B Corp certifications are changing the notion of money as the only bottom line in business, and they're on the rise in Adelaide and around the world.
How to avoid a dystopian future
From the murky skyline of Denis Villeneuve’s Bladerunner 2049 charcoal coloured, concrete buildings emerge from the smog with illuminated business names attached at the top.
Normally brands pay for product placement in films, but being cast as a success in this miserable version of the future means you’re a big part of why the world looks so bad.
There is no doubt that the businesses we spend money with today will invariably create the future. You can see the way Apple is building a pipeline towards a technological vision for our future. Each annual product release, and our purchase, brings us one step closer to “the future” they’re marketing.
While we know Apple loves giving us the ability to take great photos of natural wonders in our environment – do we know their business model also prioritises preserving it?
Incongruous to both Ridley Scott’s original and Villeneuve’s follow-up vision of a salted earth future, full of salty robots killing each other, the rise of B Corporations across the world today is presenting an alternate path for capitalism to lead us down, and a simple way for consumers to influence how the economy constructs the future.
“I don’t think it’s controversial to say that capitalism is a big part of all the problems we face in the world today,” says Nick Crowther managing director of Freerange Future – a digital and design firm in Adelaide’s West End.
“Also – I don’t think B Corp is a silver bullet solution to all of the world’s problems but it is definitely one of the solutions.”
B Corp stands for Benefit Corporation and is a for-profit corporate entity authorised in 33 states in the US, all of Italy and, since 2016, is being considered by the Federal Government and ASIC in Australia as an alternative classification to PTY LTD.
B Corps operate multiple bottom lines, other than profit, with positive impacts on society, workers, environment and the community effectively spreading the purpose of self-identified B corporations to deliver more than profit to their shareholders.
Here in Adelaide the movement is young – eight B Corps exist presently with the ninth awaiting official certification.
“What I really like about the backbone of the B Corp movement is it’s making money and making a difference,” says Kate Carroll, sustainability manager for Beyond Bank Australia – a certified B Corp.
Kate and Nick are taking up the mantle of B Corp champions in Adelaide. Both Freerange Future and Beyond Bank have recently re-certified as B Corps and had the interesting experience of having to work harder the second time around to meet the requirements.
“Through the impact assessment that you do, there are a whole host of questions under the five key areas of governance, customers, workers, community and the environment – this lets you see where you’re doing well and where you can improve,” says Kate.
However, both Kate and Nick were surprised when, during their re-certification, they discovered previous achievements used towards their original certification were not worth as much towards their second certification.
“B Corp is about best practice,” says Nick, “what best practice means will change over time and in that way, I really like that the certification process pushes our business to continue getting better.”
“The goal posts have moved as part of the re-certification,” says Kate. “So while we’d improved in our community side and workers – our overall score had dropped.
“That was a bit of a shock for the business because we had done even more than before, but with standards changing and society’s expectations changing – all of this is built into the process and it’s focused our attention on the big picture.
“It’s not just a numbers game, we’re not in it to just tick boxes – we want to do what’s right for the business and make sure that we’re making a positive impact beyond ourselves,” says Kate.
There’s a critical mass Kate and Nick are working towards too.
Informed by a keynote address last year, delivered by B Corp co-founder Bart Houlahan near Uluru, Nick is chasing the magical number of 20 B Corps in Adelaide by 2020. As well as the alliterative and numerical benefits of this target, Bart spoke to the B Corp Australia movement about the real change he saw in communities when a critical mass of 20 B Corps were certified in one location.
“People in the B Corp community are all very ethical and purpose-driven people but they’re also really excellent business people and are really effective in business,” says Nick about the B Corp community in Adelaide.
“It’s so important to this movement that it is understood as best practice, that it’s supported by real and good business people.”
The future needn’t be shrouded in smog and grey sky when all we need to do right now is make sure we’re backing and buying from the businesses with a blue sky mentality.