies to validate their contributions for legal accountability and transparency. 

Becoming a B Corp early in your company’s journey, regardless of whether you’re a startup or VC, can help you think about the processes and systems you need to put in place to make sure you meet the standards you aspire to. If you’re a company active for less than 12 months, there is the possibility to become a B Corp pending business. It is not a verified process, but helpful nonetheless. For companies older than 12 months, the verified certification process is the route to take, with a view to re-certify every three years. 

 

Why you should consider becoming a B Corp 

We’re not going to lie – the certification process is not always easy, and can at times be slow – with over 200 questions covering everything from the environmental impact of your company, governance structures, stakeholder engagement, and more. It does however, provide you with a pretty comprehensive picture of your performance as a company. Especially with an increase of investors also interested in integrating ESG standards into their due diligence process, and with more and more talent looking to work at purpose-driven companies, it makes sense to at least consider it. 

“How do you find top talent to work for your company and how will you retain them?” is a question startups will often hear from investors when navigating the fundraising circuit. Certifying as a B Corp will signal to investors that you not only value your employees and wider stakeholder community, but you also care about how they are being treated. That’s not to say that all B Corps treat their employees well, but it certainly means that as an employee or stakeholder you have leverage to influence companies to do so. 

Here are a few personal reflections on what being a B Corp helped us to focus on: 

Stakeholder engagement vs shareholder engagements. We have a very open and collaborative approach when it comes to setting our quarterly goals, which also includes taking into account the views of our stakeholders as well. In BGV’s case, it’s our board, the founders we support and the wider tech for good community. As an example of stakeholder engagement, we regularly check in with our tech for good community members to see what they would like from our events and wider community building activities. Here’s a sample of what they said: 

“Learn how to bring a tech for good angle into the work place every day.” 

“Opportunities to work for a company that is doing good.”

“New connections and a chance to shape the future of tech for good a bit!”

Regularly collecting and reviewing these responses helps us shape our strategic goals in growing the tech for good movement. 

Equal and fair pay and clear progression – since I started working for BGV in 2017, we’ve gone through the recertification process twice and with every new assessment, we’re inspired to do better by our employees. We have yearly internship programmes for new, often under-represented talent, to break into VC and we pay them above London Living Wage. As a team we’ve worked on a progression framework and a really clear understanding what progression looks like at BGV, with full transparency of everyone’s pay. 

Recertification ensures you attempt to do better. Every three years. As you grow and scale, it’s easy to fall into complacency, but hard coding good practices to be a good business ensures you act with integrity and makes what might be considered implicit, explicit and visible. And if it so happens that you are drifting from your mission, that’s where the stakeholder community and often wider public can play a crucial role in ensuring B Corps are held accountable.  

 

Helpful tools and resources: 

SDG Action Manager

B Impact Assessment case studies showcasing how the assessment improved their business. 

B Corp UK directory of all UK B Corps.  

Find B Leaders, experienced sustainability and CSR professionals trained to guide businesses through B Corp certification.