What you need to know about evolving the standards for B Corp Certification

Much like a game without rules, what is a certification without standards? Standards are, and always have been, an indelible part of the B Corp movement. They provide guidance on what good business looks like, giving businesses of all shapes and sizes a clear pathway for improvement, and holding up a new definition of a more inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy that we can be held accountable for. 

However, just as the world does, these standards must evolve to keep step with the challenges of our time. 

While significant improvements have been made to our certification standards since B Lab began in 2006, the core aspects of the B Impact Assessment have remained consistent — an approach that has been tremendously valuable and impactful, while also demonstrating its limitations and challenges in the first 15 years of this movement. 

In December 2020, B Lab announced a more wide-scale rethink of its standards for B Corp Certification, and both B Lab and our Global Network have embarked on a multi-year, multi-stakeholder project to review our standards. Here is an update on where B Lab’s Evolution of Standards sits as we emerge from the preliminary consultation period in 2022.

The B Lab team having a discussion

Background context

Up until this point (and until the new standards come into effect), businesses seeking B Corp Certification have had to meet a stringent purpose and stakeholder governance (legal) requirement to incorporate the interests of all stakeholders in decision-making and complete a scored impact assessment of their practices against five areas: governance, workers, community, the environment, and customers. 

This assessment is then reviewed by B Lab, verifying all supporting documentation to arrive at an overall verified ‘B Impact Score,’ which must be at least 80 points to achieve certification.

Two people, one writing and one typing

Unpacking the ‘B Impact Score’ — what it is and why it matters ↗

In 2020, B Lab began the extensive process of evolving the standards for B Corp Certification with the aim of continuing to differentiate leading businesses, rethinking the current economic system, and helping all companies to improve their social and environmental impact on key issues facing people and the planet.

“In an increasingly volatile world, businesses are being held more accountable, and the need for positive impact is ever more apparent. This compels us to ask even bigger questions about how our current standards are meeting the needs of the moment, and how we can optimise and position the B Corp movement to lead a more equitable, just and regenerative future through the standards we uphold.”

— Andrew Davies, CEO, B Lab AANZ

The evolution process

Perhaps the most marked evolution in the standards to come out of this period of reflection and change is a move away from a flexible verified scoring mechanism to specific requirements across core topics (to be finalised). Although the majority of these topics are already covered in the existing standards and methodology, this evolution marks a shift towards making them mandatory across all B Corp Certified businesses.

In September 2022, following extensive global stakeholder engagement and consultation with B Lab’s Standards Advisory Council, B Lab’s six Regional Standards Advisory Groups, and subject matter experts, the first draft of the new standards for B Corp Certification were introduced for a preliminary consultation.

This preliminary consultation period saw participation from more than 1,000 individuals globally, representing a cross-section of geographies, company profiles, and stakeholder groups. And we are deeply grateful to the 1000+ respondents that provided feedback on the first draft of the new standards for B Corp Certification.

Consultation in numbers

Releasing: Preliminary Consultation Summary Report

Following the extensive preliminary consultation period, B Lab Global has recently released a full Preliminary Consultation Summary Report, which represents an ambitious yet attainable goal for business leaders looking to be a force for good.

This Summary Report collates and summarises the rich and valuable feedback we received from over 1,000 businesses, public and academic stakeholders, with 43 topical expert interviews, over 48 hours of focus groups, and feedback from stakeholders in 53 countries. 

Key insights from the Preliminary Consultation Summary Report

This Summary Report provides an overview of the preliminary consultation results, highlighting potential ways to incorporate feedback into the next draft of the standards. Some key points include:

  • 86% of B Corp respondents and 87% of non-B Corp respondents think the new draft standards represent high standards for social and environmental performance and will help make meaningful progress on pressing social and environmental issues.
  • 71% of B Corp respondents and 77% of non-B Corp respondents think the new draft standards make it clearer to understand what is required to certify. 
  • 69% of B Corp respondents and 51% of non-B Corp respondents think the new draft standards are either attainable or possible to attain over time.

Overall a strong majority of respondents indicated that the new standards represent high standards for social and environmental performance and that they will help in making meaningful progress on the most pressing social and environmental issues. Some respondents also shared that the draft standards could help reduce the risk of greenwashing, with a small number of concerns raised about the standards being too high.

Notably, the challenges in attainability are linked to perceptions around increased resources that would need to be dedicated to certification (e.g. additional documentation generation, capacity, costs, hiring third-party service providers, etc.) which might not be possible for all companies.

In the next phase of consultation, B Lab will continue to engage stakeholders from specific groups of companies to determine if and how the standards could be better contextualised for them, providing flexibility and allowing more time to comply, particularly for disadvantaged groups.

It is important to remember that B Corp Certification sets a threshold for high-performing leaders, and companies can use the standards in their journey towards improvement at their own pace and approach certification when they’re ready.

Other important aspects to highlight:

  • Scoring is still seen as a valuable tool for businesses to drive improvement with ways to differentiate being explored in the next round of design work. 
  • Impact Business Models that design positive social & environmental impact into the business should continue to be emphasised as part of the new standards.
  • More guidance is needed on specific standard topic requirements and how to identify, prioritise and engage stakeholders that may be impacted by a company’s decisions. 
The B Lab team having a meeting

Full details on methodology and survey data are available in the full report

How long will I have to transition to the new standards?

As this process continues, including the new standards for B Corp Certification, one of our main priorities is that the B Corp community has the time and information required to understand and adapt to the new standards. 

All B Corps will have a significant transition period to adopt these new standards, communicated far in advance:

“The rollout and implementation of the standards will be gradual. All B Corps will be given time and support to transition towards the new standards once the draft is finalised.”

— Lauren Cain, Certification & Standards Manager, B Lab AANZ

What happens next

These new standards are significantly evolving what it means to be a B Corp, ensuring that certification remains relevant for the challenges of today and tomorrow. To evolve successfully and sustainably, we must gather comprehensive feedback and listen carefully, so we can bring about meaningful change.

While the need to evolve the standards for B Corp Certification must mirror the urgency and gravity of our current context, the right kind of change takes time

As we enter the next phase of implementing the new standards for B Corp Certification, the B Lab Standards team is committed to acting on these insights and using feedback from the preliminary consultation to produce the next iteration of the draft. This is intended to be shared in a further consultation in late 2023.

Your input is invaluable to support the continued development of this work, ensuring our standards are clear, impactful and responsive

Want to play a vital role in evolving the standards for B Corp Certification? The second round of consultation on the standards is due to begin in late 2023. 

READ MORE: Evolving our Standards to meet the challenges of our time