The journey to B Corp – and beyond
Social became a Certified B Corporation™ this week. It was a proud day for the business – and one that reflected a lot of work by people across the team. It’s not that it required a philosophical or cultural shift – but it did mark a step change in how we run our business.
From the day I founded Social, nearly 10 years ago, it was always my goal to run a business that made a positive impact on the people and places where we worked. And from day one, we did that. On our first major contract we sponsored local civic awards, supported young entrepreneurs to build their business with in-kind support and bookings, and worked with local organisations to support homeless people.
But as the business grew, I realised that wasn’t enough. It could be pot-luck whether support for a great community initiative was taken forward or not, depending on who heard about it and what their capacity to organise our support was.
It was in 2019 that I first heard about B Corp from a contact in the City of London. B Corp is a global movement of businesses which balance profit and purpose. It requires members to sign up to high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.
I immediately knew this was the way to go and set my team (then about 25 members) the task of achieving B Corp. It took a lot of work – over 200 assessment questions, many of which required us to formalise and strengthen our approach to making a positive impact. And it required total commitment.
So what does all this mean in practice?
Investing in our team
It meant a new way of engaging our staff. Our ‘Life Happens’ commitment to look after our team members remains at the heart of our business – but it’s now backed by a Staff Engagement Group alongside formal and informal ways of listening to our team, gathering their feedback and acting on it. We run proposed policy changes past the Staff Engagement Group and have introduced extended leave, volunteering leave and menopause, pregnancy and miscarriage policies alongside a commitment to flexible working for all.
We have adopted greater transparency, sharing regular financial updates with our whole team – in the good months and the difficult ones. We introduced a pay and grading system, providing openness and transparency on what grades people are on and how individuals can move up to the next grade.
Learning from our clients
We’d always viewed ‘client delight’ as a company aim – but for B Corp those commitments need to be recorded and tracked. This meant formalising client delight into a customer charter, an annual client survey and a systemised commitment to listening to and learning from our clients.
Protecting the environment
Our environmental scores are the area in which we most need to make progress. As an SME in the service sector, there’s a limit as to what we can directly control through our own business processes, but it is now central to how we grow our business. Social and environmental issues are on our board agenda; reflected in every colleague’s job objectives; and captured and presented in our annual impact reports. We’ve also set up an Environmental Impact committee made up of volunteers across the team to look at practical steps we can take to reduce our effect on the environment. We need to do more for this – and I am determined we will.
Locking in our social mission
Most importantly, when I founded Social I used a ‘standard’ company incorporation model. B Corp challenges that, requiring that companies lock their social and environmental missions into their legal model. I had to secure the backing of my board to make this change, then work with our professional advisors to deliver it –an undertaking in itself. Social is now obliged to consider the triple bottom line – people, planet, profit – in every decision we make, which brings a different outlook to things.
We never worked with what B Corp classes as ‘disclosure industries’ such as tobacco and gambling, but we have passed on the chance to work with a couple of clients who didn’t sit well with our values.
The journey so far
From the commitment of our board and advisors, to the determination of the team to make the changes needed, I’ve been blown away by the hard work of everyone at Social. It’s not always been smooth – and it’s taken far longer than we imagined because B Corp has been overwhelmed with the number of organisations seeking certification (which is good news). But we have learned a lot on our journey to B Corp, signing up to other valuable initiatives along the way such as the Living Wage Foundation, the Prompt Payment Code, the Good Business Charter and the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter.
Looking to the future
The changes we have made are now embedded in our three-year business plan and are supporting our aim to be the best employer in the integrated communications space. We are seeing requirements for increasingly robust social value commitments – tracked and evidenced – in tenders and proposals from both the public and private sectors. Preparing for B Corp, and now securing it, has put us in a good place for those opportunities.
I am fully aware that B Corp is not a destination but a journey that will continue. Our social impact reports show the progress we have made in some areas – and set out the further steps we need to make in others. We are now part of a global community of businesses committed to operating in a different way, a way that is part of an emerging stakeholder capitalism model, sharing the benefits across society. And we will do our part to make sure that the UK does build back better from the immense challenges of the last few years.