This Way Forward: Reimagining a better future by evolving our standards

‘17 years ago, we were trailblazers. As a movement, we were out in front; we were showing people the way. Now we need to evolve our standards to meet this moment.’

These words by Clay Brown, B Lab Global Head of Standards, Certification & Product Delivery, from Assembly 2024, underline a core tenet of the B Corp movement: a commitment to continuous improvement

In so many ways, business is not the same as it was when the movement started in 2006, and neither are the challenges we face, as a global society and as a planet. We know you feel the responsibility; we feel it too.

As a movement driven by purpose, and committed to transforming the global economic system to one that is more kind, equitable and regenerative — we need to decide what’s next, not leave it up to chance. 

How can we step up to the proverbial plate with courage and conviction to create the kind of change we know is needed? And how can we, as B Corps, continue to blaze a trail for a better kind of business, rather than the kind of extractive, individualised, ‘growth at all costs’ business as usual that got us here?

From individualism to interdependence

Find out how the new standards encourage continuous improvement

A crisis of imagination?

Whether it’s the so-called ‘zombie apocalypse’, grey goo scenarios, or black hole encounters — over the past few decades, our society has dedicated plenty of time (and money) into developing a relatively in-depth picture of what ‘the end of times’ could look like. Yet, when asked to picture an ideal world? Most of us come up blank. 

This phenomenon is what Geoff Mulgan refers to as the ‘imaginary crisis’ — the result of a world where institutions have largely abandoned their roles in fostering inspired futures, instead stoking individualism and short-term fixes over collective dreaming.

“The ‘imaginary crisis’ is the result of a deficit of social imagination. We find it easy to imagine apocalypse and disaster; or to imagine new generations of technology. But we find it much harder than in the past to imagine a better society a generation or more into the future.”

— Geoff Mulgan, The Imaginary Crisis (2020)

This decline in our collective imagination matters, according to Mulgan, because we need a wider range of ideas and innovation to help us tackle global challenges like climate change and social inequality. As such, Mulgan proffers, we need to focus our efforts on sparking creativity, garnering collective intelligence, and leveraging modern technology to share ideas, stories and inspire a vision for the future that we can all buy into. 

A barren piece of land as a result of climate change

Image: Canva Pro

Joining the (r)evolution

While it’s natural to feel guilt, helplessness and fear in the face of immense cascading crises, for us to have a hope of creating a better world, we need to find ways of leaving the ‘doomsday-ing’ behind, and instead engage with ideas that are not just revolutionary but evolutionary

Balancing imagination with practical experimentation, it’s up to each of us to find ways of translating intention into action through our businesses, communities and through our lives. 

“We need a return to the inherent humanity of business; it’s business, but not as usual, and there is a high degree of humanity in what we [as B Corps are] trying to do.”

— Clay Brown, B Lab Global Head of Standards, Certification & Product Delivery

Whether you’ve been part of the movement for 10 days or 10 years, this desire to rehumanise business epitomises what being a B Corp is all about: coming together, designing solutions, and taking action based on our shared values for a more regenerative and inclusive future. 

Yet, while the B Corp movement’s shared values, purpose and ‘why’ has been well established for almost two decades, ‘how’ we go about taking action and ‘what’ those solutions look like has largely been left up to individual businesses to interpret according to their context, their region and their industry. Until now.

Clay Brown speaking at Assembly 2024. He is standing at a plinth talking to an audience.

Image: Clay Brown, photography by Sally Batt

Highlights from Assembly 2024: Turning intention into action

Deciding what matters most

Since 2020, B Lab and our Global Network have embarked on a multi-year, multi-stakeholder project to review our standards and better address intensifying global crises. This much-needed evolution is necessary to ensure B Corps can continue to lead a more sustainable, equitable and regenerative economy for all. 

“We want to stand, head high and proud, that these standards are addressing the most important challenges of our time. It’s not OK for businesses not to address living within planetary boundaries, human rights, climate action; it’s no longer acceptable not to have this as part of our movement.”

— Clay Brown, B Lab Global Head of Standards, Certification & Product Delivery

In many ways, the evolution of standards for B Corp Certification is about acknowledging that businesses, for so long, have been part of the problem — and, as such, they must be part of the solution. 

The process has been deliberate, strategic and stakeholder-driven; a way of collectively deciding what matters most, so we can each play our role in transforming the global economic system. By focusing on the most pressing social and environmental issues facing people and the planet, we have also sought to clarify what the most impactful actions and business models are to drive the greatest possible positive impact

Clay Brown walking, black and white photo

Image: Clay Brown, photography by Sally Batt

The evolutionary imperative

Since 2020, B Lab has received record numbers of applications, with the pandemic proving to be a catalyst for businesses seeking to do things differently and disrupt the economic system as we know it. Throughout time, there have also been over 200,000 companies engaging with our standards through the B Impact Assessment, with 40,000 new users in the last year alone, as well as over 25,000 using the SDG Action Manager to help them set goals and track progress towards the SDGs. 

As Oliver Pelling wrote for Smart Company, what started as a ‘community of outliers’ has now grown to a global network of more than 8,000+ businesses, across 160+ industries, employing more than 750,000, and impacting millions with revenues in the hundreds of billions.

“Inspiring numbers, yes, but still a drop in the ocean of a global economy. [While] we rightly celebrate our growth, we must reflect on our goal to drive change.”

— Andrew Davies, CEO of B Lab Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand

As Andrew Davies, CEO of B Lab Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand shared at Assembly 2024, these numbers are impressive, but true to the movement’s commitment to continuous improvement and the unfolding nature of the challenges we face — we’re not going to stop there

Andrew Davies speaking to an audience

Image: Andrew Davies, photography by Sally Batt

Made more pressing by a devastating pandemic, global conflicts and unbridled climate change, we faced a distinct choice in how to accelerate the movement’s positive impact and tip the scales of economic systems change. Maintain the status quo and risk not making an impact on addressing global challenges; lower our standards to allow more businesses to certify, but risk diluting our impact and integrity; or commit to evolving a more rigorous set of standards to apply to all B Corps and better rise to the challenges of our time. No points for guessing which one we chose.

Over many years, the B Corp logo has become the trusted mark of a business that has been independently certified to go beyond business as usual to proactively meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. 

It is a badge imbued with meaning and purpose; one that gets earned through countless hours of deliberate, concerted action for a better world. In order for it to stay that way, our standards had to evolve. This is the evolutionary imperative.

Certified B Corporation logo

The changing nature of trust

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, we have falling levels of trust across all of the major institutions that we are dependent on from government to media and even charities. The nature of trust is also changing: who do we trust? Who can we trust? Can we trust anyone

Amidst waves of misinformation, disinformation, digital transformation, and global upheaval, trust must be earned, nurtured, and vigilantly maintained. So how can B Corps continue to build trust in business as a vehicle for change by evolving our standards?

As B Lab Global Head of Standards, Certification & Product Delivery Clay Brown shared at Assembly 2024, we need to “be the examples that show the world what is possible”. 

“We’ve all seen AI-generated images, we have greenwashing, we have ‘fake news’. We also have to be thinking about the role of trust and what we can do to address this [lack of] trust in our own communities.

“As a movement, it’s more important than ever that we learn how to navigate these waters. The good news is: our founding values contain a lot of what we need to be able to rise to this moment.”

— Clay Brown, B Lab Global Head of Standards, Certification & Product Delivery

What we need is every individual, organisation, and leader to step up, engage in open and honest communication, and act with unwavering integrity, transparency and accountability. These are crucial elements for the longevity and impact of any movement, let alone the B Corp movement, and the evolution of standards becomes the foundation for continued growth, impact, and engagement in our mission.

Being purpose-driven means being agile and responsive to the changing social, environmental, and economic landscapes. And with our new standards at the heart, we want to see a world where B Corps can continue to negotiate this moment with the courage and humility required to shape a collective future that benefits all.

Black and white photo of people walking and smiling at the camera

Image: Sally Batt

The future of B Corp standards

Informed by our expanding community of B Corps and aspiring B Corps, as well as specialist stakeholders, the new standards for B Corp Certification will provide an ambitious yet attainable blueprint for the future of business we need to see.

Along with a growing suite of tools and resources to assess impact, drive change, and encourage high performance, together we can operationalise our vision for a more just, equitable and regenerative economy.

The new standards are also a critical way to focus future efforts on a more comprehensive range of issues, and to measure efficacy accordingly. 

“The new standards will focus on all issues of social, environment, and governance, clarifying what it takes to be a ‘business for good’ and what it means to be a B Corp.

“They recognise that we no longer exist on an island, but in a complex ecosystem, which includes regulatory standards and supports interoperability with emerging regulations and peers, partners and others.”

— Clay Brown, B Lab Global Head of Standards, Certification, & Product Delivery

From Fair Wages to Climate Action and Purpose & Stakeholder Governance, the proposed Impact Topics in the new standards will help ensure that B Corp Certification is relevant for the challenges of today and tomorrow, while continuing to honour the efforts of those who proactively lead business as a force for good. 

In practice, this looks like cross-cutting changes that tailor performance requirements according to company size, sector, and operating context. It looks like more clear, concrete performance improvement requirements, as well as more of a focus on collective action. There will also be a new set of Foundation Requirements to assess eligibility, and identify those with Impact Business Models (IBMs) — each seismic shifts designed to amplify our net impact.

People sitting down on cardboard stools with the Circle B logo

An example under the impact topic of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion or ‘JEDI’, is that all businesses will need to demonstrate actions from a menu of options depending on their industry, size and context, such as:

  • increasing the diversity of senior leadership;
  • inclusive hiring practices;
  • mentoring opportunities;
  • or redesigning a product or service for inclusivity.

That’s because the new standards need to evolve far beyond simply maintaining a certification; they need to fundamentally transform an economy that is no longer working — for people, for communities and for the planet. 

A tote bag that reads: People & Planet

Image: Sally Batt

Start exploring the new standards today

A roadmap for change

While it’s important that we continue to use our standards to engage with businesses beyond the movement, the new standards are designed to provide a shared language, identity and roadmap for change for those within the community, so we can continue to create positive impact and redefine the role of business for many years to come.  

There are several other key changes coming to the B Corp Certification process, such as a move away from the point scoring system, a greater focus on interoperability with other certifications and regulatory standards, as well as specific ways to make sure companies are identifying, measuring, learning, and improving on other important components of business impact beyond the Core Impact Topics.

You can learn more about each of the Impact Topics in the draft standards and have your say before they are finalised:

🪧 Purpose & Stakeholder Governance

🪧 Human Rights

🪧 Climate Action

🪧 Fair Wages

🪧 Environmental Stewardship & Circularity

🪧 Workplace Culture

🪧 Government Affairs & Collective Action

🪧 Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

🪧 Complementary Impact Topics

Screenshot of the draft standards consultation website. It reads: Help shape the future of B Corp Certification.

Have your say on the final draft of the standards

Ready to shape the future?

Don’t leave the future to chance; grab this opportunity to plot a meaningful path forward. Because while this movement is one often spurred on by action, we must not forsake this moment to reflect on the power of imagination and crafting a vision for the kind of future we want. 

Envision what a thriving world looks like to you. What is the role of business in achieving that? Articulate it. Share it. Breathe life into it with your words and actions. 

Use the current stakeholder consultation period to make your voice heard, and connect with fellow purpose-driven businesses throughout B Corp Month. Together, we can create a more sustainable, inclusive future for people, planet and communities.

It’s the final week to have your say on the draft standards, and shape the future of the B Corp movement. 

Remember you don’t need to submit feedback on ALL of the standards and Impact Topics, and you can save and edit anytime until midnight 26 March

Have your say