The Editors' Post: A 'fork in the road' for the B Corp movement?

Certifying as a B Corp isn't easy, even for the most experienced ethical businesses. But should the bar be higher? The latest in our Awkward Questions series puts forward some important challenges. Plus, an overlooked solution to the messiness of metrics.

Companies that successfully certify as B Corporations often comment on how challenging the process is. Even The Body Shop, a pioneer of ethical business founded in 1976, found some “surprises” when they started digging into their own data. As Christopher Davis, international director of corporate social responsibility and campaigns, put it a few years ago: “There was stuff we knew we were doing brilliantly – our fair trade programme is the biggest in our sector – [but] proving it was a little tough.”

But is it tough enough? This is the question our guest contributor Erinch Sahan of the Doughtnut Economics Action Lab explores, echoing concerns raised by others in recent months in response to coffee company Nespresso’s B Corp certification. This is not the first company to have sparked debate among advocates of business for good. But with the B Corp movement apparently seeing an “extraordinary growth of interest” – and some 5,000 companies now proudly displaying the ‘B’ – addressing such concerns is becoming ever more pressing. 

B Lab, the nonprofit that manages certifications, seems to be open to engaging with such questions (it is also running a consultation on developing new standards). And it emphasises that certification doesn’t mean a company is perfect; rather, it’s “a framework for systemic change”. But Erinch argues that the B Corp movement risks being transformed by the businesses of the “old economy”, rather than transforming them, unless it makes some changes. Read on to hear his thoughts on the three key choices now facing the movement. 

Messy metrics

In the messy world of trying to measure impact, there’s an ever-present problem: organisations work on similar challenges but independently choose what metrics they will measure. The upshot is that they can’t easily compare results, nor learn from each other. An obvious, though surprisingly underused solution, says the team at 60 Decibels, is impact indices. Find out what they’ve learned from recent work on off-grid energy and microfinance – and what myths about Napoleon can teach us.

Finally, if you missed our regular Impact Finance Bulletin earlier this week, catch up on our top stories here, including news of a “win-win-win” opportunity for impact investors to help change the lives of 1bn people. 


This week's top stories – 29 July:

Does B Corp status really signal a force for good, or just a 'force for less bad'?

Opinion: Impact indices can supercharge impact 

A little more action: don’t just gather impact data – respond to it, urges SVI



Header image credit: James Wheeler on Pexels

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