Doing good, for the sake of it
It isn’t a stretch to say that the speciality food sector is well positioned to instigate social and environmental change. Why? Because many within it already are.
Lately, businesses have found validation via the B Corp certification created by non-profit B-Lab, which measures whether a company is run not just to generate profit for shareholders, but also for its employees, customers, the wider community and the planet.
“We’ve always thought, as a business, that we should behave as ‘a good citizen,’”says Guy Tullberg, managing director of Tracklements.
B Corp isn’t the British condiment specialist’s first rodeo: it is both Soil Association and BRC certified, and has been paying a Living Wage since before the campaign launched.
It buys all its produce domestically, with some grower relationships dating back more than two decades. It sends net zero waste to landfill and is committed to reach net zero by 2030.
It has been making use of so-called ‘wonky veg’ since Day 1 and has run local medlar and crab apple collection challenges for 20 years, rescuing what would be wasted fruit then donating part of the profits to charity.
As well as a roof adorned with solar panels, the Tracklements factory has windows, which may seem like a small thing, but it is one of only a handful of companies in the UK whose workers get to enjoy natural sunlight while they work. Its four mental health first aiders volunteered themselves to take up the role.
“I think that says a lot about the organisation”, says Tullberg. “As a company, we want to look after people. We’re asking our community to come in and make something really good every day. What there aren’t around the building are signs telling you to make good stuff. It has to come from within.”
Prioritising employee wellbeing is a common thread across B Corp, and something Yorkshire-based Dark Woods Coffee makes sure to do too.
Members of the roastery team are encouraged to explore hobbies, volunteering opportunities and professional development with a budget to be spent as they choose. A vegetable patch is even being set up outside their headquarters, for those who don’t have green space at home.
This willingness to give employees a voice within the company should come as no surprise, as Dark Woods was founded as a values-led organisation, aiming to contribute to a more ethical, sustainable supply chain by investing in areas where its custom has the most impact.
“In the modern era, we talk about Greenwashing, where businesses do things because they feel they have to, or because it’s a marketing opportunity”, says director and co-founder Ian Agnew. “Whereas we genuinely set out to do things differently.”
The company runs a multitude of projects at the coffee’s origin, enabling producers to lead said initiatives.
It is seeking to eliminate all plastic from its supply chain, all of its vehicles run on renewable energy, and it too derives much of its energy from its own solar panels.
The Dark Woods roastery is set in an 1850s mill, the test bed for a research project with the local university to develop pico hydro energy generation using the original Victorian waterworks, which could help reconnect other disused mills in the area.
Collaborative research into micro anaerobic digestion could soon see its energy-hungry coffee roasters running on biogas, with the remaining power also used in the building.
As well as working with local youth groups, Dark Woods sponsors a stage at the famed Marsden jazz festival in exchange for opportunities for budding musicians.
Within the industry, the barista training the coffee company gives to its customers is effectively free, driven by the founders’ belief that café and deli operators’ success is a positive for the local community and beyond.
B Corp: the facts
Source: B Lab
- As of July 2022, there were 5,325 B Corps worldwide, and more than 700 in the UK
- Any company operating for profit in a competitive market for more than one year qualifies to certify.
- The B Impact Assessment (BIA) examines a company’s social and environmental impact across five areas: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment and Customers.
- A company must score at least 80 points in its BIA to certify
- An initial £250 submission fee is payable when the assessment is filed, then an annual certification fee is calculated based on a company’s revenue
- In order to maintain certification, all B Corps must re-certify every three years.
Putting people and the environment at the heart of their operation was non-negotiable for Ash and Nick Sinfield when they opened Somerset farm shop Teals two years ago.
Though still working through the certification process, the outlet was thought up with the the B Corp model in mind.
“We both just felt like it was time,” Ash Sinfield tells FFD. “If you’re going to start something, you need to make sure it doesn’t just make money. It needs to have a much wider reason for being.”
The company works directly with hundreds of local independent producers, choosing them on the basis of their own good practices. 85% of the energy powering the kitchen, butchery and refrigeration throughout the building is produced by the solar panels on its roof. Ten electrical charging points are being installed outside the shop in the autumn, boosting the site’s green energy credentials further.
Above the tills is a mural of climatologist Ed Hawkins’ ‘Climate Stripes’, representing the global rise of temperatures over two centuries, which speaks to the ideology that underpins everything at Teals.
“We have changed the way that we’re doing business globally,” says Sinfield. “We need to drastically alter the way we live our lives to secure the planet for the next generation.”
Both retailers and suppliers reading this piece might think a B Corp certification is for them, but theprocess is by no means easy. It will take time (upwards of two years, by some accounts), energy (as in, a dedicated team) and perseverance (Because no matter how confident you are in how well you run your business, you will get knocked down).
From the offset at Dark Woods, Agnew says, “there are a couple of quite strong commitments you have to make”.
Namely, you will be required to change your articles of association within Companies House to give equal footing to what is known in the US as the ‘triple bottom line’ of people, planet, and profit. You must then agree to give away a proportion of your profits (or a slightly higher proportion of turnover) a year to a charitable organisation – so it doesn’t just cost you to commit, you’ve got to give away a chunk of money, time, and expertise away every year.
Then, you have to answer a series of just under 200 questions about your business, from general governance to how you treat your employees, whatever work you might do for the community, your impact on the environment and how engaged you are with your customers, to generate an initial Impact Assessment score.
“What we liked about it is that it focuses on the company as a whole not on an individual product,” says Agnew. “It’s a reflection of you as a business and you as a team of people running and working in that business and everything you do. It’s very comprehensive.”
Anyone with a phobia of administrative processes will probably be deterred. For every question answered, applicants must also provide assurances in the form of receipts, reports, surveys and photographs.
Although B Lab’s advisors are on hand to talk you through how to put the necessary materials together, they aren’t there to make squares from circles. “They want to make sure you’re doing the work,” says Tracklements’ Tullberg. “I felt I really wanted to say, ‘just help us, what’s the answer?’ but of course, they wouldn’t have.”
“It’s hard, and so it should be, because the idea is to promote all the right behaviours.”
For Dark Woods, the certification required that it made its endeavours more official than it had done up to this point.
“What we realised was that we were doing things really ad-hoc, things that felt right, but weren’t actually putting any structure around it,” fellow director Damian Blackburn says, adding that it has since put multiple structures in place, such as employee and customer surveys, as well as a formal giving strategy.
“It has helped. It’s a really useful tool, if you embrace it, to help you go through your processes and actually be a little bit more systematic and thoughtful in what you do.”
Speaking to how rigorous the system is, despite their laudable practices, there was a discrepancy between both Dark Woods and Tracklements’ original, unvetted scores, and the final validated ones they were given when they were certified.
“Our Initial Assessment was something like 115 and by the time we’d gone through the full-on process, which took three months, we came out with 99,” Agnew says.
“I would say to anyone going through it, make sure you think you’re scoring 100 on the index,” says Tullberg, “because you’ll have little points taken away here and there”, something which caused some emotional turmoil at Tracklements, when its wonky veg policy was dismissed due to the company not qualifying as ‘purpose-driven’.
“I really thought, ‘gosh, we’re going to get it’ – and not just me, we had a team of six very excited people,” adds Tullberg. It was particularly upsetting because this deduction put a dent in the producer’s overall score.
Need help accelerating your certification?
One of the first businesses in the sector to gain certification, Cotswold Fayre is now on a mission to increase the proportion of B Corp producers in the supply chain.
It is helping fellow speciality food businesses with applications via its B Corp Accelerator Programme.
Created in January 2022 in partnership with B leader and Business on Purpose founder Andy Hawkins, the wholesaler is set to run its third workshop in September 2022. Though limited to suppliers generating less than £2m in annual profits, the programme will also advise bigger operations, including wholesalers and retailers, on where they can get assistance.
For more information, contact Cotswold Fayre’s Impact Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite a few bumps in the road, all agree that the process is worth it, if you are committed.
Importantly for Tracklements, becoming a B Corp has meant better staff engagement, and a drive to keep doing better.
“It gave us a series of guidelines and a framework to embody all of the things that we felt we were already doing,” says Tullberg.
Dark Woods now has more credibility within an industry in dire need of reform. It has also joined a network of like-minded businesses in the local area, including, incongruously, a software firm, a kombucha producer and a funeral company.
“We would never normally sit and have chats with people who have nothing to do with our industry, but now we meet up and share ideas and help each other out with some of the policy stuff,” says Agnew.
Should it achieve certification, hopefully before the year’s end, Teals is hoping for the validation that it is indeed ‘a challenger’, helping to shift the norm of how businesses are run, as well as gaining a platform to influence positive change among customers and suppliers.
“For us, it was a bit of a no-brainer,” says Sinfield. “Why wouldn’t you do this? If you’re starting a business from scratch, why would you not strive to become a B Corp?”
The certification, as it stands, also appears to be a good deterrent for the greenwashers out there.
“What B Corp does is that it isn’t just us saying what we do,” Tullberg tells FFD. “It says, ‘these people do what they say they do’.”
“What you can’t do with B Corp is just to say, ‘give loads of money to a charity, quick, we’ll get 10 points’. You can’t do it. It doesn’t work. You can’t throw money at a problem.”
None are shy about the fact that being a B Corp can be a great marketing tool but are equally eager to dissuade anyone from doing it for the sake of a few extra sales.
“It’s nice to have it in the toolbox,” Agnew says, but the main appeal isn’t around the extra business it might bring. “It’s to do with how it structures the way you operate your business.”
“Do it as a business because you want to do it,” Tullberg concurs. “All the other benefits are secondary.”
B Corp is yet to achieve widespread fame with the general public – with just 700 certified companies across the UK – but the certification is currently the best way for a company to prove better businesses.
“B Corp is the most well-established, the most widely recognised and it has the most advanced framework,” says Sinfield. “I don’t think there’s anything else out that gives you that coverage.”
Even though some heavy-hitters like Ben & Jerry’s, shoe brand TOMS and Kickstarter are certified, there have been very few instances of B Corp businesses making ethical gaffes. “There will always be businesses out there that just don’t want to change and think it’s all about the economic value of things. That’s not how it is for us,” says Agnew. “Economic sustainability is absolutely important. It’s no good if you do lots of good things and the business can’t survive, but it’s not profit for the sake of profit.”
By being a B Corp member, “we are effectively reinvesting our profits in people and communities for the future, and that helps us to be a stronger business.”
While it may seem a daunting undertaking, for Tullberg, chances are that as a speciality food professional, you’re already doing a fair amount that is required by the B Corp certification process, making it a worthy undertaking for the sector.
“These things already sit comfortably with you. Now all you need to do is document it and put it in a flow process.”