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More and more New Zealand companies are joining the B Corp journey (Image: Getty Images, design by Archi Banal)
More and more New Zealand companies are joining the B Corp journey (Image: Getty Images, design by Archi Banal)

BusinessMarch 30, 2022

The movement to measure the impact of business on the world is gaining momentum

More and more New Zealand companies are joining the B Corp journey (Image: Getty Images, design by Archi Banal)
More and more New Zealand companies are joining the B Corp journey (Image: Getty Images, design by Archi Banal)

The B Corp movement is changing the way businesses understand and measure success. And it’s gaining momentum in New Zealand.  

This content was created in paid partnership with Kiwibank. 

Back in 1963, a sociologist by the name of William Bruce Cameron wrote a paper that included the line “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”. Economic indicators, profit and loss, shareholder value and other financial metrics have long been what’s counted in business and in government – in both senses of the word. In most cases, they still are. 

But money is just one way to measure the value of a business and, as the rapid growth of the B Corp movement has shown, more businesses are starting to look holistically at their impacts – on staff, on customers, on the environment and on society as a whole – to gauge their success. 

There are currently 53 certified B Corp businesses in New Zealand, including a few whoppers like Kiwibank, Kathmandu, Ecostore and Sharesies (this is up by 36% in the last 12 months). And for every business that’s certified, 25 businesses are dipping their toes in the B Corp waters and trying the B Impact Assessment (BIA) tool. 

Businesses need to get over 80 points on the B Corp assessment criteria to get the stamp and of the 227 New Zealand businesses that completed the BIA, the average score was 68 (globally, the average score across the business sector is 51 points). 

Kiwibank’s head of sustainability and purpose, Julia Jackson (Photo: Supplied)

When Kiwibank went through the process last year, it got a score of 90.3. The bank’s head of sustainability and purpose, Julia Jackson, says transparency and accountability was the most important part of undertaking the B Corp audit. 

“For us, it was a good way to get an honest, independent assessment of how we were doing and what we needed to work on. One of the things that has been really useful is that it was a baseline.”

In March, Jackson was elected to the B Corp Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand Council. She is now one of two New Zealanders at the trans-Tasman B Corp table, and has a key role in the development of the B Corp community across Australia and New Zealand.

Nothing rewarding is easy

B Corp certification is hard-won. And the bigger you are, the more rigorous that process is, with certification often taking years. Once you’ve got that tick, you don’t get to keep it forever, either. Businesses need to ensure their score remains above 80 points to be recertified, which happens every three years. 

“The feedback we get is that the process takes longer and is more in depth than imagined,” says Qiulae Wong, who recently returned from the UK to take up a new role as B Corp’s Aotearoa manager. 

Qiulae Wong, who recently returned from the UK to take up a new role as B Corp’s Aotearoa manager (Photo: Supplied)

As Greta Thunberg succinctly summarised recently, “blah blah blah”. Saying you’re great is easy. But Jackson says B Corp doesn’t care about what you say, it finds out exactly what you do. 

“There were one or two areas where we thought we were doing some cool stuff, like Nga Tangata Microfinance. They said ‘yeah, it’s great but it’s small compared to your overall business, so we’re not going to count it’. It made us look at how much we were all in on it.”

In other areas, she wasn’t surprised with the ‘must try harder’ assessment. But it was also nice to be recognised for existing policies and Kiwibank’s Responsible Business Banking Policy, which saw it stop working with a number of sectors that it felt were doing environmental and social harm, helped massively in its certification, she says.

Wong says there is a lingering perception that B Corp is an environmental certification, which she believes is linked to a general misunderstanding of sustainability.

“Businesses have come to understand what impact means. We talk about stakeholder capitalism. Environment, customers, employees, community. It’s not just one bucket.” 

For those that think environmental compliance is an additional cost and that dealing with climate change is about making sacrifices, Wong says B Corp businesses show that you can flip that around and turn it into an opportunity. So do they perform better than other businesses? 

B Corp’s annual report shows that certified businesses are more likely to be able to meet net zero targets but, as climate regulations change, as they did recently in the US, they are also more able to manage risk. 

“Any business wants to survive for as long as possible,” says Wong. “And a focus on sustainability is about setting them up for the long-term.”

Jackson agrees and believes this change in approach is something that has to happen if we hope to be around in 50 years. 

“There are going to be some significant shifts coming. With B Corp, you can drive that transition yourself, rather than have that transition happen to you. It’s about building that resilience and understanding how resilience is your strategy.”

Greasing the wheels 

In true challenger brand style, Allbirds (a certified B Corp) attempts to push its bigger competitors to become more sustainable through innovation. But Allbirds has also happily given away its IP in the hope they will start using the materials it has developed. Collaboration has become an important part of the movement. Wong, who has a background in sustainable fashion, points to Kering, which has developed an open-source environmental profit and loss accounting system that attempts to put a monetary value on land, emissions and water. 

Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown (Image: Tina Tiller)

Each business has different trade-offs to make, but sustainability (like failure) is forensic. When your business is trying to improve (or stay solvent), you look more closely at your existing processes and become more efficient. In a story on Newsroom, Raglan Coconut Yoghurt’s Tesh Randall talked about looking for a solution to a problem it had with its wastewater, which is measured by B Corp, as it went through certification. Instead of having it picked up and taken to a treatment plant, it found a way to pump it to an avocado farmer up the hill (in exchange for free avos). 

So can we have nice things, a healthy planet, happy staff and customers, and growing businesses? Wong says it’s hard not to be optimistic when you’re surrounded by innovative companies trying to find better ways of doing things. 

“I’m not an idealist, but there are companies demonstrating that it’s possible to have it all. A company like Ethique, which sells shampoo bars and soaps, has very strong environmental credentials but also works with farmers in Rwanda and Samoa. It’s almost the ultimate business. You’re focused on a purpose, you’re giving people what they need, you’re creating value to society, you’re making money, and ideally you’re regenerating the environment as you go.” 

Ethique, which received the second highest score (117.9 just behind Chia Sisters 118.6) for any certified business in New Zealand, is one of Jackson’s favourites, too. 

“I’ve been really impressed with their journey. Brianne [West, the founder] has stuck to her guns, been really clear in her principles and been really open about when they get things wrong. They leaned into it.” 

Brianne West, founder of Ethique (Image: Supplied)

Stamp of approval

Trying to discern what’s greenwashing and what’s legitimate goodness is tough. And that’s why good referees, accurate labels and rigorous independent assessments, rather than self-congratulatory marketing, are so crucial. 

“Regulation will play a really important role to create a level playing field,” says Wong. “A baseline that you can’t go below, which takes the pressure off consumers to make the decision.” 

B Corp is becoming increasingly well-known in the business community. And consumers are recognising it too. Jackson says its certification has really resonated with customers and given non-customers that buy into the movement a reason to shift. 

“For some of our business customers, because Kiwibank got through that process, it made it possible for them to consider it. It felt like a very high bar that may have only been appropriate for smaller businesses set up with a fundamental sustainability proposition, but now they can see it’s a really good framework that helps them consider where they’re at and how to get better.” 

Some of New Zealand’s existing regulations (like maternity leave, ACC and a well-funded public health system) give local companies a head start on their score, says Jackson. But because so many businesses in New Zealand are quite small, she says it can be challenging for them to reach the standards because they need to show there is a written policy in place and then demonstrate they’re following it. Kiwibank has been really open about what’s required and has shared its own policies to help customers and other B Corp aspirants. 

(Image: supplied)

In the UK, where Wong says the movement is a bit more advanced, Ocado recently set up a virtual B Corp aisle and B Corp also set up its own sustainability shop called Good News in London. But as the scheme becomes more mainstream, that also creates challenges. 

“In my short time, seeing behind the scenes, the team is absolutely swamped. They’re working on the backlog and shortening the wait time, but there’s more demand than ever.”

As a certification, the standards need to constantly change to reflect the current best practice. And as more big businesses like Danone are welcomed into the club, or as B Corp companies like Brewdog are called out for bad behaviour, Wong says they often receive criticism and backlash from the smaller, more innovative businesses that have already made it. 

“The more bigger companies we have, the more common this will become,” she says. “But if we want to create systemic change, everyone needs to be in on it.” 

Shifting baselines

Culture is fluid and ideas that are at first unimaginable – weekends, suffrage, electricity, oat milk flat whites, measuring the total impact of a business rather than just profit – can quickly become normal. 

Wong knows there’s only ever going to be a certain percentage of businesses that have the motivation to become B Corp certified. But every new certification is a step forward, she says. “The more we can make impact measurement and management a widespread thing, the better. That’s part of our job, to help any business on that journey”. 

Another part of her job is to look at the nuances of the New Zealand business community, particularly around te ao Māori and how that can be integrated into the B Lab movement. The Wellbeing Budget and concepts like Doughnut Economics are attempts to go down this path, but Māori enterprises are already very good at looking at success holistically. 

“We don’t want to come in and say we’ve got this amazing new way of doing business. It’s a concept that’s been around for centuries, so we see an opportunity to align with indigenous ways of working,” she says.  

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Doing the right thing is subjective. But since it kicked off in 2006, B Corp’s mission has been to try and make goodness measurable and more objective; it’s created a way to count what really counts. And in the process you’ll learn a lot about your business, says Jackson.

“The first step is the most important. Have a play around with the assessment tool. Even if you don’t decide to go through the process of certification, every business I know that has been through it has got some real benefit, because you learn things about your strategy and your operations to help you be a better business.”

This content was created in paid partnership with Kiwibank. 

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