Living Room Session: B-Corp Certification for JewelersJun 09, 2023
During the May Living Room Session, we reviewed the B-Corp Certification from the nonprofit B-Lab and its benefits in the context of improving the jewelry industry. Our guest, Jenifer Gorin, CEO & Founder of Impact Growth Partners, which is a woman-owned boutique consulting firm with a unique expertise in B-Corp, gave us a presentation about the topics the certification covers, the application process, and required documentation. Then, Robin Gambhir, co-founder of Toronto-based Fair Trade Jewellery Co, shared his experience of being a certified B-Corp for 10 years and talked about what it took to get certified, the evolution of the certification, and its pros and cons.
To decide whether B-Corp Certification is suitable for your continuous improvement program and communications tool kit, we encourage you to watch the recording of the session or read the summary below. You can also check out takeaways from the Living Room Session about communicating your brand’s sustainability story which also touched upon the application of certifications in the jewelry industry.
What is a Certified B-Corp?
First of all, Certified B-Corps are for-profit companies only. This means that if you run a non-profit you actually can’t become certified. Besides being for-profit, companies must meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency in order to become certified.
Currently there are over 6,200 certified B-Corps, across 158 industries in 85 countries: around 2,000 in the US, 1,000 in Canada, and the rest in other parts of the world. The movement is still small and new but it’s growing quickly.
There are many different very specific certifications that focus on one particular area of a company’s practices, and B-Lab came about to make sure there was a way to measure a company as a whole. Jenifer Gorin explains:
“B-Corp covers not just one area of the company's work, but the whole company. So, everything from your governance to how you treat your workers, your involvement in the community, your impact on the environment, how you treat and interact with your customers. And all of this is underpinned with a focus on diversity, as well as how your supply chain operates. So, it's very robust and really encompasses every area of your company.”
Another thing that’s important to know is that no company is too big or too small to become certified. Lately, B-Lab has had a focus on bringing more multinational businesses into the certification fold, but the majority of companies (75%) are actually under 50 employees, and many with 0 employees (with just a single founder).
Why do companies get certified?
There are many reasons which include:
- Connecting with the Community
- Leading a movement
- Benchmarking and improving your social and environmental impact
- Increasing economic value
- Deepening credibility and building trust
- Marketing and communications
The internal assessment tool, which is utilized in the certification process, is called the B Impact Assessment. Around 200,000 companies now use this B impact Assessment to help evaluate their impact, even if they don’t try to become certified B-Corps. This tool really helps you set goals and identify ways to be more impactful whether or not you pursue full certification.
Attracting talent is another important reason. The B-Corp Certification not only sends the signal to employees that you care, but it also helps ensure that you're enforcing and implementing policies that are beneficial to the employees and the community. Some of the B-Corp companies’ employees can even be offered a tuition forgiveness program for some of the top business schools.
As for marketing and branding, certified B-Corps get to use the B-Corp logo and collaborate with other B-Corp certified companies. Additionally,, B-Lab runs a lot of its own media campaigns, and once you're certified, you’ll naturally be associated with those. And depending on the topic and the region, your company might even be mentioned.
Becoming B-Corp certified enables you to be more impactful, because it brings together leaders that are focusing on similar issues and offers opportunities to start collective action and make further change. Some of the examples of collective action at B-Corp are B-Corp Climate Collective, BIPOC network, WeTheChange, Beauty Coalition, and more. And who knows, maybe someday there will be a Jewelry Coalition as well?
Moreover, local B-Corp communities (B Locals) are also very powerful. And you don't even have to be a certified B-Corp in order to participate in the B Local events. However, there are a number of B-Lab focused events for B-Corps only, such as the Champions Retreat and B-Corp Leadership Development (BLD) conferences. B-Lab even has its own social network for certified B-Corps called B Hive.
How to become B-Corp certified?
There's a robust online questionnaire for which B-Lab has a database of around 1,600 questions. Depending on your company’s industry, size, and location, you’ll receive around 200 questions. The questions cover the areas mentioned above: governance, workers, community, environment, and customers. The way the questions work is you don't get deductions, only positive points. So, it depends on how impactful your practice is in a certain area. If you get over 80 out of the potential 200 points, then you can submit for certification.
The hard part, of course, is to prove that everything that you say you’re doing is actually true. For example, if you say that your highest paid employee doesn't make more than five times your lowest paid employee, you have to show all your payroll registers to prove that.
Apart from that, to become B-Corp certified, companies must meet the legal requirements,
which can include becoming a Benefit Corporation, which is a specific legal designation. The structure is similar to a C-Corporation, but it has the protection and permission to consider its impact on all stakeholders, not just shareholders. If you're an LLC or sole proprietorship, you do not have to become a Benefit Corporation but need to make some changes to your legal documentation and operating agreement. If you are a corporation though, you actually have to convert to be a Benefit Corporation. As for startups, you can have “Pending” status for 12 months, then submit verification to become a fully certified B-Corp.
So, the process for becoming a pending B-Corp consists of three main parts:
- Taking the assessment
- Officially submitting the assessment,
- Making the legal change.
The process for getting reviewed by B-Corp varies depending on the size of the company. It usually takes between 6 and 12 months to get through the process. If your final score is above 80, you sign their declaration of interdependence and pay your fee. If you dip below 80 during the verification, they give you time to remedy that and get your score up. The application fee starts at $150, but there are additional application fees depending on the size of the applying business.
Once you're certified, you’ll have a public profile available on the B-Corp website. So, anyone can go and see who's certified and why they're certified. In order to continue being a B-Corp, you have to be recertified every 3 years.
New standards coming out in the next year or two will set the minimum points requirement for each area separately. The way that the standard is currently written, you can flexibly get more points in some areas and fewer in others, but if the total number of points is enough, you can still become verified. The new standard will require a more well-rounded picture to make sure that the companies aren’t very irresponsible within any category. For those interested in working with the current framework, there’s still time to submit.
How does B-Corp apply to jewelry specifically? Robin Gambhir shares his experience.
As a company founded on responsible sourcing and ethical practices, Robin Gambhir’s Fair Trade Jewellery Co didn’t have to change a lot about their practices and operations in order to get certified. One of the fundamental things they did was to change the articles of incorporation so that the corporation was proven to benefit stakeholders rather than shareholders; it was a very small change in the language, but it had a very huge impact on what it allowed the business to do.
However, even though it was quite easy in the beginning, Robin notes that as the standard evolved and became more rigorous, it got harder to increase the overall score. For example, 10 years ago there wasn’t as much focus on hiring practices, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
RJC vs B-Corp. How to manage financing different certifications?
Before becoming a B-Corp, Robin’s company was already Responsible Jewellery Council certified. The RJC certification is very jewelry and supply chain specific and has little consumer traction or recognition, but FTJCo finds it useful for benchmarking their practices within the industry against a standard. The B-Corp Certification, on the contrary, is consumer-facing, and there's much more recognition of that, so it can benefit the company and its customers a lot. In terms of costs, the RJC certification is much more expensive than B-Corp.
According to Robin, B-Corp is a great 360-degree view of the company. It covers everything that's non-jewelry specific, although it also covers claims around materials and benefits to communities. However, there are areas where B-Corp does not take into account the nuances of the jewelry industry. But that doesn't mean that it's not valuable. It can actually be extremely valuable because it can lead to a lot of other priorities such as living wage certifications.
Besides RJC, there are many jewelry-specific certifications related to jewelry materials, like Fairtrade Gold or Fairmined. However, Robin explains that there are areas in our industry that even these certifications are not able to cover:
“We're (FTJCo) in Canada, and yet there's no transparent chain of custody for Canadian Diamonds. It's a pinky promise and it shouldn't be that. So as a company, we've been trying to work and call out to some extent the government to provide more transparency. There's no certification for that work. There's nothing.”
Is it worth it then?
The conversation has led us to the conclusion that certifications such as B-Corp are valuable even if not perfect for a jeweler. B-Corp is not as expensive as RJC, but it covers a lot of topics and is valuable to the community. If resources are strapped, Robin Gambhir recommends doing the B-Corp Certification first – it would be more meaningful to the customers than the RJC Certification. But you should keep in mind that you have to be ready to put some time into it.
“Everything you do as a business person… will cost you time and money. And somebody told me a long time ago that the talent is in the choice. It's not in what you're talented at naturally. It's in how you choose to spend your time. So you have to make a business decision about whether these things are worth it for you..” - Robin Gambhir
We are grateful to our speakers, Jenifer Gorin and Robin Gambhir, for taking the time to share their valuable insights with us.
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