Have you ever noticed some organisations include a logo with a big black B in a circle? And have you ever wondered what that was all about? It signifies that an organisation is a B Corporation, or BCorp. There’s almost 500 companies in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand that are certified BCorps, and the number’s growing. BCorps essentially are a companies that have a social purpose as well as a profit purpose, and they get to use the logo through a certification process.
Today we’re taking a look at BCorps, to find out how you become one, and – perhaps more importantly – why you might want to become one. We’re talking to Keryn Nossal, the founder of Melbourne-based creative content agency Fancy Films and Lauren Diggle, the Certification Manager and Senior Analyst for B Lab, Australia and New Zealand. Her organisation runs the BCorp program in this part of the world and they’re part of a global network.
I’m going to start with you, Keryn, so people can get a sense of what your business does. I mean, if there’s such a thing as a typical day for Fancy Films what might that involve?
Running, like a small news team and newsroom for clients. So the clients could be corporate clients, government clients, they could be working in the art space, education, higher ed, lots of university clients who need to amplify their voice and get their content out there. We do video production for them. And a normal day is, you know, like running a small newsroom.
So what sort of what sort of things might you be might you be doing I understand you there’s a lot of helicopters and planes involved in your work…
We do anything from that sort of work where we’re providing content to the government to fuel their never-ending need for corporate content and content on their projects. Or, you know, we might be filming, we might be doing interviews, we might be traveling for clients that are national. But essentially anything that’s got to do with making short films really – we’re the master of the short form video.
So when people think about sustainability, they might not immediately think about a business such as yours. What do you see as the key sustainability issues for your business?
We aren’t a very heavy user of anything that environmentally is a really big problem. You know, we basically have a small office we have we have to use power, we have to, you know, we have some waste. But essentially, we’re pretty much environmentally not a big user of energy. So yeah, the sustainability issues for us can sometimes also be around having a good sustainable workforce and a sustainable business model. So it’s sort of broadening our idea of what sustainability is beyond environmental sustainability. It’s about the sustainability of our business model.
A few years ago Fancy Films decided to become a B Corp what, what prompted that decision?
A friend who’s actually my husband’s cousin, who’d just come back from working in the US. And she was actually saying, you should certify as a BCorp. You are a BCorp, like you’ve always done a lot of pro bono work. You’re always doing purpose driven work in the social justice space. Why don’t you look into it? And I did at that early stage look into it, and thought that whilst we were doing a lot of these things, I couldn’t quite understand how we could make the BCorp fit us. But it proved that we were absolutely able to do that without any major problem.
Okay, now if I could bring you in here now, Lauren, for small business like Keryn’s, what’s the process like to become a BCorp, and is it different for larger organisations compared to smaller ones? So if I’m Keryn, what do I have to do?
When you first certify basically there are three sort of main requirements I guess to become a certified B Corporation. The first is the one that everyone sort of hears about the most in terms of you take this free online assessment called the B Impact Assessment or the BIA for short. And essentially, you answer a series of around 250 questions. Like Keryn was saying, it’s not just about your environmental impact, it really covers a whole range of areas.
So there’s five different key impact areas, there’s your governance structures, your workers, how you interact with your community, your customers, and then the environment is part of that as well. And so you take the assessment, it’s free, it’s online, you answer the questions. And then in order to submit your assessment and go through the actual verification process, you need to achieve a minimum score of at least 80 points. So once you’ve got your 80 points, you submit, and then you go through the verification stage, which is where you work one on one with an analyst to verify that what you’re saying checks out, there’s a lot of documentation uploads that are required.
So it is quite a long and rigorous process, which I’m sure Keryn can attest to.
And then the second part about it is our accountability sort of piece in terms of our stakeholder and governance requirements. So this is really a commitment to consider the impact of decisions on all stakeholders. And in our region, businesses must amend their company Constitution, to include two clauses which we sort of there’s a purpose clause and there’s also a stakeholder clause. So that’s the second piece.
And then the third piece is around transparency. So when you certify as a B Corp, you are also agreeing to make your B impact score publicly available on our platform, which is called the B Corp directory. So any company can go and research your score and see which areas you did really well in.
The process, I guess, even if, depending on whether you’re small or large, you still all have to take the assessment, you still all have to meet the legal requirement, there’s still that transparency piece. I guess the difference with the larger sort of corporations is it takes probably a lot longer, the businesses are often a lot more complex. If you are a multinational global organization, there might need be different assessments involved if you’ve got different entities around the world. And there might just be additional steps towards the end of a process in terms of depending on how complex or what sort of industry you work in as well.
And at the end of that process presuming I’m successful, what does that allow me to do?
Yes, great question. I mean, I feel like Keryn, you can probably answer this better than me. But one of the biggest things in terms of we hear from why companies want to achieve BCorp certification is really to get access to the community of BCorps. And that’s not just sort of locally, but also it’s you know, it’s a global certification, there’s, you know, companies all around the world that, you know, are doing sort of the same thing in terms of pursuing business as a force for good.
So it’s really getting access to that global, but also local, community. There’s so many BCorps that change their whole take on their supply chain. So they’ll, you know, put B Corp coffee and tea in their office, you know, they’ll use who gives a crap toilet paper. So it’s a lot of people once they join the community, sort of make a real effort to sort of ‘BCorp up’ their life, I guess. And I’m not sure, Keryn, I feel like you’ve done a couple of those things at Fancy Films, potentially. But I think it’s yeah, it’s really great to just be part of a community that’s very like-minded. And then when you do have to sort of go into partnerships, I feel like it’s sort of a very natural thing to look for those BCorp connections first.
And I was this leads on to a question I was going to ask both of you. What do you see as the benefits of being a BCorp? You’ve mentioned the community side of things, but Keryn maybe you’ve seen some other things from your perspective about what’s been great about being a B Corp?
What Lauren’s sort of alluding to is the idea that it is a great community. But really, when I found about out about BCorp, I just thought, this is us! And it’s what we, who we are. And so I felt this sense of purpose coming out, and therefore being able to align with more like-minded people with a sense of purpose. But it also pushed us to be a better business.
So when you look at all these different aspects of the certification process, which yes, it is long and arduous, but every step of the way, you’re learning these amazing ways that you can maybe do something better. And if that’s for the world, or for your workers, or for your clients or for your community, there’s just a complete and utter feeling of joy that, you know, you can actually push yourself to be a better business, and that you can benchmark yourself against other better businesses and other businesses and differentiate yourself as well.
And so from a business perspective do you feel like it’s given you a competitive advantage in any way?
I would really like to say yes, but I think I can’t really prove that in any way, except for year on year, our business model does support some charities, and they are just benefiting so much from the work that we’re doing. And we’re monitoring that impact. And so therefore, I feel like we are part of a bigger picture of impact. But whether it’s good for our marketing or whether it’s good for business, I actually can’t say.
Lauren, there’s been a huge lift in the number of organisations over recent times that have become BCorps in both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. What do you see as driving that uptake?
So we sort of saw this big spike off the back of COVID. When we were sort of thinking that a lot of people might put BCorp certification on the backburner, but that’s when we sort of had a very strong spike in demand. And it’s kind of been sort of going up and up and up ever since. And that’s not even just locally in our regions, but globally, as well, which is very exciting.
So I think there’s almost this aspect of how do you make your business almost more resilient and more adaptable in challenging times, like the pandemic. A lot of feedback we got from our BCorps during the pandemic was, you know, their certification, and particularly their commitment to their workers, really helped them throughout the pandemic. So it’s almost like the certification, or just the B impact assessment framework in general was helping companies future proof their business so that if things were to happen in the future, you’ve got a really good baseline to work with in terms of how do you remain, you know, financially and sustainable in so many other aspects, when times are really tough.
So I feel like that’s been a really big one, as well. I think another one that’s been spoken a lot more about is really, this concept of attracting and retaining talent. So we get a lot of BCorps coming to us saying like, we actually have a lot of people coming into our interview saying, I want to work for you because of your BCorp status. And I think that’s a really big trend we’re seeing in terms of, you know, millennials especially, are rewarding loyalty to employees who are addressing or employees that are addressing employee needs from things like sustainability to diversity and inclusion, which is a really great thing. I think people just want to be working at a place that really aligns with them and their values.
Yeah and that’s particularly important at the moment when we’ve got such a war for talent going on. Now you mentioned before transparency as being part of the overall approach for BCorps. Is there any requirements for BCorps to produce a sustainability report for example or to publicly report on their on what they’re doing on or on their scoring?
So apart from BCorps having this sort of agreement to publish their score and be publicly available on our BCorp directory, that is sort of the only transparency requirement from like a score assessment perspective at the moment. So BCorps in our region don’t necessarily have to produce an annual impact report. This potentially might change with we’re currently going through this evolution of our BCorp standards, which is something that’s been happening. Our global team are really thinking about what will the certification standards look like in three years time, in five years time? And that’s definitely something that’s on the cards in terms of what should BCorps be required to produce from that transparency perspective.
I was going to ask you about that, I understand that there’s quite a big process on underway to update standards. Do you think that that’s going to require a lot more resources for companies to certify in future?
Potentially! I think the thing that comforts me at least is that a lot of the new standards will cover topics that are already sort of existing in the current standards. So there is going to be quite a bit of overlap. I guess the biggest thing, or the biggest change will be going from this sort of quite flexible approach in terms of how different companies are meeting the 80 points to in the future, there being these 10 core topics, where each company will need to meet sort of a minimum requirement against each of the 10 topics. So there’ll be a topic on climate, there’ll be a topic on human rights, and not every requirement will be the same for each business, because a small business, you know, like a restaurant in Japan will be assessed very differently to a marketing company in Melbourne, because there are different nuances.
In terms of resourcing, I think it will take a lot particularly, we acknowledge it’s going to be very sort of, I guess, challenging for our BCorps to adjust to that new mindset as well. And there’ll be quite a sort of lengthy legacy period where BCorps won’t just have to transition straight away to the new standards, because we understand that there’s a lot of planning that goes into that recertification process. And Keryn, I’m sure you can vouch for that as well! In terms of, you know, companies plan like years out before they’re actually due to recertify. So there’s definitely going to be a very sort of long transition period. And we as B Lab need to make sure that we’re supporting our businesses through that transition as well.
Great, thanks. Well, Keryn, you don’t look super stressed right now. But can I ask you what the certification process is like from the point of view of this small business having to put some resources in there to do it?
We requested an extension because our BCorp certification falls right at the end of the financial year. And June 15 is just not the time if you’re in the lead up to that. So we’ve got the extension for a month, I think we’re looking really good, our score’s looking really high. We’ve gone from being a small business to actually a medium business now. So we’re actually a much bigger business. So we’ve got more people, more people invested in being a BCorp and wanting to help with the certification. It’s brought my husband and I, who’s the CFO, and I great joy, looking at things that we could do, you know, because we want to leave a legacy with this business, you know. And I feel like we’ve picked up on a few really good ideas we could try as well as, mostly a bit around our workers. And yeah, it’s not as daunting, I don’t feel like… let’s not be daunted we’ve done it once, I think that must have been that that was the hardest hurdle. I heard was really going to be harder the second time around. And I just said, I suppose, once I’ve got the extension, I just decided I refuse to get too worried about I want to enjoy it.
Great approach. Now finally Keryn I understand Fancy Films made a pretty significant announcement around a grants program recently. Can you explain how that came about and how that how that links to your B Corp status?
So what we have a committed to doing is creating this lasting impact and contributing to charities. So we realised that if we were to give five to 10% of our revenue, which is quite a bit as the business has gone through a massive growth phase this last financial year, and just prior to that as well, that we had to back that up, and we hadn’t done the figures on how much we actually spent in the pro bono capacity. But we realised that we’re going to fall short and that we may as well announce a fund that is ongoing. So it might not all be spent in this financial year. In fact, it needs to be but if it doesn’t, we will find ways of using those funds for pro bono work. So we just decided that we launched that and see what is out there as well as having to up our donations. We’ve actually had to give away a bit of money this financial year as well. So it’s all directly linked to our commitment as a B Corp.
Wow exciting times ahead both for B Corps and for Fancy Films! I really appreciate you coming on and providing your perspectives today. Thanks Keryn Nossal of Fancy Films and Lauren Diggle of B LAB Australia and New Zealand.
It sounds like the process of responding to the B Corp assessment can be just as helpful to your business, as the ability to promote your B Corp status. But it’s clear B-Corps suit some, but not all, businesses. If you have a strong social purpose, are happy to be pretty transparent about your environmental and social impact, and incorporate stakeholder perspectives into your business, then it might be a good fit.
Think your business might work as a BCorp?
You can find a link to the BCorp website in the Leapers podcast notes, or just use your favourite search engine to find BCorp ANZ.
That’s all for now, thanks for listening!