Four CAs on how being part of a B-Corp redefines their role
The B Corp movement is redefining the basic tenets of business. Four CAs at certified companies share how the coveted status influences their work and whether it’s the shape of things to come
A benefit corporation is a for-profit company that has a positive impact on its community, environment, customers, workers and society. In 2006, three Stanford University alumni used this idea as the basis for creating B Lab, which was founded with the mission to make business “a force for good”.
B Lab’s “B Corp” certification measures a company’s entire social and environmental impact. It has become the north star for companies keen to showcase their positive impact. There are now more than 4,400 B Corps and rising around the world (673 of them in the UK at time of writing), ranging from micro businesses to huge brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Havas London and Patagonia.
To maintain their status, B Corps have to submit an annual “B impact assessment”, the scores for which are published online, and change its articles of association in line with B Corp values. For the chartered accountants working at such firms, the process is both broadening and redefining their remit. We speak to four CAs to find out how being part of a B Corp-certified company affects their role and hear why CAs are pivotal to ensuring companies walk the talk.
B Corp is totally aligned with our values and our objectives… It’s about holding yourself to a set of standards
NICK JOHNSON CA
Co-Founder, Ark Coworking
After working for EY and then abroad, I came home and set up my own accounting practice, operating out of Tent – a community-centred coworking space run by a church. But when the lease ran out, my co-founder, Gavin Turnbull, and I wanted to set up a space built on the same values. We’re now at what was a dilapidated Victorian apartment building that we took on in partnership with King’s Cross Church in 2016.
Our business plan is built around pricing our membership at four cups of coffee a day. You can work out of our space, become part of a community of small businesses and start-ups and make an impact within that local community. And 5% of our membership fees goes to local projects and charities.
We felt B Corp was totally aligned with our values and objectives. Its impact assessment covers five key areas – governance, workers, community, environment, customers. That includes how we treat workers, diversity and inclusion, our procurement process for suppliers, job creation, caring for our environment and our impact within our community. It’s also about holding yourself to a set of standards.
When we started Ark we were approached by a gambling company to use our space. It would have funded the business for months, just as we were starting out. But such industries can lead people into poverty, and we wanted to create an environment for people to flourish. We had to make a decision from an ethical perspective.
We’re proud that, in 2021, we featured in the “Best for the World” B Corp rankings in the community section, making us one of the top performers across all B Corp companies in that category.
The role of a CA is evolving... the mindset has shifted from saving money to the wider impact on the community
ROSALINE BOYLE CA
Financial Planning and Analysis Manager, Bruichladdich Distillery Company
I remember being interviewed by the FD for this job in 2017. I was told: “Bruichladdich will be unlike most other places that you’ll ever work.” Decisions aren’t driven by the bottom line. We’re never going to simply choose the cheapest option and what gives us the most profit.
Our distillery is based on Islay and we want to create jobs on the island. All the infrastructure we build here is set up for future generations, rather than just stripping jobs out and taking them to the mainland because it’s cheaper.
We saw B Corp as a continuation of the work we were already doing. It took 15–18 months to get B Corp status, which is the typical timeframe for an SME. If they have any questions about the data, they can ask for clarification. But we had done the report a couple of times before we finally submitted it, so we were well prepared.
The biggest challenge we faced was carving out the time to compile all the data that’s required. It’s a labour-intensive process to get that first B impact assessment done. I was responsible for sense-checking some of the data and ensuring everything connected between the various departments. I like being that liaison between different parts of the business. A key thing is to try to make finance understandable for your peers.
But the role of a CA is evolving. It has already completely changed from my parents’ era. Now the mindset has shifted from what may save money to thinking about the wider impact on the community and the environment.
You have to look at the world and how your company can act responsibly in it. Being accountable is the bare minimum now, and being transparent and treating staff well is an important way to attract talent.
My role is much broader than being Finance Director… I get more involved in how the company is delivering on its mission
MARK SHIELDS CA
Finance Director, Brewgooder
I joined the Glasgow-based beer company Brewgooder in September 2021, so I came into a business that already had B Corp status. I had some tangential knowledge of B Lab and I knew there was a significant audit process you had to go through, and that you have to be very transparent.
One of the things that attracted me to the role was Brewgooder’s mission. Our slogan is “brewed on purpose”. When you buy one of our beers, you will help to fund 100 times that volume of clean drinking water in parts of the world that need it. So our consumers can have an impact through purchasing the product.
Coming from a CA background, you have a good understanding of stakeholder management. But B Corp goes far beyond that, and my role is much broader than being Finance Director. For me, working on the annual B impact assessment means that I get more involved in how the company is delivering on that mission and the tangible impact it is having, which is something I wouldn’t necessarily have done in a formal finance role.
There’s a lot of work in becoming and staying a B Corp, but it’s something that is increasingly resonating with society. There is much more focus on ESG on the back of Cop26 and there’s an increasing expectation on businesses to consider more than just the hard financial bottom line.
There’s also the “great resignation” – lots of people are deciding to leave their jobs and re-evaluate their careers. A company’s value and impact have become key considerations when trying to hire and retain the best people.
Even if you don’t become a B Corp, the impact assessment tool can help you think more broadly about your purpose
TED FRANKS CA
Partner & Fund Manager, WHEB
WHEB is an investment fund which currently stands at £1.6bn and we invest in companies that provide solutions to sustainability challenges. We were one of the first listed equity funds to become a positive impact investor. We know how to look at a company from an ESG point of view. But when you add the extra B Corp lens on top of that, you are applying a far more stringent framework that can filter out any possible greenwashing.
There was a time in the 1970s when businesses cut loose because of the Milton Friedman doctrine of putting the interests of the shareholder above all else. But with B Corp you’re thinking about how you balance all the stakeholders’ interests. Everything WHEB does as a management team is viewed through the perspective not just of what’s good for shareholders, but how it will be for employees, customers or community stakeholders.
Even if you don’t become a B Corp, looking at the impact assessment tool can help you think more broadly about the purpose of your business. There are only 4,400 B Corps, but around 100,000 companies use the website to try to understand what it means to become one. Good, well-trained accountants are drilled in prudence and consideration, thinking about risks, understanding data, making pragmatic decisions. They operate within the lifeblood of the organisation, collecting data and judging performance, so they’re totally integral to switching that focus from financial-only to financial and ESG reporting.
That role will become even more important as the IFRS introduces greater disclosures on ESG and the reporting becomes subject to significantly tougher guidelines. That is going to start driving a lot more organisations to look at what B Corp is doing.
ICAS training partner BPP runs a sustainability reporting course throughout 2022