Better Business: The Power of B Corps
Words by Nikki Stefanoff
Photos courtesy of Stone & Wood and Oishi-m
This is an edited exerpt from an article originally published in Issue 2
Described by the CEO of Patagonia as being one of the most important movements of our lifetime, there has never been a better time to become a certified B Corp business. As a global collective, B Corps are showing how business can be used as a force for good and not just profit.
Chief customer officer
Australian Ethical knows a thing or two about B Corps. It was one of Australia’s founding B Corps and was awarded B Corp’s ‘Best for the World’ in 2016, 2017 and 2018, ranking the company in the top 10 percent of all B Corps in the world.
Matters Journal: ‘Financial institution’ and ‘ethical business’ aren’t words you expect to see in the same sentence. Can you tell me a little about how the idea was formed?
Allyson Lowbridge: Yes, that’s probably true! But we really are very different. Australian Ethical was created in 1986 to advocate for a better financial system, where financial outcomes are achieved while being conscious of their impact on the world around us. Our belief is that you can have both a positive financial outcome while having a positive impact on our world. Business is increasingly the force having the most impact in protecting the future of our planet and shaping the future of our society. This change in expectations is translating into a real shift in the allocation of capital, with nearly half (44 percent) of Australia’s investments now being invested through some form of responsible investment strategy (according to the 2017 Responsible Investment Benchmark Report, RIAA).
You’ve been an ethical business from the start so why go through B Corp accreditation?
Well, when our business started, more than 30 years ago, we were already acting like a B Corp before it was a thing so, when the B Corp movement and certification came to Australia a few years ago, it was a no-brainer for us to become one. In fact, we were a founding B Corp (early in 2014), and we were the first B Corp listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), and in terms of revenue we’re the largest B Corp in Australia.
Do you think Australian Ethical benefits from being a B Corp?
Absolutely. As more businesses market themselves as ethical and sustainable, it can be difficult for consumers to know which businesses are genuine about their commitments. B Corp’s rigorous standards ensure businesses are held accountable and customers can shop with peace of mind.
Do you think it’s something you think your customers value and understand? More than ever people are aware of the B Corp certification and what it means for business. We know our customers care deeply about the planet and their impact on the world around them, so we believe seeing our B Corp certification will give them further confidence that we truly do walk the walk. The challenge is to continue increasing the awareness of what the B Corp certification means – that logo really does stand for something, so the more consumers know about B Corps, the better.
It’s a hard question to ask but do you think it’s possible to make money for your customers while staying ethical and bound by morals? If so, why don’t more banks/superfunds/investment companies do it? AL: It’s a great question and it sits at the heart of everything we do. In fact, our logo represents just that – the A and the E entwine to form a gum leaf, and expresses our core belief that you don’t have to compromise on financial returns for ethics. Our team of investment managers and ethics analysts select only the companies that pass our rigorous ethical screens, driven by our Ethical Charter that has remained unchanged for over 30 years. We then review those companies that will perform well financially. We’ll see more companies shifting their business practices to reflect the growing consumer sentiment that people expect their super to be invested ethically and sustainably (see the RIAA report 2017). But people must take time to ensure these businesses are truly ethical and not just ‘greenwashing’ to take advantage of this growing trend.
Do you think that a B Corp accreditation works as a mark of trust?
Indeed. The B Corp global movement is building positive impact. The better known it is, the more consumers will be able to make the right choice for both themselves and the good of the planet.
While Miyo sadly announced late last year that Oishi-m would close its doors, her sentiments around ethical business are still relevant. Based out of Torquay, Victoria, Oishi-m [Oy-shee-em] was a children’s clothing brand and retailer that, by mixing contemporary styling with a vintage infusion, created a loyal and passionate following.
Tell us a little bit about Oishi-m.
We produce small production run garments that are fun, a little loud and have been designed to grow with the child, which means our clothes have longevity.
When did you guys go for your B Corp accreditation?
We tackled it in our eleventh year of business.
Why wait so long?
We’d just come off the back of winning a 2016 Geelong Business Excellence Award for Retailer of the Year and part of the award application process had been to review our business. B Corp had been on our radar for some time as we’d been selling children’s Patagonia jackets through our retail store and my husband’s business, Bellroy, had recently become a certified B Corp. We took on the challenge to do the same for Oishi-m and over a number of months became certified. After becoming certified, we re-entered the Geelong Business Excellence Awards and not only won the Retailer of the Year award for 2017 but also took out the big Business of the Year Award.
Did the decision to go for B Corp status come from your own personal values or was it more a business-led decision?
It’s a combination of both – B Corp’s philosophy of using business as a force for good is something we believe in as a team and we love that Oishi-m is a part of the B Corp movement.
Do you think the business has benefited from being a B Corp?
We’ve possibly recruited a small number of new customers from becoming a B Corp, however, most of the benefit has been we can now show our customers, and potential customers, that we take our role in the world seriously. We stand for more than just making a buck; we’re part of a wider community that cares and are committed enough to stand up and be challenged and certified for it.
MJ: Is it something you think your customers value and understand? MF: Some of our customers do and many of them won’t be aware of what it means. By being involved we’re hoping to help educate people around what it means to be a B Corp.
How do you continue to keep the business ethical and sustainable?
The world and everything around us is forever evolving, as is what it means to be ‘sustainable’. We’re constantly learning and adjusting as new research and science comes out. Having recently moved our office and shop to a new bigger premises, reviewing how we could better fit out our business with more efficient waste management systems and energy supply would be one example of how we’re looking to constantly change and improvement. The B Corp certification process is also a constant process, with re-certification always around the corner, so there are always more initiatives and ways to improve.
One of the things I love about your clothing is that it lasts for ages, which is so important as kids grow out of things so quickly. Was this an ethics-based business decision or just common sense?
A bit of both! As parents ourselves we appreciated how wasteful it can feel when children grow so quickly and you’re always having to buy new clothes. Being able to wear an item, pass it down to siblings and then hand it over to friends, or even sell, is something we’re incredibly proud of. Good quality products equal customer value, which is great for us as a business and also better for the world.
As conversations around transparency and ethics – particularly in the fashion industry – pick up traction, how important do you think it is for a fashion business to be open and honest about its values? Does being a B Corp help bring this into focus?
For all businesses, regardless of whether it’s fashion or not, we [should] expect openness and honesty around values. Whether it’s paying suppliers on time, looking after staff or making sure businesses take responsibility for consumption and procurement choices. As customers we [should] understand what we’re buying, who we’re buying from and what incentives drive businesses. The B Corp impact assessment, which is all part of the certification process, is a check-up across areas of environment, workers, customers, community and governance. If all businesses took time out to review how they’re tracking across all those areas I can't help but think that the world would be a better place.
Creative and community manager
Stone & Wood Brewery
Born and raised in Byron Bay, Stone & Wood is a local and independent brewery. Inspired by the idea of creating a village brewery with the vision of building a conscious business, Stone & Wood is striving to do good in their community while brewing beer that’s simply good to drink.
Matters Journal: The idea of a B Corp brewery is an incredible one. Was that always the plan?
Jasmin Daly: We became aware of the B Corp accreditation a few years ago after being inspired by the likes of our mates New Belgium Brewing and inspirational brands like Patagonia. Our intention has always to be a conscious business as we believe in the importance of taking care of the earth we walk on, treating our team like family and using our inGrained community program as a way to give back in the areas that we live, work and sell our beer.
How did you find the accreditation process?
It was a rigorous process but our intention was not to change the way we did things just so we would qualify. Rather, the process was a health check on how (at the time) we were doing and by getting the accreditation it was a pat on the back. We’re currently in the process of requalifying and so for us it’s now a benchmark.
Do you think the decision to go for accreditation came from personal values or was it more business-led?
Both. Just as a good person is defined by the way they behave, we believe good businesses are defined by their actions and the way they go about achieving success. Good means more than just the quality or the taste of the beer, it’s in how we as a business can fulfil our role as the local brewer, pay it forward and contribute to making positive change.
Do you think your customers are aware of your B Corp status? Is it important to them or are they coming back for your delicious beer?
Probably a bit of both! Awareness of the B Corp accreditation is growing and so this is definitely a growing driver. I think more and more consumers are seeking out products which have depth and authenticity. They want to feel good about what they are purchasing. So, while they may be purchasing our beer because they like the brand and the taste of our brews they can feel stoked when they dig a little deeper, that we are a business they can trust and are using our business as a force for good.
Does having the focus of being a B Corp encourage you to do anything differently?
By using it as a benchmark, it helps us to focus on areas we can improve. It’s also given us a community of likeminded businesses to call on, connect with and lean on for support. We know we are not perfect but we are committed to continually striving to be better for our communities.