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Social Purpose and B-Corp: A Match Made in Heaven?

Blog post was written by Monika Marcovici, Purpose Strategist, Social Purpose Institute.
April 7, 2021

At the Social Purpose Institute we frequently get questions from companies considering embarking on defining and articulating their Social Purpose and also doing a B Corp certification. How do they relate? If they’ve already done one, what benefit is there in doing the other? Which one should they do?

First of all, if you are considering doing one or both undertakings: Congratulations. You are an amazing company for even considering these options. It takes a lot of work and courage to go down a path that entails taking a good hard look under the hood to find your company’s “good, bad and the ugly. But it seems that the benefits are well worth it, as you will see here. Some will say that doing this work is becoming table stakes for being in business in a 21st Century, post Covid world.

But how does having a social purpose and being B Corp certified relate and which one is right for your business?

We asked 3 companies that have completed both the Social Purpose Institute’s Innovators Program to define and articulate their Social Purpose and the B Corp assessment: Mills Office Productivity, Traction on Demand, and Saltspring Coffee.

The short answer is: Both.

Here are the top take-aways on their respective benefits, distinctions and how having a social purpose and becoming a certified B-Corporation fit together:

1. While B Corp is internally Focussed, Social Purpose is externally focussed

B Corp metrics occupy themselves with internal measures, many of which might be invisible to the public, whereas Social Purpose focuses on societal good, how a company interacts and impacts its customers, community, and society as a whole.

“B Corp is the processes, it’s how we figure things out internally and social purpose is more outward focused. ‘How do we show up in the world?’ ‘How do we put our business out there in terms of what our purpose is?’” – Samantha Whelan, QA and Care Manager Saltspring Coffee

2. Having a Social Purpose defines the Big Picture Impact while becoming B Corp certified provides measurement and details

B Corp measures the many internal indicators that make a company “a good company”. How do you rate on environmental sustainability, energy, waste, greenhouse emissions? How do you treat your employees? Equity in the workplace? Racial justice? Fair wage? We all know that we manage what we measure.

A company’s Social Purpose, in a sense, puts “the wind in the sails” of B-Corp’s internal metrics. It is your “Raison d’être” for becoming more fair, inclusive, low-carbon and zero waste, it is the company’s “Why”, while the B Corp practices and metrics are your “What”.

“I think of B Corp like a fitness program, where it keeps you accountable and keeps you looking at the data points of what you’re doing. You can’t manage something if you don’t measure it. It’s a way of actually measuring your responsibility and social responsibility, and then alignment.“ – Chris Peacock, Chief Marketing Officer, Traction on Demand

“I definitely see Social purpose as the North Star. It’s how we want to present ourselves and make decisions for the long term. B Corp gets into all those small little details about how we get there.” – Mickey McLeod, Co-Founder & CEO, Saltspring Coffee

3. Social Purpose is a powerful decision lens while the B Corp assessment gives structure and standards The Social Purpose is the challenge, aspirational goal or quest that a business sets for itself that it continuously strives towards, while the B Corp assessment provides a yardstick that enables companies to quantify the “good” that they are doing.

“B Corp helps us stay accountable, making sure we’re constantly hitting our goals. And then, Social Purpose helps us to ask ourselves questions like ‘Is what we’re doing aligned with our purpose?’, ‘what would be the most powerful way to accomplish our purpose?’. So just having the social purpose really helps define our goals and strategy.” – Genty Lai, Marketing Manager, Mills Office Productivity

“Going through the process of defining our social purpose, we really dug deep, just drilled down, into who we are and what our purpose is. I often felt we try to do too many things so it really got us focused on what our purpose really is.” – Mickey McLeod, Co-Founder & CEO, Saltspring Coffee

4. Some of the benefits you’ll get from both B Corp certification and defining and embedding a Social Purpose:

• They are both valuable for positioning and qualification.

“For those who know what they are, it just instantly puts B-Corps and Social Purpose businesses in a class with organizations that they respect, and for those who don’t, we get a lot of benefit out of sharing what B- Corp and Social Purpose are. And that helps do the job that we need to do from a marketing and sales standpoint, which is to help define who we are and what makes us different.” – Chris Peacock, Chief Marketing Officer, Traction on Demand

• They both provide networks of allies in growing movements and growing influence to make change.

For Social Purpose companies and B-Corps, being part of a rapidly growing ecosystem of businesses with shared values builds innovation, trust, new partnerships, community and support in times of crisis.

“Having the vendors and suppliers and that network of people to help grow and expand with, that’s an important piece. I think selfishly with the whole purpose of being in the business is to actually get more people involved, and change the world, and the more people that do it the better” – Mickey McLeod, Co-Founder & CEO, Saltspring Coffee

• They are both helpful for marketing and communications.

Chris Peacock, Chief Marketing Officer, Traction on Demand, is a fan: “I’m a ‘fanboy’ for sure of both social purpose and B Corp and love telling the story. It makes my job as a marketer a lot easier to be able to use those types of stories versus manipulative sales type tactics of getting people to focus on what we’re doing. It makes them want to see what we’re doing and understand who we are.”

• And it’s just as true for internal communications as external:

“We found that people working for Saltspring Coffee feel good about what we’re doing, the job they have, coming to work, but not everybody can articulate why that is, and although it’s new, what our social purpose is. We’ve had various taglines and mission statements over the years, but we haven’t been able to articulate it internally. Having defined our social purpose recently will make that a lot easier because it’s actually something we can hang our hat on. If we can do it better internally then it will be easier to go out better.” – Mickey McLeod, Co-Founder & CEO, Saltspring Coffee

5. Timing: Develop a Social Purpose before completing the B Corp certification AND start-ups should pursue B Corp certification early on:

“A great way to go is to develop your social purpose first and then certifying as a B Corp to get a little bit more guidance.” – Michelle Malpass, Director of Community Performance, Traction on Demand

“One thing that I tell entrepreneurs that are starting a company: Do your B Corp certification now, it’s so easy to go in and answer all those questions and so easy to certify and it will keep you responsible while you grow your business versus trying to get a 5, 6 or 700 person organization certified. That is a lot more work. “ – Chris Peacock, Chief Marketing Officer, Traction on Demand

Conclusion:

Having a Social Purpose and becoming a B Corp are better together to help make change happen.

Looking more closely at businesses that have had the benefit of both becoming B Corp certified and defining their Social Purpose, it becomes increasingly clear that this is a case of 1 plus1 equals 3. The benefit of having a crystal clear, aspirational societal purpose coupled with recognized, standardized indicators to measure progress on internal performance seems to be a winning combination.

Michelle Reid, Former Marketing Manager for Mills Office Productivity and currently Community Engagement and Activation Lead, US/Can Team and B Corp sums it all up: “B Corp definitely gives you the metrics and part of the roadmap, but you really need that purpose to be the best B Corp that you can be. “

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