A wide angle shot of a prarie highway with big white fluffly clouds in the sky.

In my 20 plus years of running a graphic design studio, becoming a Certified B Corporation has been one of the most gratifying experiences. But getting there wasn’t a walk in the park. I remember taking the B Impact Assessment in 2011 when the certification was a mere pup, and our studio’s results were a resounding fail. It took me a whole year to dust myself off, pull up my Blundstones and try again. After six more months, Manoverboard passed, certifying our studio as the first B Corp in the province of Manitoba in June 2013.

What exactly is B Corporation certification?

B Corp certification indicates that your business is fundamentally sustainable in every sense of the word and that the company meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. Manoverboard became a Certified B Corporation after a rigorous process that put every aspect of how we run the studio under a microscope.

One of the hardest parts of our certification journey was getting straight about who we are as a business and then measurably demonstrating that. For B Corp certification, it’s not enough to say you are “good.”

Our stable of clients at Manoverboard has always included nonprofit organizations that make a positive impact in the world. That reflected favourably on us but it still was not enough. You can have nonprofit clients piled a mile or two high, but if you are treating your employees poorly, disrespecting the environment and not valuing or evaluating the economic impact of the business in community, you are unlikely to certify as a B Corp.

Does it sound like the bar for B Corp certification is high? It is.

But it’s not insurmountable.

Our challenge getting B Corp Certified: environmental impact

Some aspects of the assessment process were less challenging for us than others. A few years before taking the BIA (B Impact Assessment), we repositioned the company to help nonprofit organizations create a sound digital impact and to help them better connect with donors, members, and partners. While we also take on progressive corporate clients, our primary focus is on foundations, educational institutions, environmental nonprofits, and community-based organizations.

The B Impact Assessment differs depending on company size and industry. For us, our social and economic impact is largely determined by our clients’ results. (I sometimes half-joke that our clients do the real work while we simply equip them.) Our focus on nonprofits and their social and economic outcomes resulted in a high score on that part of the assessment.

What put our studio to the test (and continues to do so) was our environmental impact. While we were one of the first in the design sphere to call attention to the Internet’s carbon footprint, Manoverboard’s environmental impact score is relatively low. As a small business that up until recently leased office space, measuring our energy usage, water usage, GHG emissions, or waste production proved very difficult. Those areas represent a substantial and unmet sustainability need and continue to challenge us now that we are a digitally distributed workforce (all our employees work from home).

We do almost everything else right around impact on the environment by offsetting our electrical and gas usage with Bullfrog Power, reducing our travel whenever possible, using green hosting services, and building our digital infrastructure on services that use renewable resources. And we are signatories to Net Zero 2030 along with over 900 other B Corporations. However, to truly “measure what matters,” getting a handle on actual energy use and reducing that use is critical. As working from home becomes a growing and permanent state of affairs, we will need better ways to accurately measure the impact of workplaces with distributed teams.

The good news is that the BIA measures the totality of a company’s impact and output. So, while our score suffers in the Environment impact area score, we have a track record of consistently improving our impact in the Worker, Community, Governance and Customer areas. As always, perfection is the enemy of the good and our B Corp certification is an accurate measure of our company’s obsessions, interests, aspirations and, yes, deficiencies.

Why it’s worth becoming a B Corp

As awareness grows, consumers are demanding more from the companies they are purchasing goods and services from. Buying decisions are increasingly based on how brands demonstrate that they are ethical and environmentally responsible. B Corp certification makes it easier for customers to determine which companies deserve their dollars. Attracting top-tier employees is also an advantage as the certification gives some assurance that their workplace will treat them fairly.

Of paramount concern, the world is heating up dramatically and while the climate crisis will affect the most vulnerable disproportionately, it will affect every person, every creature and every region on the planet. Businesses are the protagonist in this story.

We are getting close to 4,000 B Corps around the world today. With the climate crisis accelerating, this is far too few. In Canada, there are approximately 1.2 million businesses and only 300 B Corps. If just .01% of all Canadian companies were to certify, there would be 120 more B Corps in the country.

I have long argued that, as compelling as the B Corp model is, we actually need a “b corp” model as well. In a scenario like this, the bar would be slightly lower and certification would apply to companies that are on the path to becoming a sustainable business. The idea would be to capture the many companies that exist somewhere on the continuum between those just claiming to make a social, economic and environmental impact (and who would not qualify) and those committed to the full monty (Certified B Corps).

The tide appears to be turning and more B Corps are coming online every day. But the reality is that we need 4 million B Corps — or b corps — not because it is the right thing to do but because it is the only thing to do.

If you have any questions about our B Corp certification journey, please reach out. I’d be happy to share more about our experience.