Forster Comms: ‘Why we became a B-Corp’


B Corps is exactly the sort of club you want to be a member of, writes Peter Gilheany, director, Forster Communications.

It is an interesting time for businesses. Actually, it is always an interesting time for businesses but especially so at the moment.

The state is on the retreat, charities are in the grip of a series of scandals that have dented public trust and confidence, much like businesses in fact.

Yet, despite the much publicised woes of the likes of VW, many companies are taking a greater interest and role in tackling social and environmental issues.

There’s nothing new in that, in fact it could be seen simply as businesses returning to some of their routes as agents of change.

What is new is that there is a burgeoning new movement for businesses who want to generate impact beyond profit that is structured in such as a way to minimise the likelihood of scandals like VW occuring.

The B Corp movement originated in the US and is fast becoming an international phenomenon.

Inspired by an alternative vision for the role of mainstream business in society, B Corps (‘Benefit Corporations’) are ‘for-profit’ businesses of all sizes, independently certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

It isn’t “just another sustainability badge” – B Corps members adopt legally-binding governing documents under which they formally commit to balancing the interests of shareholders with having a material positive impact on society and the environment as a whole. Not something you’d want to enter into lightly, yet neither an oppressive nor onerous commitment to worthiness for mainstream business.

The B Corp movement is not just a challenge to conventional ways of doing business, it is a way of signposting a better way to do business.

Solving society’s challenges

It’s a hearts and minds initiative, already with a proven global reach. It certainly carries a promise ­– that business can fully realise its potential alongside government and NFP sectors in driving sustainable solutions to some of society’s most intractable challenges.

For us, becoming a B Corp was an easy decision. Founded in 1996, Forster Communications has effectively been operating as a B Corp ever since, publishing an independently audited, biennial Ethical Impact Report that charts how well ( or not) we are doing across all our stakeholder groups including our esteemed clients, employees, suppliers, the community and environment.

The B Corp movement squares with our core intent to help deliver material positive social and environmental change, while at the same time offering the opportunity to collaborate with, and learn from, like-minded for-profit businesses on a growing global platform.

We are proud to be early standard bearers for the movement in the UK, and to help bring new energy and momentum to the UK social economy. It plays to our pioneering spirit as a first mover, and allows us to share our ‘Business to Society’ agenda more widely.

The process for becoming a B Corp requires commitment but isn’t overwhelming. It took us around two months to complete from start to finish and has two core components:

  1. The Performance Test – the B Corp impact assessment is a quality system for the social and environmental performance of a business. It measures ‘the other two bottom lines’, and is structured to mirror the legal test (see below), with five sections: governance, workers, communities, environment and your impact business model.

To certify as a B Corp a company must achieve a minimum score of 80 out of a possible 200. The very detailed assessment is completed online, needs to be backed up by full documentation to substantiate assessment responses, and concludes a thorough Assessment Review call with the ‘B Lab US’.

  1. The Legal Test – You need to have or adopt governing documents which include a commitment both to a ‘triple bottom line’ approach to business and to dealing even-handedly with their various stakeholder interest groups.

Recertification is required every two years. The B Impact Assessment itself is also updated every two years, so recertification also gives companies the opportunity to set improvement goals against the most-up-to-date standard and benchmark their performance over time.

We are now members of an important and growing club where everyone is committed to business as a force for good, rubbing shoulders with a very diverse range of businesses, from lawyers through to manufacturers, retailers and consultancies. And those members are a community, looking for ways to collaborate, to share successes and failures, to spread the word about a better way of doing business. All in all, it is exactly the sort of club you want to be a member of.

Read more: Peter Gilheany – How to create positive change in your business