What is a B Corp and why did Oxford become one?

4 min read
Jul 6, 2023 12:59:46 PM

Oxford is proud to be a B Corp – one of a group of businesses leading a global movement for an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy. But what is a B Corp? And why did we become one? 

What is a Certified B Corp?

B Corps are businesses that prioritise working for social and environmental good, balancing People, Planet and Profit. They are rigorously assessed to ensure they meet high standards of social and environmental impact and must continue to recertify every 3 years.

B Lab Structure 

There are currently around 7,000 B Corps globally, and the community is growing rapidly. Being a B Corp means the business has been officially certified by B Lab, the global not-for-profit organization that designed the assessment. B Lab Global oversees the B Corp movement around the world and partners with Sistema B for certification in Latin America. This means companies in any country can apply for B Corp accreditation.

B Lab was founded in 2006 by three friends — Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan, and Andrew Cassoy — who wanted to make business a force for good. 

The first 82 companies were certified a year later and, since then, thousands more businesses have followed.

What is a B Corp vs a Benefit Corporation?  

While similar, B Corp and benefit corporations are not the same thing. A benefit corporation is a business structure available in 36 U.S. states for companies that positively impact employees, society, communities, and the environment. However, it is not connected to B Lab.

How to Become a B Corp 

The process starts with an online self-assessment for all companies, whether they pursue certification or not. The assessment covers all aspects of the company’s operations and supporting documentation must be provided as evidence. Points are given to the answers supplied, and 80 points out of a maximum of 200 must be achieved in order to certify.  

Points are tailored to the industry that the company is in. So, for example, a company that manufactures products will have a heavier weighting of points in the Environment category than a company that provides a service.

There are currently five categories in the assessment :

  1. Governance 

  1. Workers 

  1. Community 

  1. Environment 

  1. Customers 

There is also a disclosure questionnaire to ensure the organisation is fully transparent about its working practices.

Most importantly, companies must meet the B Corp requirement of updating their legal framework in order to consider the impact of their decisions on all their stakeholders, not just creating value for shareholders.  B Corp certification cannot be given without this.

How Difficult is It to Become B Corp Certified? 

B Lab states its certification is holistic, meaning it's not focused on a specific environmental or social issue but on how a company benefits people and the planet as a whole. But that doesn't mean the nonprofit hands out this certification to any company with an interest in social responsibility and the environment. On how to become a B Corp, B Lab says:  

"The process to achieve and maintain certification is rigorous and requires engaging teams and departments across your company. Taking company size and profile into account, verification involves documentation of your company's business model and information about your operations, structure, and various work processes, as well as a review of potential public complaints and possible site visits." 

There is no minimum number of employees required to apply for a B Corp certification. However, companies must be for-profit businesses and be in business for at least 12 months.  

You can find more information about the application process, as well as further guidance about "What is a B Corp?" on B Lab's website

The B Corp Movement Is Growing  

From 2020 to 2021, more than 6,000 companies in 80 countries applied for B Corp certification — 38% more than the number of companies that applied from 2018 to 2019. A further 50,000 organisations registered for the B Corp Impact Assessment. 

What are the Benefits of Becoming a B Corp? 

Becoming a B Corp is much more than just hanging a certification in your boardroom. Once you certify, you become part of a community where like-minded companies share a mission of having a positive impact on people and the planet.  

Being a B Corp also has many other benefits such as attracting potential employees, attracting both customers and suppliers with shared values, and being part of a collaborative and enthusiastic community of fellow B Corps. But it is primarily all about doing business in ways that are better for workers, communities and the environment.

Our B Corp Journey 

Back in 2019, we believed that this certification would be good for us and it aligned with many of our existing values. We  quickly realised how much work was required to fully complete the assessment, however — which is as it should be! — and were not at all certain we would achieve the required 80 points.  However, after much information gathering and changes made within the company, we did, and we were able to submit our first assessment later that year. We were delighted to finally certify in March 2020.

Three years on, we have submitted our updated assessment and hope to recertify by summer 2023. The recertification process has been even more rigorous, as you rightly have to demonstrate what you have done to make a difference over the past 3 years!

What Being a B Corp Means to Us:

  • This certification recognises the values we've always believed in, such as doing business in a way that puts people and the planet first. B Corps are encouraged to sign up to the  SME Climate Hub and The Better Business Act, which we have done. We've always strived to have a positive impact on our whole community, which includes our staff, partners, associates, clients, and local suppliers  

  • Being a B Corp has made us think about our social and environmental impact even more. After we received our B Impact Assessment score, we understood the areas in our business with the biggest opportunity for improvement. Our business model has always been relatively "low-impact." But because our clients are international, travelling to meet them clearly increases our carbon footprint. So we now consider for each project whether travel, in particular flights, for face-to-face meetings are really necessary. We still have a long way to go, but we're trying to reduce our environmental impact wherever it is feasible to do so.  

  • Being a B Corp has also made us want to share what we know about social and environmental issues with others. As a consultancy providing commercial advice, sharing our learning has not been easy, and we are continually working to understand how best to integrate this into our projects with clients.

If you want more information about our journey, check out our 2021 and 2022 impact reports.  

If you want to know more about “What is a certified B Corp?”, or are already a fellow B Corp organisation, please contact Imogen Reynolds at Oxford, who is always happy to support companies in their B Corp journey. 

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