We invited members to join us in the Library at Shoreditch House to hear three speakers discuss the benefits and value of establishing purpose in business.

Purpose has become a familiar word in the lexicon of modern business, and although there's cynicism in certain quarters around its meaning, there is also increasing motivation for its application to business, and evidence of its success. We recently posted online a popular piece about the B Corporation movement, written by James Rutter, Brand Director at Cook, for our members' magazine — emphasising its place "at the heart of the Purpose Economy," and addressing some of the cynicism around modern purpose at work.

Cook was one of the first UK businesses to become a certified B Corp. The certification was introduced by B Lab, a non-profit organisation that encourages people to use business as a force for good, and to redefine the metrics of business success. Its global community now boasts more than 2,500 B Corp certified companies, of all shapes and sizes. Those interested in joining the community must meet its rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. In doing so, and by achieving certification, they are able to communicate to customers (and ever-discerning future talent) their commitment to positive and purposeful impact on the world around them.

On Friday 27th April, we hosted a breakfast panel — moderated by YCN Director Nick Defty — which took the success story of the B Corporation movement as a starting point to tour the broader topic of purpose, and how its value is being quantified by modern, creative and digitally-minded organisations. We invited panelists, including James, who have benefitted from a relationship with B Corp, to tell its story, share their motivation for being part of it, and discuss their broader take on the value it brings at a personal and organisational level.

Alongside James, our panel included Kate Sandle, Community Manager at B Lab UK, with learnings to share on where the movement currently stands and what behaviours she's seeing among the community and those keen to join it. James and Kate were joined by Scarlett Montanaro, Creative at the first B Corp certified advertising agency, 18 Feet & Rising, who shared her thoughts on what certification means to the business, and those they do business with.

Here’s what we learned. 

Creating a diverse community of businesses

There are currently 150 organisations with B Corp certification in the UK, said Kate, and there is huge diversity among those certified: “from classic comms agencies, to a hotel, to an energy provider, to a law firm, to an investor, you name it — we’ve probably got it.” Having non-consumer-focussed businesses, such as law firms, within the community shows that there is a real desire among all kinds of organisation to act on their desire to 'do good', no matter their type or size. As Kate was keen to emphasise, “being values-driven isn’t just for cool brands. One of the reasons B Corp has resonated so much with people is because there’s such huge diversity within it.” 

Cementing the idea of ‘good heart’ as business policy

Food brand Cook was the fifth company in the UK to become a B Corp, back in 2012. Talking to Nick about their decision to become certified, James explained how he'd always felt that Cook had "a good heart" at its core, but that the company and its employees struggled to understand what that could mean in reality, how they could have a positive impact on a day-to-day basis, and how it could influence the way they measured success. In B Corp, he saw an opportunity to put a tangible framework around Cook's ethos and good heart, and to say “this is what it means, in reality".

James attended a Champions Retreated hosted by B Lab in the US, to learn about the movement and see the benefits of the concept at work, and had an immediate sense of shared values and a community that he felt Cook should be part of: “That sense of community, and that there was genuine movement building, was quite inspiring.” 

Benefits for planet and people

Scarlett from 18 Feet & Rising was keen to point out the impact that being a B Corp can have on the people working within an organisation. As well as the business making a commitment to looking after its employees, having a positive purpose helps to keep teams focussed, motivated, and secure in the knowledge that their work is making a difference. Scarlett highlighted that it’s sometimes “the little things — like the casting in an ad”, that can have a big impact. The mindfulness of the movement can also direct how clients operate too, even if they are not B Corp certified themselves. The panel all wholeheartedly agreed that purpose is a powerful tool which, if used constructively within a business, can have a positive and far-reaching impact. For them, B Corp is a movement that allows businesses to recognise and identify that purpose, and empower them to make the change mindfully, and effectively. 

The B Corp certification process

The process to becoming certified is no walk in the park, Kate and James agreed — it includes having to submit paperwork, answer questions, have them verified, answer more questions, and provide more verifications. To be certified, a business has to pass with at least 80 out of 200 points. It’s a long and complex process, with the requirements to being accepted getting tougher and more honed each time. According to James, “they make it tougher every two years, so there’s that built improvement in the certification process." Indeed, for many organisations, this rigorous process is part of the appeal, proving their commitment to becoming a better business in each of the four sectors that form the certification — community, environment, corporate governance and employees. 

Good for business growth

The panel also discussed some of the misconceptions surrounding 'doing good', and the negative impact it could have on a company’s bottom line. Addressing this, James was keen to emphasise that “it could, but shouldn’t. If you’re harnessing all this power, you can use it to your advantage”. Kate also spotlighted that companies in the B Corp community in the UK that have recertified have experienced revenue growth of on average 14% a year, compared to a national average of 0.5% — while this growth can't necessarily be directly attributed to being a B Corp, it's clear that the certification hasn't had a negative impact. 

Purpose as a recruitment tool

Being a B Corp is becoming a unique selling point for certified companies when attracting prospective employees. According to Kate, B Corp's community survey revealed that "47% of B Corps said candidates had been attracted to their business because they were a B Corp. She added that people who have worked at one B Corp will often move on to another when they leave, suggesting that they want to continue that positive experience in their next role.

Reinforcing this idea, Scarlett explained that she herself was drawn to 18 Feet & Rising because of the positive work the agency was creating: “I was looking at the work that they were making, and they had done a lot of work for charities. I knew I could to do the job I wanted do, but with more meaning.”

All photography by David Townhill.

Coming up

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See future panels, workshops and roundtables on this topic and more, in the Learning Programme here.