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How to build a sustainable business with the B Corp assessment

The assessment can be used as a strategic planning tool

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It can be hard to know where to start to improve your company’s environmental performance. A great place to start is with B Corp.

B Corps (certified Beneficial corporations) are built by entrepreneurs who believe that the purpose of a company goes beyond making profits to creating social and environmental good.

The B Corp assessment is a free, confidential online questionnaire that allows you to examine your company’s environment, social and governance (ESG) performance, and the impact of its products or services. The assessment is part of the B Corp certification process.

Your answers to the questionnaire lead to a report in which your company is scored on various aspects of governance, social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

When you do the assessment, you sharpen your thinking about which goals to pursue and how to achieve them.

The assessment is rigorous. It delves deep into your company’s policies, practices and activities. That is daunting but worth the effort, even if you have no intention of pursuing B Corp certification, Heim says.

“In business we have so many competing priorities and it’s hard to know where to start,” says Heim, who works with B Corp companies. “But when you do the assessment, you sharpen your thinking about which goals to pursue and how to achieve them.”

Most entrepreneurs want to protect the environment

Entrepreneurs are intrinsically motivated to protect the environment, according to a 2021 BDC study. The survey of 1,515 Canadian entrepreneurs found that 83% believe they have a responsibility to act to protect the environment. Equally striking, 82% said they have already done so.

Heim says the B Corp assessment can be thought of as a gap analysis—a way to better understand where your company is doing well and where it could improve.

For example, an entrepreneur interested in reducing their company’s carbon footprint might have thought about buying electric or hybrid vehicles but not about their supply chain. Because the assessment probes every aspect of your company’s impact, you are prompted to consider deficiencies you may not have considered.

The assessment is also a treasure trove of responsible practices that entrepreneurs can copy or try. Peers in over 70 countries have described their innovative, responsible practices in their answers, which are made available to others. This makes the B Corp assessment both a strategic planning tool and source of useful ideas.

Besides using the assessment to identify where and how to start, you can also monitor your progress by retaking it periodically. There are more than 90 variations of the assessment, each tailored to the size, industry and location of different businesses. So, a service business like an accounting firm isn’t judged on the same criteria as a manufacturer.

The B Corp tool is also useful for entrepreneurs who are detecting market pressures to improve—notably by reducing their use of fossil fuels—and are thus motivated to act.

Consumers, governments and investors are demanding action on climate change. The risks are mostly reputational but also include rising difficulty in accessing capital. Canada is among the countries targeting net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager, is calling on business leaders to disclose a plan for how their company will cope with “a net-zero economy.” These pressures are starting to reverberate through the economy.

Change is here

“Change is not coming. It’s already here.” Heim says. “The sooner you start this journey, the more resilient your company will be.”

However, Heim cautions that entrepreneurs should only do projects that are aligned with their company’s values and will deliver a return on investment in terms of energy savings, employee satisfaction, improved brand identity and other benefits.

I would never do something just because it’s in the assessment. Make sure what you do is linked to your values, your company’s business model and the change you want to see in the world.

B Corps are typically as profitable as traditional businesses but enjoy advantages when it comes to brand differentiation and employee recruitment, she adds.

“There’s zero tension between being a profitable business and considering your impact on all stakeholders. I can fill a stadium with entrepreneurs whose successful companies do both. Indeed, many are fueling their profitability because they are both,” says Heim.

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