After the demise of his restaurant chain, Jamie Oliver announced he was looking to reposition the rest of his empire by turning it into a leading social impact business.
Part of his plan is obtaining B Corporation certification – a scheme that requires companies to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment, putting people and the planet on the same footing as profits.
Billed as a fair trade label for companies, the certification process is rigorous. It involves an independent assessment of the company’s entire social and environmental performance with everything from the supply chain and input materials to charitable giving and employee benefits. Companies are reassessed every three years to make sure they are on track.
In the UK, there are currently 217 B Corps, among them 11 food and drink businesses. French food giant Danone is certifying its subsidiaries one at time with the goal of being fully compliant by 2030 –the UK business is already endorsed.
Others opting for the designation include Innocent Drinks and Mindful Chef, while Waitrose has an online section dedicated to B Corp suppliers.
Food Spark speaks to some of the UK businesses who have gone through the process, from plant-based producers to chocolate makers,to find out why they did it.
This frozen vegan ready meal delivery service, with options like Cauli Tikka Masala and Rigatoni Bolognese, raised £7.5m in funding last year. But becoming a B Corp was important to the co-founder brothers, who wanted to use the business as a force for good.
Their story echoes many who have been through the process – it’s not for the faint hearted. Allplants were required to answer more than 200 questions and provide evidence to back up claims, with the certification process taking well over six months. But it’s already prompted changes.
“For example, we have since committed to moving away from the use of any fossil fuels in powering our kitchen and HQ and will be using 100% renewable energy by the end of the year,” says co-founder Jonathan JP Petrides. “We're also working gradually towards CO2e/kg labelling on our products because we believe every product should not only communicate its nutritional value, but its carbon footprint as well.”
From launch, Allplants also experimented by popping return-to-sender labels in every delivery. The result? A third of packaging materials comes back to HQ, allowing them to be reused.
Petrides believes making companies holistically fair trade isn’t just a trend, but a global movement.
“All generations are universally waking up to the fact that our governments do not have the care or power to affect this change – our democratic votes are nowhere near as powerful as the votes we make every day with our pounds and dollars for the companies, industries and products we choose to support,” he comments.
“It’s with our hard-earned cash that we get to make a statement – kind of like backing a Kickstarter – saying that we want to see more or less of a business in our world by drinking, travelling or eating with them. We all get to wield our power as a consumer, and as such a greater purpose and value to our community and the world will soon be table-stakes for every business keen to still be standing in a few years time. And arguably it already is – B-Corps recorded an average year-on-year growth rate of 14% in 2018, compared to the UK GDP growth rate of 0.5%.”
Over in retail, Rebel Kitchen, which makes plant-based milks and yoghurts, has a dedicated employee to keep them accountable to their B Corp status, after spending a year working towards certification.
Within every department there is a nominated ‘B Keeper’ to ensure they weave sustainability into the fabric of every business decision.
“The power of the B Corp certification is that a light is shone on every facet of your business,” says Rebel Kitchen’s B Corp champion Anna Van Der Hurd.“There is no hiding in what you do well and ignoring what you don’t do so well, as no stone gets unturned. There is no option but to see your business as a living system where every part plays an essential role in its health and wholeness, be it governance or the environmental impact of each decision.”
It’s meant accelerating plans at Rebel Kitchen:a decision to become carbon neutral by 2024 has instead been achieved this year using the Provenance platform, which employs blockchain to verify claims.
Van Der Hurd sees measures like B Corp as part of an overall trend towards conscious capitalism.
“We feel it would be great to see it as an implicit industry standard by which consumers demand that brands operate by,” she says.“Business can and should be a force for good. The B Corp certification offers a gold standard road map for businesses looking to join the good force.”
Doisy & Dam
Cocoa can be an ethically murky material to deal with and Doisy & Dam, artisan chocolate producer, wanted to address this issue, according to co-founder Ed Smith. The process involved 300 questions and took about three months, but has prompted a slew of positive changes.
Its supply chain has been overhauled to ensure that all its Colombian cocoa is fully traceable,and it’s making moves to use 100% recyclable packaging by the end of next year
“Most certifications address specific areas, often in ways which don’t benefit everyone along the value chain,” says Smith.“B Corp is applicable to every type of food and drink business, as opposed to Fairtrade or organic, which aren't appropriate for every raw material or food product.”
CEO Sophi Tranchell says for too long business success has just been about growth and profit. “We urgently need a shift in focus towards a business model which delivers a fairer share of wealth for people, within the means of the planet,” she comments.
The UK artisan brand – which makes chocolate bars with flavours like lemon and juniper; ginger and orange; and toffee and sea salt – took six months to obtain certification.Apart from a range of changes to employee benefits, the business impact has included introducing FSC-certified sustainable packaging, using green energy and introducing an organic range.
In only its second year, Ossa Organic was certified. Founder Catherine Farrant believes B Corp will become a benchmark in the industry for efficacy, sustainability and effectively the value of a brand to the consumer.
Best known for selling bone broths, Ossa’s production process is one sustainable cycle, according to Farrant. It saves bones from being incinerated, preventing not only food waste but its carbon footprint too. Biomass boilers are used to produce gas, which is fed back into the grid,and where possible the company draws on renewable energy for its 24-hour cooking process.
“We also have ideas on further expanding our products into new and exciting areas,” reveals Farrant.“This is all in line with respecting animals we eat and making sure we use all parts of the animals to avoid waste. Watch this space for some exciting new concepts, sustainable, natural and good for the gut.”
Sebastian Pole, co-founder of tea company Pukka Herbs, says being a member of B Corp is a way of sounding a powerful rallying cry to the industry to join this movement for change.
“Within the food industry, there are a lot of ethical, sustainable and responsibility issues that, particularly for small challenger brands, present opportunities to set themselves apart,” he explains. “Business is uniquely placed, as it has the link all the way along the chain, from raw materials provided by our planet to consumers, who have purchasing power. In a world where being more socially and environmentally conscious is becoming increasingly important, B Corp accreditation offers assurances that businesses are part of being the change we want to see in the world.”
From its crops to its tea leaves, Pukka Herbs has been pushing this agenda. It’s done a carbon survey and is the first UK company of its size to have its climate goal – to be carbon zero by 2030 – validated by the Science-Based Targets initiative.
It’s also member of 1% for the Planet – donating 1% of turnover annually to environmental causes, which has added up to £1.6m since 2016. All the teas are certified Fair for Life and organic, andthe company is also committed to FairWild, a standard regulating the sustainable collection of wild-harvested herbs.
For craft beer brewer Toast Ale, which uses surplus fresh bread to make its beverages, the certification process helped to benchmark the business against other sustainability leaders and identify areas to improve.
“After certifying, we changed our Articles of Association to include people and planet – specifically our vision to end food waste – alongside profit as a business objective, meaning directors have a fiduciary duty to consider all,” explains Louisa Ziane, head of brand, culture and sustainability. “We’ve recently worked with Advance London, part of the London Waste and Recycling Board, on a hotspot study and deep-dive into the impact of our packaging.”
Ziane says consumers already view big business and industry with cynicism and are looking for a way to navigate marketing claims. She believes B Corp is a trend that will push the entire industry to make better choices.