As a research and strategy consultancy, it may come as no surprise that continuous learning is in Agulhas’ DNA. But on our recent journey to becoming a Certified B Corporation, we’ve learned even more than we expected about what it means to be a force for good in our community and our planet, and how we can do even more to work for the benefit of all stakeholders in our organisation. As we celebrate B Corp Certification, we’re excited to share our journey and our learning so far.
What is a B Corporation?
Certified B Corporations, or B Corps, are companies verified by B Lab to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. B Corps commit to positively impacting all stakeholders – workers, communities, customers, and our planet – through the impact areas of governance, community, customers, workers and environment. Certified businesses must undertake a B Impact assessment against all five areas, scoring above 80 points. Agulhas is happy to share that we scored 126.8 in our first B Impact Assessment to achieve certification, out of a maximum score of 200.
What did we learn?
Agulhas started the long and rigorous process to become a Certified B Corporation back in September 2021, and became fully certified in July 2023. An employee-driven initiative, the aim to become certified as ‘leading the way in addressing society’s most critical challenges’[i] has been a huge investment on behalf of all Agulhas’ employees, who endorsed the initiative through our Employee Ownership Co-Owners Forum. Though it’s been no mean feat, this endeavour has galvanised the interest and support of Agulhas employees for an internal project unlike any we’ve attempted before. Through this process, we’ve learned of a new way in which our company’s employee ownership structure has resounding benefits for our business and our communities.
This undertaking has been a natural leap from our transition to an employee owned company in January 2021, as both becoming employee owned and B Corp certified require a fundamental change to the way an organisation is governed; building in stakeholder governance and challenging the status-quo of how a business should be run. Being an Employee Owned company is about building collective ownership and embedding employee stakeholder governance. B Corp Certification similarly requires a legal basis governing an organisation to ensure and allow directors to consider the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Both governance structures and organisational principles share a common aim to endorse collective responsibility for the people we work for and with, as well as the communities that we are part of. In hindsight, it doesn’t surprise us that almost 10% of B Corps in the UK are employee-owned!
Despite attaining a high initial B Impact score (of which we’re very proud), we also learned that there is always more to be done – we can still push further and aim higher. As an organisation that strives to deliver the highest quality products and services, it is only right that we apply this same rigour to our own operations, ensuring that what we do is evidential, based on best practice and monitored closely for impact.
As a small organisation with the lofty aim of supporting progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it can feel like responsible business is an inherent part of the company culture. It’s important however, to continue challenging how we operate so that we can keep growing and evolving. Our work on unlearning and shifting power is a core example of this commitment over the past few years and B Corp certification has been a useful tool for protecting and formalising initiatives and practices that we have been putting in place.
B Corp certification has also helped us to challenge what we believe to be best business practice. As an SME with a small environmental impact compared to many businesses, for example, we have tended to focus our responsible business practices on social impact. However, we are increasingly viewing the environmental and social impact of our work as interlinked, such as through the volunteering we regularly do for our local charity partner, the Hoxton Trust and Hoxton Garden. In future, we will place more emphasis on how to monitor and reduce our environmental impact more systematically through our revised policies, our new environmental strategy and by signing up to the SME Climate Change commitments.
Another key learning from our B Corp journey is the use of ‘impact business models’ and how our organisation fits into the wider B Corp community. The B Impact Assessment allows businesses committed to positive social impact as their primary goal to score points for their ‘Impact Business Model’ or IBM. As a company focused on supporting progress towards the SDGs through international learning and cooperation in areas such as good governance and climate action, Agulhas has been acknowledged by the B Corp assessment team to be providing a positive overall impact to our clients and improving their social and/or environmental impact.
B Corp Certification has been the end of one journey and the beginning of another. As a B Corp, we are now committed to a long-term framework for evaluating and monitoring our progress in the five areas of the B Impact Assessment. This will help us to maintain our existing high standards and continue to evolve in areas where we can drive greater social and environmental impact. We will launch our first annual Impact Report in late 2023 as part of the B Corp requirements, and as a helpful way to elevate how we communicate our impact externally. We particularly look forward to engaging with the wider B Corp community and learning from other organisations that share our values.