In Conversation with Andrew Davies from B Lab Australia & Aotearoa New Zealand.

Natalie Dean-Weymark


March 11, 2024

This journal article is taken from a special edition episode in celebration of B Corp month held annually every March. This episode is part of Compass Studio’s podcast series “In Conversation” hosted by Co-Founder and Director Natalie Dean-Weymark.

With B Corp month well underway, we thought what better way to celebrate and share a better understanding of this community than chatting with the man himself, Andrew Davies, CEO of B Lab Australia & Aotearoa New Zealand. We're talking everything you need to know about becoming a B Corp or being a better one for aspiring and existing members of this community. Tune in to explore why it matters and how B Corp is shaping the future of business.

Read on, or listen here 👇

Q: What does being a B Corp mean in a nutshell?

A: Broadly it means the business is designed for positive impact. The business is built to a set of standards and crucially has submitted itself to be assessed against those standards. It voluntarily accepted this idea of accountability. It's made a choice to be accountable to its stakeholders, to transparency and to the idea that we are interdependent in business. It's a pretty strong statement about how that business is built and the values that underpin it.

Q: Who determines B Corp status?

A: We have a whole independent standards advisory council, and we have very complex engagement processes to build out those standards. B Lab, the organisation behind B Corp, sets the standards, designs assurance processes, and works toward relying entirely on third-party reviewers for verification. Independent assessors review businesses against these standards, ensuring they align with B Corp principles. The core message is that the standards are really what you need to map to and then our independent assessors are the ones who review your business to determine whether or not you can satisfactorily show that you're properly mapped to those standards.

Q: Can you elaborate on the Business Impact Assessment (BIA)?

A: The BIA is a holistic review process covering 5 categories including environmental impact, employment practices, governance, business model (customers), and community impact (including supply chain). Businesses answer a comprehensive set of questions and are rated on a scale, reflecting their commitment to standards. The BIA serves as a roadmap for positive changes within a business.

Q: What benefits does B Corp certification offer?

A: Benefits vary based on individual goals and efforts. Businesses often pursue certification to test themselves, benchmark against others, or convey credibility to customers, partners, and employees. B Corps engage in collaborations to drive positive outcomes for communities or the environment. Additionally, adopting a rigorous ESG framework, as promoted by B Corp, can enhance a business's resilience and long-term profitability.

Q: Any tips for aspiring B Corps?

A: Start with the low-hanging fruit—make small changes that earn credits and deepen involvement in the process. Understand that the journey involves continuous improvement, and don't be discouraged by initial scores. Focus on key projects aligned with strategy and BIA results to steadily improve business practices.

Q: What's common among B Corps?

A: It's an incredibly diverse pool of businesses from small, almost social enterprise level businesses right up to some large global multinationals. What they have in common, I think particularly at the really high performance end, is they've got a very clear purpose. They've got a very clear idea of why they're in business, and particularly what problems they're out to solve.

You need to have a willingness to be challenged by stakeholders and of course by our own evolving standards. That willingness to be challenged, that sense of we know what we're doing and we know what our purpose is but we're really open to being challenged as to how we might get there. That's the culture that I think underpins some of the leaders in this sector because they're willing to make changes, they're willing to be presented with a new way of doing something and that purpose guides them to make those changes. The third thing they have in common is a funny combination of humility and conviction.

Humility is connected into that willingness to be challenged. If you think you're the only one that has all the answers, you're probably not very accepting of being challenged. Conviction's important too here. The reality is that businesses get knocked off course all the time, particularly at the moment. It's really challenging for small businesses out there.

Conviction is not an antidote to tough economic times, but it helps you again stay true to that guiding light. Why am I in business? What really matters here? That conviction, that deeply held belief is going to help you not only survive as a business, but perform really well in terms of social and environmental performance.

Q: Is B Corp shaping the future of business?

A: B Corp alone is not the answer, but it helps I think build a bridge between the way business is now and the way it needs to be in order for us to have an economy that is truly regenerative. The idea that we can actually grow, consume more, buy nice things, but have an economy that is actually regenerating the planet. That sounds quite fanciful, but if we don't have a sense of what we're striving for, we won't make the changes. I think B Corp is a model that helps us get in that direction.

Q: What's happening during B Corp Month?

A: B Corp Month, held annually in March, is a global campaign focused on showcasing how B Corps continuously strive to move forward and improve. It’s centered around a pretty simple campaign message. This year it's called 'This Way Forward'. It provides an opportunity for B Corps to connect, reinforce their purpose, and engage with the wider community to raise awareness about the positive role businesses can play. It also creates internal dialogue around why we are B Corps, which is sometimes good to reconnect in that. We also use it as a moment to really try and capture more public attention for both the specific idea of what a B Corp is, but also the general idea of what we need business to be doing for our society to thrive. It's a really exciting time for us. 

Q: What's your hope for the future of business?

A: My hope for the future is that there's a much stronger sense of the need for change, even if there's not necessarily agreement everywhere on what the solution is because that's how systems change. We create new ways of being and some of them catch on a huge scale, some don't. But the fact that we're talking about and having a serious conversation is what underpins change. 

I'm pretty optimistic and hopeful that we're gonna see a very different economy in the next 15 or 20 years. But for me, it's still a capitalist economy. I think that we've found a model that can drive innovation and lift standards of living around the world, but we need to ensure that it's operating in a way that is truly positive impact or regenerative. That's my hope.

Q: How can B Corps help a brand?

A: B Corps' real superpower lies in their ability to discuss areas where they're not excelling yet. That may sound counterintuitive, but if you think about what makes a brand authentic, it's the comfort to talk about problems that aren't solved yet. Certification gives businesses confidence to talk about problems authentically, reinforcing their commitment to improvement, which is a brand win.

B Corps can use their certification to showcase credibility while openly addressing challenges, fostering a more genuine connection with consumers and partners. B Corp gives businesses a bit more self confidence to go into those spaces where they’re struggling, because they’re already assessed as a high-performing business. 

Q: What are you reading, listening to, and following?

A: Lots. Currently I’m reading "Doppelganger" by Naomi Klein and "4000 Weeks" by Oliver Burkeman. Other than your podcast, I'm listening to Everything 90s. I've got a teenage son who has discovered the 90s as if it's a new thing. So I'm quite enjoying listening to music with him. I'm following economists like Yanis Varoufakis and Kate Raworth's Donut Economics model. I've got to say, with what's happening in the world at the moment, I'm trying to also make a choice to switch off a lot of social media. I'm finding the voices, including dear friends, very difficult. It's a very noisy time. I've made a bit of a conscious choice to try and listen to less of that noise.

Like what you read? Listen to the full episode podcast with Andrew Davies here or read more from our other In Conversation guests over on the Compass journal here.

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