Word by Jos Skeates, owner, EC One
In July 2019, after many months of hard work, my jewellery company EC One was finally certified as a B Corp business.
To become a B Corp (or Benefit Corporation) is a detailed process, involving a comprehensive and rigorous assessment, including in-depth interviews and an evaluation of your business across every stage of operations.
Started over a decade ago by a handful of businesses in the US, Certified B Corporations are companies that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
There are now over 3,000 B Corp certified businesses, in 64 countries across the globe covering 150 different industries, with one unifying goal: to use the power of business as a force for good. As well as small businesses like EC One there are many larger B Corp companies such as Patagonia, Danone, Ben & Jerry’s and Innocent Drinks to name a few.
In this difficult economic environment, the question I have been asked several times is — why make things harder for yourself?
The easier option would be to carry on as we are, hoping to survive in an industry that feels quite battered. So why would I recommend it to others?
Here are five reasons why you should consider becoming a B Corp…
1. Customers love to feel they are making a difference
Engaging with your customers and offering them a unique experience is the only way for retailers like me to survive in the digital age. Your customers don’t just want to buy something impersonal from Amazon, with a smile on the side of a cardboard box trying to replace real human contact. In my experience they want to feel they have engaged in a process with passionate people who care about them and our industry. B Corps are set-up to “use business for good”. We regularly tell our customers we are not the cheapest option. Instead we reassure them that we care where our supplies come from and who has been involved in the manufacture of the finished product. We have all watched the race to the bottom with brands sacrificing standards to undercut their rivals and it’s clear this isn’t sustainable. In my experience customers want to know that the piece of jewellery they have bought, often representing their love for each other, hasn’t been made from the misery of someone else.
2. Certification galvanizes your company vision and values
Over 50,000 businesses have used the B Impact Assessment (BIA) as it is a free, online platform that evaluates how your company interacts with your workers, customers, community, and environment. One of the great takeaways that we experienced from undergoing the BIA was it made us formalise our company’s purpose — in other words why we exist. As it turns out its not just to make money — but because we believe in aiming to be the best jewellers in London, sourcing our materials responsibly, training Goldsmiths and keeping hand skills alive. These values came out of brainstorming with the whole team and asking difficult questions, something that might not have been achieved if we hadn’t been prompted.
3. Customers are willing to pay a premium for B Corp businesses
It is early days for us — but repositioning our business towards a more responsible and sustainable model has increased sales and profits compared to last year. This is not the reason we decided to take the step but if using business for good has a financial upside then what’s not to like. Last week alone two separate customers came in for engagement rings because they had heard we were a certified B Corp business. In my experience customers don’t buy solely on price but because they trust the person or organisation they are dealing with. B Corp businesses tend to be more transparent than most, giving customers and suppliers a sense of reassurance that they are making a considered purchase with an accountable supplier. According to the B Corp organisation 35% of certified UK companies said that being a B Corp has helped them to attract new audiences since joining up.
4. It helps with happier passion-aligned employees
As any jewellery business will know, having the right staff is key to improving and maintaining success. Research shows millennials increasingly make decisions about where to work based on the positive impact their work creates and how well an employer treats them. As a consequence, 48% of certified businesses said prospective staff had been attracted to their business specifically because it was a B Corp. Amongst our own brilliant team here I can testify that engaging them in the process and putting in new measures to gain our certification has had a positive impact on them and their relationship to our company.
5. It’s good for the environment and society
B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance. A large section of the assessment deals with a company’s environmental impact. As a manufacturing jeweller we are more than aware of the impact we have around sourcing metal and stones. As a consequence, our workshop decided to change the way we manufacture by only using recycled and Fairtrade gold and silver. This has meant we have shifted some of our suppliers and in some cases increased the cost to our customers. Finding stones that are traceable and responsibly mined is a headache, but we are slowly building relationships with suppliers who are able to trace from the mine to the workshop. We don’t claim to know where all of our stones are sourced but I’m a great believer in doing as much as you can and asking suppliers difficult questions. The more we all ask the better our chances of changing the system for the better. Given the high level of choice in the marketplace, research suggest that 60% of consumers are more likely to buy a product if the business itself has clear social and environmental values. Certifying as a B Corp will give any business those clear values. According to the B Corp website: “Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and non-profits alone. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.”