Episode 15: Why Everyone from Start-ups to Luxury Brands want to be B-Corp Certified
B-Corp, Sustainability, Fashion, Sourcing, Triple Bottom line
Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.
Hello, and welcome to episode 15 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. Today's episode leads on from Episode 14 in a way, but before I get to that, this will be the last week to submit any questions you would like answered over the Sustainable Summer series of the podcast. So get your questions in and I'll answer one each week over the six week break over December and January. You can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and if you're into the latest developments within fashion and sustainability, I send out a monthly newsletter which you can sign up to on the website, belindahumphrey.com.
So onto today's topic, B Corp certification, what is it and why does everyone want one?
Well, the full name is Benefit Corporation and according to their website certified B Corps are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. They go on to say the B Corp community works toward reducing inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.
By harnessing the power of business B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end positive impact for their employees, communities and the environment. Certified B Corps must achieve a minimum verified score on the B Impact Assessment, which is a rigorous assessment of a company's impact on its workers, customers, community and environment and make the B Impact Report transparent on the B Corp website. Certified B Corps also amend their legal governing documents to require their board of directors to balance profit and purpose. They go on to say the combination of third party validation, public transparency and legal accountability, help certified B Corps build trust and value. B Corp certification is administered by the nonprofit B Lab.
Going back to Episode 10, where I talked about a triple bottom line B Corps were explained by John Elkington, who was the guy who came up with that concept as being built on the triple bottom line concept as they are the type of businesses legally required to consider impacts on all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, community and environment. And if you wanted a bit of a refresh on the triple bottom line, go back and listen to episode 10, which you'll find on the website.
Most recently, Chloe was the first luxury brand to be certified as a B Corp and according to the CEO Ricardo Bellini, Chloe's B Corp certification is intended to frame the company's shift to a purpose driven business model. Interestingly, Vestiaire Collective became the first reseller to achieve B Corp certification back in September last year.
But with more brands being accepted, does this dilute what B Corp certification stands for? With brands such as Good American, which is Co owned by Khloe Kardashian being certified does this lead to mistrust on the rigour of their testing? Does this challenge what people see as an authentically sustainable business? But then on the other hand, if they meet all the strict criteria, isn't that a good thing that they're just starting somewhere in the hopes to start measuring and improving?
Another thing I wanted to mention was that B Corp release a Best for World list each year, which highlights certified B corpse that are in the top 5% in the corresponding size groups. B Corp say that these businesses are proving that competing not only to be the best in the world, but the best for the world is a winning strategy and they can lead the way as more businesses continue to join the movement that is transforming global economy to benefit all people, communities and the planet.
These lists are grouped under the five areas and then in subgroups depending on how many employees they have. The first one for 2021 is Community where Australian apparel brand Outland denim, Patagonia and Toms are listed as being in the top 5%.
Second is customers and this section according to their website is all about brands setting the standard for serving their customers. By providing critical services like education, health care and finance management. They add value to customers lives while supporting the greater good. Australian company I:Change get a mention as do Australian Ethical Investment, but there are no apparel brands, Australian or otherwise, scoring in top 5%.
The next category is Environment with planet friendly practices and environmental initiatives. These companies consider the impact of their everyday footprint including energy usage. Materials, facilities, supply chain and more. Mud Jean's from the Netherlands, Patagonia and Flow Hive from Australia get a mention here and as a side note, I watched a show about the founder of Flow Hive and his business journey and it was so interesting, I highly recommend giving it a watch. I'll try and find the link and pop it in the show notes on the website.
Moving on to the fourth area, Governance. B Corp says that when companies incorporate their mission into the DNA of the company structure, they protect their long term vision and fully commit to using business as a force for good. Australian company Australian Ethical Investment also got a mention here along with AWA Alliance, bank and Future Super Services. But the only apparel brand I could find here was the house of Baukjen in the UK.
Finally, the last section focuses on the workers and this section highlights the top 5% of B Corps that make a large impact on the lives of their workers well beyond work hours, by putting in place exemplary employee friendly practices such as ownership opportunities, job flexibility, and fair chance hiring policies. Lonsdale Solutions, and Rankin business lawyers get mentioned for Australia here and Rowlinson knitwear get mentioned for apparel, footwear and accessories.
While researching this, I came across an article that said according to B Corp fashion brands are the number one search companies on their site. Are these customers wanting to buy from these brands? or other brands trying to find businesses similar to theirs that have paved the way and understand some of their business practices? or what scores they're getting in certain section? And from a customer's point of view, do they know what a B certification means or what's involved?
Companies don't have to document the full journey to the consumer but if they did, I imagine there would have to be another layer of education involved to help the customer even understand what it means. And to illustrate the complexity of what that actually involves B Corp have dedicated employees to help brands understand the nuances of the approval process.
So what is a good score? Overall, to be certified B Corp, a company must achieve a minimum of 80 points overall, across all of the five sections. For some context, Chloe scored 85.2 Vestiaire Collective achieved 89.4, Tom's scored 121.5 and Patagonia has a score of 151.4. And as a side note, I couldn't actually find the score for Good American denim. They weren't listed on the website, despite them listing themselves as recently certified. But I just want to delve a little bit deeper here. When we're talking about the numbers involved and the minimum points that need to be achieved a company might get 85, which is enough points to get over the minimum, and get listed as being in the top 5% for workers, for example, but then score relatively poor on environment, governance and customer. So I think it's important to consider that committing to the certification is seeing more of a commitment to do the best they can, signal the company values and motivations to grow in the right way and also to start measuring where they are now so that they can improve. It shouldn't be seen as an endorsement that they're doing everything right.
It's also worth noting that you still need to be able to share clear and concise transparency of the actual product beginning to end, its materials plan for how the customer can extend its life and account for the end of life options in the product. From looking at some of the example questions such as monitoring of waste, renewable onsite energy for corporate facilities, and how your significant suppliers perform in social and environmental practices there doesn't seem to be questions around specific material usage.
So if you've listened to all that, and you still think yes, B Corp is for me, I definitely want this certification. How do you become certified? Well, it isn't easy, amongst other things, it requires companies to fill out a rigorous 300 question survey that assesses the impact on workers, community, customers and the environment and the certification process needs to be renewed every three years. There may also be an on-site audit, and according to their website, there is a 6-10 month waitlist with only one in three getting approved.
So in summary, I think it is a certification that is helping businesses understand the framework and what responsible business practices look like and understand where they are now so that they can improve. With so much greenwashing out there, I think it is gaining popularity from consumers as a bit of a shortcut to know what company is legitimately committed to make a change. And if they see that B Corp logo, it's a verification of the way they're doing business.
I hope you enjoyed today's episode. And if you want to get in touch with anything that came up for you today in today's podcast, you can DM me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_ or send me an email at email@example.com. Again, a reminder to submit any questions you might have the Sustainable Summer series of the podcast you can email those at firstname.lastname@example.org and if you're interested in the latest developments in fashion and sustainability, you can sign up to my monthly newsletter as well on the website belindahumphrey.com and finally, as always, you'll find the show notes and any links on the website to in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.