There’s a movement afoot globally to create more companies that balance purpose with profit and view business as a force for good. Called Certified B Corporations, companies that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability can become certified. As of April, Sharesies investment platform was the first financial company nationally to qualify for the B Corp certification, joining just 22 other New Zealand B Corp certified businesses. CEO Brooke Roberts talks us through the process, and the benefits for businesses in becoming certified.
B Corp certification aims to drive a movement whereby one day all companies will compete to be best for the world and society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity.
On its website, it declares companies that are B Corp certified should have these goals:
- That we must be the change we seek in the world.
- That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
- That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
- To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.
The certification puts businesses ahead that are truly good in all areas, with social enterprises having an obvious natural advantage. All B Corps measure their impact and achieve at least 80 points on the B Impact Assessment to validate that they have achieved a significant threshold of impact. The average business will sit around 50 points.
The largest B Corp in the world has held its position since 2017, when yoghurt giant Danone merged with organic and plant-based food giant WhiteWave, the company behind brands like Silk, Horizon Organic, and Earthbound Farm.
The new company, now called Danone North America, is the largest certified B Corp in the world.
Danone North America’s parent company, France-based Danone, started thinking about social impact early. In a 1972 speech, the company’s founder said, “corporate responsibility doesn’t end at the factory gate or the company door” and industry should be “placed at the service of people”.
So far, New Zealand has 22 registered B Corp certified companies, including the likes of Eagle Consumables, Ethique, and Global Cycling Adventures.
Yet as of April, B Corp welcomed in its first financial company to take the certification in New Zealand: growth investment platform Sharesies. Now, with over 44,000 investors on its platform totaling over $52 million in investments, the company is steadying its growth. Below, CEO Brooke Roberts talks why she is proud of their decision to follow the goal of becoming B Corp certified.
Was becoming B Corp certified always a goal when launching the investment platform?
The certification was something on our radar early on. Then business took off and we were focused on what we were achieving. It came up again when we were at a more stable growth period and we thought it was something we needed to get involved with.
It’s something we believe in, and it was really good to do it because it tests you to see if you are actually a force for good; it makes you see if you have practices in place that are creating a purpose driven business that is good for people and the environment.
Was the process of becoming B Corp certified challenging in any way? What was some of the demands that went into the process?
There are over 200 questions, it took me about 2.5 hours. It was easy for us just because of our size we know the ins and outs of what they’re asking. But because B Corp is so busy with requests, there was a three–month waiting time until you get that review.
After they’ve reviewed your answers, they ask you to provide further evidence and documentations and then you have a 90-minute audit interview going through the questions, justifying why you’ve answered them that way. They’ll then go through the documentations you sent through, and let you know if they require any more. Following that they’ll do a peer review.
There is a big chunk where the information is in their hands, and they make it really clear when that is, which gives you a chance to step back from it while they work on their end.
Would you say the processes are quite labour intensive?
It’s a great structure and I wouldn’t say it was labour intensive. You’re dedicating a few hours through a clear path of what needs to be done. It’s not an on going process that drags along, they work really well to get you through and let you know where it is at that moment.
It is quite a long process, but I think it needs to be quite rigorous so you can prove you are a business that is for good. I loved that, because it showed us we really are a business with a goal, and now we get to be part of that community who share those values.
Was any part of the processes surprising at all?
I didn’t expect how long it would take… I thought I’d complete it that day, get the assessment then we’d be off.
Also, what I didn’t know about was that the first stage impact assessment tool is free to use, so any business can do the first stages and answer those questions… The questions promoted me to look at my business as a whole, and although we are doing really well, it was great to see areas where we could start taking more initiative or improve on. Places we hadn’t even considered would be opportunities.
Did the review highlight anything you needed to work on, or perhaps highlighted unknown areas you excelled in?
When you do the certification, there are a few different areas of your business that are looked at, including how good you are for the customer, community and the environment for workers. What I was really excited about was we really stood out on the worker’s front. We really intentionally created a company that we hope is a great place to work.
We’re the first financial company to get a B Corp in New Zealand, but because of the nuance in our set up, there was some questions we couldn’t answer or fit into, so some we couldn’t excel on because we’re just not that way inclined. But what was great about it is they give you a report after which shows all the areas you can improve. So now we’re looking at those and finding the ways we can improve and new focuses.
It’s a really good test to see if you are a social enterprise. This is a way that you can prove it and join a community of others that really care about the world. The more business that are set up to do good, the closer we’d be to living in a remarkable world.
Although you’ve only been a B Corp since April, are you seeing any benefits to being certified?
I can already definitely see the advantages of having it. We are the only financial B Corp certified but we are one of 22 in New Zealand, and we all have advice and lessons that we can learn from each other. It’s helpful to look at these other businesses internal structure as see some things that maybe we could be emulating.
When you’re certified you’re able to join the ‘B Hive’, and its essentially this community where you can go online and post questions in groups and see some of the discussions that are happening. It’s a great chance to learn from these companies but also connect with them.
There is a lot more we can learn from this community as we grow further into it.
Are there any insights and advice you could give companies that are thinking about becoming certified?
What I wasn’t aware of is the first impact awareness tool is all free, so you can get your initial rating of where your company stands. You need to get a rating over 80 in order to qualify, and the majority of business would rate around 50. If you do this free assessment and get a good high score, it’s a good place to start to become certified if you want to follow that.
Overall, there is no harm in giving it a go, because even if you decide not to go ahead with it you still can see these areas of improvement and start to make them where needed. It’s good just dedicating half a day to do it to the best of your ability. It worked well for us and we’re so proud that we can be preaching that we are a good given business that has a positive impact on the world.