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What is a B Corp? | What does it mean to be a B Corporation?

Sampriti Ganguli
What is a B Corp? | What does it mean to be a B Corporation?

Arabella Advisors announced last week that we were proud to re-certify as a B-Corp, recommitting to our seventh year of answering the question “to B or not to B?” with a resounding “to B!”

While the B Corp community is growing rapidly and includes some famous brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Danone,  Eileen Fisher, and Athleta, I still get a fair number of questions about what it means to be a B. So here are some answers I hope will be helpful whether you choose to become a B Corp or buy from a B Corp.

What is B Corp Certification? 

B Corp certification for a business is a bit like Fair Trade certification for a coffee, Organic certification for milk, Energy Star certification for appliances, or LEED certifications for buildings. All verify that something has met a rigorous set of standards. That said, when you drink a glass of organic milk, you don’t know anything about the farmer, the packaging, how the carton was transported, or how much energy was used in its production. B Corp certification takes things up a level. It goes further than your basic product or service certification, verifying how a company as a whole functions—and how it impacts its workers, its community, and the planet we all share.

So, B Corp certification doesn’t just mean that one of Arabella’s products or services exceeds rigorous standards. It means that our entire company does.

How Do You Earn a B?

To be certified as a B Corp, we have to report out across five dimensions every couple of years, answering about ninety questions across all of them. Those five dimensions are:

  1. Governance and transparency: At Arabella, we share information across the firm twice a year on our financial, people, and client-service performance, both the good and the bad of it. We commit to sharing this information with all staff, regardless of their role in the organization.  Maybe that seems pretty basic to some, but you’d be surprised how few organizations make the time to share comprehensive information with all staff, particularly as they get larger.
  2. Workers: This includes benefits, training, employee communication, and culture. We look at, and report on, staff satisfaction each year, and we use the data we gather in doing so as a guidepost for future investments. Our business model is basically that of a consulting firm, which means we measure people’s time in billable hours, i.e., hours that we can (or could) bill to our clients. As a general rule, consulting firms want to increase billable hours to maximize efficiency. At Arabella, we know that our staff deeply value other aspects of their work, such as outside training, internal strategic initiatives and deepening their connection to philanthropy, so our planning model includes external training and other core commitments designed to encourage learning, growth, and well-being. Over the past four years, we have committed to significant time and resources (for key individuals and across the firm) on equity and inclusion.
  3. Community engagement: B Corps are encouraged to think strategically about their corporate giving programs, whether these cover volunteer service hours or grants. The day you join the Arabella team, you receive a welcome box that allows you to make a contribution to a cause that is meaningful for you. We also provide 20 hours of paid volunteer service time per year for each individual at the firm, in addition to having a Global Day of Impact as a company. For us, it’s important that we ‘walk the walk’ and engage directly with the communities where we live and work and on whose behalf we serve. Many Arabellans also participate in local giving circles, serve on nonprofit boards, volunteer outside work, and find other ways to give back. (Turns out that a B Corp that exists to strengthen philanthropy attracts some remarkably giving people.)
  4. Environmental footprint: B Corps need a plan to measure their environmental impact and reduce their carbon footprint. This can be achieved by the kinds of buildings in which you locate offices, by reducing your supply chain’s carbon footprint, by committing to 100 percent recycling, etc. and the like. As a services company, we don’t have supply chains to worry about, but we do invest heavily in virtual technologies to eliminate the need to fly to multiple offices, and we locate all of our offices within a quarter mile of public transportation options to reduce our carbon footprint. Many B Corps also report that the certification process helps them root out waste and operational inefficiencies in areas such as energy and water usage.
  5. Social impact: Lastly, B Corps have to measure and report on social impact. For many, this is the hardest part of the certification process. Since we work in the social impact sector and have our own evaluation team, this is less difficult for us than it is for most.  But it’s a way to ensure accountability around answering the existential question of “how do you know you’re making a difference?”

Why B? 

So why do we spend tens of thousands of dollars getting certified, and thousands of hours making sure we stay compliant? First and foremost, doing so is consistent with who we are and what we and our clients believe in. Arabella isn’t just a business; we’re a social enterprise on a mission to help philanthropists turn their inspiring ideas into life-changing impact. That means each of our clients wants to achieve some greater good. By helping them, so do we.

We also find that being a B Corp helps us to differentiate ourselves in our market—and to attract and retain a team that is both tremendously talented and a truly terrific group of people. It’s an honor and privilege to lead such a team and to go to work with them each day on behalf of the clients and causes we care about.

It’s enough to make even the dour prince of Denmark excited about B-ing. As for “not to B”? No way.

(Note: This post was originally published on LinkedIn.)

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