Paula Ward, Compliance Manager at Zen Internet: Becoming a B Corp: Top Tips for Businesses Looking to Get Certified

“With COP26 and the environmental and social agendas becoming increasingly mainstream amongst businesses, leaders and customers, B Corps are growing in prominence. We’ve seen an increasing number of companies getting certified, and at the time of writing there are around 4,673 B Corps across the world, spanning 155 industries and 78 countries. In fact, in the UK alone there are over 640 B Corps, including Innocent Drinks, The Guardian and The Body Shop.

But what really is a B Corp? B Corporations are a new kind of business that balance purpose and profit. As a B Corp, companies are legally required to consider the impact of decisions on the world around us: workers, customers, suppliers, local community, and the environment. Certification is voluntary, and the entry requirements are demanding, but it reaffirms a company’s commitment to people, local communities, and the environment.

For this reason, back in August 2020, we became certified as a B Corporation, meaning we play a vital part in driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.

Why? As a people- and planet-first business, our overarching value is happy staff, happy customers, happy suppliers and so becoming a B Corp felt like a natural next step for us. Becoming certified acts as a proof point to show that we’re not only saying we’re doing the right thing, but given the legally binding requirements we’ve committed ourselves to, we have the evidence to prove it. It also demonstrates to our customers and our people that we’re serious about putting them first. During the assessment process, and now that we’re certified, we can clearly see the tangible improvements we have to make every day as a business to continuously improve – for the benefit of our people, our customers, our suppliers, the communities in which we operate and our planet.

We’re currently the largest Internet Service Provider (ISP) that’s also a B Corp. This differentiates us from our competitors and means our customers can choose a fast and reliable internet service that is also committed to leaving a positive legacy.

How? To become a B Corp, you must meet a number of requirements across a range of key areas such as charitable activities, employee benefits, environmental initiatives and supply chain practices. You’re given a score, and providing you are above the threshold of 80 points, you’re able to become certified.

At the start of our journey to becoming a B Corp, we looked at the Impact Assessment and the questions we were being asked, and planned out what we needed to do to improve our score. We answered the questions internally, undertaking a gap analysis that looked at where we were on that day, and what we needed to do to improve, to put us in a better position for when we submitted our assessment. We took this information and a proposal to our Executive Committee, who were happy to proceed.

It took us around 18 months to become a B Corp – from the initial idea, through to the completion of the impact assessment, the implementation of the project plan and the B Corp verification process (which took three months). Other businesses may be able to complete their own implementation quicker if they have a dedicated team working only on this initiative.


Zen’s Top Tips

  • Evidence, supporting documents and the impact assessment: Whilst it’s called an impact assessment, it’s more a tool to use to improve your business. You’re going to be asked to demonstrate compliance throughout the verification process. If you’re talking about numbers of women in management roles for example, make sure you have the data to back it up. If you’re asked a question on policy, make sure your company has the policy to submit. A lot of work for us involved formalising the things we were doing already – putting our practices in writing.
  • 80 points minimum: You can see the questions you need to answer as part of the impact assessment prior to formally submitting it via the portal, and you can see your score throughout. Aim to go into the application with at least 90 points, as it’s likely you could lose some through the verification process, and 80 points is the threshold you must cross. However, you can go through the impact assessment at your own pace, and make changes as your business improves. When you’re happy with your score, you can then submit your application to be independently verified.
  • Background checks for directors: This involves checking for bankruptcy and ethical malpractice – including public records and news sources. It’s advisable to let directors know this is happening at the start of the project.
  • Don’t go it alone: Involve people from all sides of your business. Buy-in and support from around the business as well as senior management will really help form the complete picture. You’ll need them to help you complete the impact assessment, capture the required evidence, and form your project team.
  • Project Management: Given the involvement of people from different areas of the business, and the different streams involved, if you can create a project team with people that have effective project management skills it will really help with keeping track of everything.
  • Making the announcement: Once certified, you’ll get lots of information from B Lab. At this stage, ensure you’re ready to pull together a comms plan. At Zen we did our external launch around three weeks after becoming certified, but it was a result of eight weeks of work and comms planning.
  • Maintaining it in life: Once you’re certified, think about how you’ll maintain your schemes and commitment to people and the environment throughout the day-to-day running of your business. You’ll have to submit Annual Impact Reports, and re-apply to be certified after three years, so you’ve got to be committed to having a positive impact and continually improving throughout your certification and beyond.

We’d encourage more companies, particularly the larger ISPs, to become certified. We’re seeing customers increasingly scrutinise businesses’ social and environmental practices and demand they do better. To meet our sustainability targets as a country, and globally, it’s absolutely vital that businesses take more of an active approach to doing good for generations to come.”