by Tim Craven and Julia Zaman
“Our most challenging problems cannot be solved by governments and nonprofits alone. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps commit to positively impacting all stakeholders – workers, communities, customers, and our planet.”B Lab, United Kingdom
Over the last few years, more and more business leaders have been waking up to our collective responsibility towards people and the planet. And as a result, the B Corp movement is booming.
From 2016 to 2021, the number of certified B Corps tripled. Globally, there are now over 5,000 Certified B Corporations committed to harnessing the power of their business as a force for good – and in 2023, Novoda will join them.
To achieve B Corp status, a business has to prove it meets high standards of social and environmental responsibility, transparency and accountability. But what does that look like in practice? And is becoming a B Corp enough? (Spoiler alert: we don’t think so.)
We started our accreditation process a year ago, and it’s been an enlightening experience in many ways. Here’s our story so far…
Why we’re becoming a B Corp
As we embarked on our rebrand, our leadership team spent a lot of time looking inwards. We asked ourselves as a collective and as individuals: why are we in business?
We’ve been around for 14 years now – but what are we aiming for? We’ve achieved a lot as a team – but are we proud of the work we’ve done?
The Novoda philosophy is ‘be good, do good, feel good’. Our team is united in our desire to be proud of our craftsmanship – sometimes to the detriment of profit – but we don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Our priority has always been to look after our people. Not just our team but our clients and the people our clients serve. Yet, in the past, we’ve worked on projects that don’t align with our values – and ultimately, these projects had a negative impact on every single stakeholder.
To truly BE good, DO good and FEEL good, we knew we needed to rally behind a purpose and mission that empowered us to hold our heads high, speak with confidence about what ‘good’ means to us, and win work with clients who are doing good in the world.
The B-Corp certification was the obvious first step. It’s given us a clear framework to ask ourselves the right questions, take action, and tidy up our ship – getting us ready to go full steam ahead and win the kind of work that matters to us.
Why we don’t think B Corp is enough
Once we’d begun our B Corp journey, as we looked closer into the requirements we needed to meet, we soon started to ask each other – does this feel like ‘enough’ to call ourselves a ‘good business?
Instead of feeling like an ultimate goal, meeting B Corp requirements felt like the bare minimum every organisation should commit to. We quickly agreed that passing the assessment wouldn’t be our objective as a company, and our goal would be to go further.
It’s clear the B Corp framework wasn’t built for digital agencies for a number of reasons:
- It doesn’t take clients or end users into account
- There’s a big focus on supply chain and logistics which doesn’t apply to us
- Despite the ‘new normal’ of remote working in the wake of the pandemic, it only references ‘telecommuting’ (when was the last time you heard someone use that word?)
So, we asked ourselves the following question: What does a modern, profitable, good digital agency that respects all its stakeholders as having equal importance look like?
Introducing ‘The B110 Project’
The B110 Project is about giving 110% – going above and beyond the B Corp framework. It’s about identifying where we know we can do more than what the B Corp assessment asks for and taking action in these areas.
Our key areas of focus to go beyond the requirements for B Corp are mental health, diversity and inclusion, sustainability and learning and development.
Beyond mental health support
We’ve introduced a mental health budget for every employee to ensure therapy is accessible to everyone. We’re also exploring ways to support mental wellbeing in a holistic way – such as partnering with The Money Charity to deliver a series of financial wellbeing workshops.
Beyond diversity and inclusion
We’re running a series of workshops with our team on topics such as inclusive language and looking at ways to proactively engage underrepresented groups in our industry.
We’re introducing a supplier code of conduct to ensure everyone we work with meets rigorous social and environmental standards. We’re also supporting our remote teams to make their home offices as green as possible – including reducing digital waste.
Beyond learning and development
Every team member has access to a learning and development budget of £1000 and five additional days of leave per year to enable them to pursue and training they want – whether it’s related to their job or not.
How it started…
After using the B Corp framework to assess ourselves internally – and giving ourselves a rough score of 35 out of the required 80 points – we knew we’d need some support from an expert.
We didn’t want to tick boxes. We wanted to ensure we embedded best practices into our company culture and set ourselves up for long-term success. So, we partnered with Hannah Cox at betternotstop who has been instrumental in keeping us moving forward in the right direction.
The most important thing to us was gaining points in the areas our team felt most passionately about. Our first step was running a series of internal workshops to find out what they cared about most, what they felt we were good and bad at as an organisation, and which areas they wanted to see us taking action in.
Not only did this keep us focused on what mattered most to us as a collective, it also involved the whole team in the process, got us all excited and gave us all the confidence to take action.
How it’s going…
As of December 2022, we’re almost ready to submit our B Corp assessment, and we’re already seeing the impact on our people.
Retention has gone up, people have told us they feel like they’re part of something they can be proud of, and the team members who’ve been directly involved in the process have grown so much – personally and professionally. Our People Partner, Julia, has been instrumental in our progress, and it was vital that we gave her the autonomy, freedom and trust to lead the project and take action.
As a leadership team, we feel confident when discussing what ‘good’ business looks like to us. We feel like we have the authority to have conversations about corporate responsibility. Most importantly, we’re aware of the shortcomings of B Corp, and we’re asking the right questions of ourselves – ensuring we choose the right path for us and hold our own as we tread it.
The B Corp journey is a marathon, not a sprint
Plan for it to take longer than you think
We knew we wouldn’t be ready to submit our B Corp application overnight, but we also had no idea how long the process would take.
It’s coming up to a full year since we started implementing the changes needed to achieve certification, and it’s fair to say the initial collective excitement and pride have dwindled a bit.
If you’re planning on becoming a B Corp, my biggest piece of advice would be to plan for it to take longer than you think and have a plan in place to keep your team engaged after initial consultations.
Your team won’t necessarily feel the impact of all the work you’re doing, and the officialness and hoop-jumping can really take the enjoyment out of some parts of the process. And it is very much a process, so be prepared for that.
It’s not the Holy Grail of good business
We believe the B Corp certification should be what every business does. It shouldn’t be the thing you hang your hat on, and it won’t automatically bring your ideal clients flocking to you. After all, you can be a B Corp and still deliver a bad product or service.
We’re looking at our B Corp certification as part of a holistic business strategy. As a leadership team, we’ve had to set our egos aside, look at every aspect of our company critically, and take every one of our stakeholders through the journey.
If you treat the B Corp assessment as a stand-alone tick-box exercise, you won’t feel the impact.
As business owners, we’re all navigating our way through the changing business landscape at our own pace and trying our best to do what’s right for our organisations and people.
We’ve been operating in a certain way for over a decade, so we can’t always move as quickly as smaller, younger businesses. Embedding new processes and ways of thinking takes time, and we need to be patient and compassionate with each other.
Ultimately, our top priority has to be looking after our team – and sometimes that means striking a balance between what making a profit now would enable us to do later down the line.
We have to be honest about the balancing act of doing good and getting enough work in to secure our future. The world is changing, but for now, we’re still operating in the same capitalist society with the same challenges to independent businesses as there have always been.
Join us and commit to being a B110 business
We’d love every B Corp to join us in the commitment to go beyond the framework. But how?
Identify where you can go above and beyond
Where do you feel the B Corp requirements don’t go far enough for your business or industry? For example, as a digital, remote company, we don’t feel the test for environmental standards is rigorous enough.
We have very little supply chain, which makes gaining points in this area easy. Instead of ticking the boxes and patting ourselves on the back, we’re proactively looking for other ways to make improvements here.
Keep asking how you can do better
The core commitment of our B110 journey is to keep questioning ourselves about where we can do better in all areas of the company – especially when it comes to our people.
For example, we’re looking at how we work with our team across Europe, what employee standards and expectations are in different countries, and the impact of us being a contract-heavy company to enable us to scale up and down quickly.
Focus on what’s right for YOUR business
We’ve all read the Patagonia books, but remember your business is unique and it has its own beauty and ugliness.
Don’t try and do everything all at once and don’t pay too much attention to what other organisations are doing. Focus on gaining ground in the areas that are most beneficial to your business.
Remember – you aren’t alone
In this competitive, capitalist world, it can be difficult for businesses to ask for help – but collaboration is vital if we want to move the needle and create global, positive change.
“A rising tide lifts all boats.”Proverb
Collaboration and community are at the core of Novoda’s values. We aren’t in business to put other people out of business – we truly believe we can all grow together in a way that’s fair, fun and exciting.
And if you’ve read this far, you probably do too.
Share your B Corp story with us…
If you’re going through the B Corp journey, we’d love to hear from you.
- Where are you in the process?
- What’s the impact on your business?
- What other ‘good business’ frameworks are you exploring?
- How do we move beyond these frameworks and badges and hold each other accountable?
Get in touch, and let’s see if we can support each other.