Why there’s room for both big and small under the B umbrella

It provided a moment for pause when the global community of B Corps whizzed past 4,500 last year, after 15 years of movement building.

As we approach 400 B Corps in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand – another major milestone – and AUD$10bn of annual revenue from B Corps in our region, we reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities ahead for B Lab and the movement itself as it continues to grow.

Colourful umbrellas

From little things, big things grow

What started as a small group of passionate visionaries has now grown to a network of over 4,700 businesses, across 150 industries, employing more than 438,000 employees, and impacting millions of customers, clients, and stakeholders across the globe. That is not insignificant, and the movement shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. 

In fact, since the onset of the pandemic, B Lab Global has received more than 6,000 applications for certification from businesses — a 38% increase compared to the period 2018-2019. We’ve also seen over 50,000 businesses sign on to the B Impact Assessment in just the last two years.

However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story, and they certainly don’t allow for the kind of nuance and diversity in both industry and organisation that the community has come to represent.

Creating space for complexity

Apart from the movement’s rapid growth, in the past two years, we’ve also seen larger and more complex businesses certify, both globally and in our region.

Global businesses like illycaffé, Chloe, The Body Shop have achieved certification, joined by multinational corporations such as Danone who have an ambition of becoming one of the first certified multinationals, and currently have more than 60% of their global sales derived through subsidiaries that are B Corp certified.

Having a large and complex business like Danone Oceania certifying as a B Corp is an important reminder of how far we have come; the power the network holds is incredible.

These large scale businesses undoubtedly attract attention, thanks to their size and brand reach. And with that extra attention, we also expect a certain degree of scrutiny when it comes to understanding the commitments and policies made by those multinationals who certify. In fact, we welcome it.

“We love welcoming new members into this active and supportive community; B Corps are rightly proactive and passionate, and it’s important that they challenge each other – and B Lab – to be the change we all want to see.”

 — Chris Turner, Executive Director at B Lab UK

Asking questions and being held accountable is an indelible part of the certification process. Not only do we trust that the B Impact Assessment is robust and credible enough to withstand any additional scrutiny, it’s also how we ensure that the movement maintains its high standards of integrity, accountability and transparency.

Redesigning certification for a growing movement

Though this movement was largely built on the backs of small business, there is something to be said for how far we can progress the goal of a new economic system as big businesses like Danone join the movement alongside small-medium enterprises (SMEs).

One large business like this, eliminating carbon emissions, or adopting a policy to employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds, can have a huge impact on our community. We see growth in B Lab’s reach, in our collective impact, and in advocacy for change. 

Larger and more complex businesses also challenge perceptions of how the same high standards and rigorous verification processes can be applied, and B Lab has responded in recent years with a comprehensive redesign of certification processes for different size businesses.

Encouragingly, we don’t see one replacing the other: the demand from smaller businesses continues, with 83% of B Corps in our region having annual revenue of less than AUD$10m.

In 2021, that also meant we developed a new process to certify smaller businesses too, recognising that to meet the demand we needed to create a pathway and increase our capacity. Introducing a verification partner, B Corp Genashtim, to help us build capacity on B Lab Global’s Certification & Verification team has been a big part of that.

Two legs from the knee down walking in a field

Keeping step with the pace of change

B Lab continues to develop position papers on controversial issues, outlining our positions on certain industries and practices to provide full transparency about eligibility for B Corp certification, as well as add to further thoughtful and constructive public discourse. Our performance standards are currently being evolved and adapted, as part of our continued commitment to improve our approach and advance performance.

To drive consistency across reporting and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) frameworks, B Lab is also a partner in the Impact Management Platform, a collaboration between leading providers of public good standards and guidance for managing sustainability impacts.

What is clear is that businesses, both large and small, are showing up to drive a movement towards change; a move towards better business.

How each B Corp participates in the movement varies, as does how each B Corp uses its business to drive positive impact through governance, environment, community, workers, and customers – the five impact areas at the core of B Corp certification.

At the end of the day, the beating heart of this movement is a diverse community of like-minded, purpose-driven businesses. 

By achieving hard-won B Corp certification and verifying that they meet high standards of social and environmental performance, these businesses are proving to the world that it’s possible to be commercially successful while benefiting people, communities and the planet. 

They all have stories to be told, and they all help us show what an inclusive, regenerative and equitable economic system looks like, no matter their size.