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Behind the B Corp: Words of advice from 3 B Corp Project Managers
by Laura Matz, Lead B Corp Consultant at Greenheart Consulting.
This article is guest written by Laura Matz, Lead B Corp Consultant at Greenheart Consulting. Since becoming a B Leader in 2020 and joining the team at Greenheart, Laura has worked with dozens of companies (including cosmetics companies, F&B and tech) on their journey to certification and beyond.
Back in March, at the start of B Corp Month, we shared some tips on getting started and securing a solid score with the B Impact Assessment (BIA). We thought it would be useful to follow up with some sage advice from those who, perhaps like you, have bravely stepped forward to project manage a company’s journey to certification.
Following the Footprints champions the individuals within the brands who are working hard behind the scenes to make a difference. Today, I’m speaking to three B Corp project managers from leading FMCG brands, who are kindly sharing their insights about how they overcame challenges, project management tips, and key highlights of their B Corp journey. I’ll also be adding in my advice, as a B Leader with experience supporting FMCG brands through this process. Through these shared learnings we hope you will come away with some tricks of the trade, a few common pitfalls to avoid and also confidence that the challenge will be a worthwhile one.
Let’s kick off with some introductions…
Role: Senior Project Manager at time of B Corp certification.
BIA Company Track: Manufacturing, with 1000+ employees (Note: some FMCG brands fall under the B Corp category of ‘Manufacturing’ if they manufacture >10% of the products that they sell).
Role: Innovation Project Manager
BIA Company Track: Retail/Wholesale, with 50-249 employees
Role: People and Culture Manager
BIA Company Track: Retail/Wholesale, with 50-249 employees
What’s a BIA Company Track? The BIA Company Track is the size and sector of the business, which dictates the questions they see in their assessments - see our first article for more detail!
Let’s get started…
👉 What was a key frustration or ‘energy blocker’ that you experienced in the process?
One of the basic principles of the B Corp movement is interdependence. Taking the opportunity to learn from the challenges that other B Corp Project Managers have experienced and making sure you build those learnings into your own strategy means you can save time and avoid frustrations.
Cat: “One of the biggest frustrations was trying to source data on things we had never proactively tracked in the past - getting this information took a disproportionate amount of time and effort!”
My advice: Pick your battles! DO gather energy data retrospectively, for example. This can usually be collected by working with your finance team to get energy provider bills or a breakdown of your landlord’s service charges. Do not forget to include gas use here! It is really common now for landlords to be asked for this information. The energy data will be useful for multiple questions, including % renewable energy use and a starting point for your carbon footprint calculations. PRO TIP: If you are one of the lucky few who have access to meter readings, take a picture of your energy meter and keep it on file for your carbon consultants so they can interpret your readings accurately. DON’T worry too much about tracking your water and waste retrospectively, if you don’t already have systems for tracking in place. For these areas, your first steps should be a) finding out if tracking is possible (e.g. access to water meters and weighing scales for waste if it is not weighed by your service providers), then b) setting up a process for future tracking, including assigning responsibility.
Joy: “Buy in from all stakeholders….. B Corp came at a time when we were just about to enter the re-sale of [the company] and so the amount of time that could be dedicated to the project was sporadic at the beginning. Luckily, the sale to [our current investors], their support together with Julian and James (CEO and COO) and the overwhelming passion from the staff to drive the B Corp accreditation kept us on track.”
My advice: Get your senior leaders together and have an honest conversation about strategic priorities and what kind of leadership mandate/commitment is needed to drive actions across departments. Keeping each other informed during company huddles or regular meetings will help raise awareness about the amount of work going into the project as well as encouraging crowdsourcing of solutions. In some cases a workstream may not need C-suite involvement but it may benefit from a C-suite sponsor who takes the weight of accountability away from the project manager.
Charlotte: “Probably not understanding the magnitude of the entire process and being brought in a bit too late. It stayed with senior stakeholders for a while then was delegated to me and I think it would have been useful to be involved from the beginning and really go through the assessment with a consultant to understand what it all meant then properly feed back the timelines needed.
We had buy-in from the beginning internally and I never saw sign off being an issue for the big stuff like changing the articles of association or writing up new ways of doing things but the environmental section and the beast that is carbon has taken a long time to really embed in. Again, more time to do the research, look at the materiality of the business and get the stakeholders in a room to map out how this can be managed alongside other strategies and growth plans - it was a little difficult in lockdown to do this and at times felt it was my responsibility to have all the answers.”
My advice: I love Charlotte’s advice to get your project manager involved from day one. Not only does this provide much needed context, it also helps maintain that continuity throughout the project. The exciting challenge we have witnessed on many occasions is project managers learning how to act as accountability partners to more senior stakeholders.
👉 What pro tip would you give someone tasked with managing the B Corp process for their company?
Cat: “The assessment can feel really daunting to start, so my advice would be to segment it by the stakeholder responsible for each area (e.g. People, Legal, etc.) and work closely with them to prioritise requirements based on where you can have the most impact.”
My advice: Download the excel version of your BIA so that you can assign questions to people or departments. This is one feature we would love to see on the online tool, please feed that back to B Lab if you agree!
Joy: “So, depending on the type of business that you are in, the accreditation process will differ due to the level of questions and supporting documentation that is required, for example, it may be a lot quicker for a company that offers a financial service as opposed to a product manufacturer. When I speak to companies who are thinking about becoming a B Corp there are several things that I highlight :
Time & Resource – be realistic about your timings based on the resource available
Money – depending on your company’s framework, if you must introduce new processes, documentation, and systems together with the cost of the accreditation, B Corp can be expensive
Workstreams – break down the Business Impact Assessment (BIA) into workstreams and share the workload with relevant departments, this will allow you to spin more plates at one time!
3rd Party Consultancy - depending on the level of experience and the resource available in your company, I would recommend working with a 3rd party B Corp consultant like Greenheart as throughout the accreditation process you will pick up and drop points at every stage. For example, if you complete the BIA a consultant could verify your answers and give you an indication of whether you have enough of points to get through the verification process as you simply may have interpreted the questions differently, or after submission they could support you in mapping out the areas where you can improve your BIA score ready for your recertification.”
My advice: Try and identify big ticket budget items early and factor them into your forecast for the year ahead. The common expenses, apart from the more obvious ones of submission and verification fees (and consultancies, thanks Joy!), are additional benefits, alignment with Living Wage rates, trainings for employees, extensions to paid parental leave, third party certifications such as ISO 14001 or carbon accounting software and budgets for community investment.
Charlotte: “GIVE YOURSELF TIME. Do not think you can do it in a year - unless you have an army of helpers.Focus on the engagement of the team - even if this takes a year and you bring people on the journey at every step - DO IT! I wish I had. Don't let the conversation for one moment be led in silo - e.g. "and what's happening with B Corp?"Bleed it into each thread of the business, ask for support when you need it being clear on what you don't know and enjoy reading, learning, understanding. Also get on a project plan tool that works for you from the beginning and something that others can understand and navigate themselves.”
My advice: Use the project plan/management tools that your business feels most comfortable with. We spend a lot of time working in Excel and Google Sheets, but for our own B Corp improvement plan we have opted to use project management software, if for no other reason than seeing a unicorn shoot across the screen when we mark a task completed.
👉 Looking back at the B Corp work so far, was there anything that stood out to you as a highlight?
Cat: “The highlight of the B Corp application process for me was getting to work with people from all different roles across the business who wanted to make a difference and had a shared passion for sustainability, in its many different forms”
Joy: “The B Corp journey has been an extraordinary 18 months for me and one of my proudest achievements at [my brand]. Looking back now the main highlight for me is that the journey so far has NOT been one of “change” but more a time of growth, as a brand and a “family”. [My company was] already doing huge amounts of positive work which simply was not being tracked or monitored mainly due to how fast [we are] growing year on year. B Corp offered us the opportunity to put a framework in place to help us visually see all our positive and negative impacts in one place.”
Charlotte: “Honestly a highlight for me has been working with Greenheart - seriously not just saying that. Since moving into this world, I have been lucky enough to go to a lot of webinars, conferences and have networked with others in the field and I have to say, their passion, unique approach that makes you feel you're the only client they have, I've felt so supported in some pretty overwhelming situations and it wouldn't have been the same. It may be down to the fact internally I am a team of 1 but I still think it shows credit to their ability to adapt to different structures and stakeholders. In terms of the work I have done in B Corp so far, I am most proud of the people led initiatives that have been put in place and the scope to learn. I have approached it in a way that is not just looking at the assessment as a tick box but frustratingly really wanting to understand the detail behind each question so I can be there at the end, fully aware of how we got there.”
The B Corp community (and the community of soon to Bs) is one of the greatest strengths of the B Corp movement. As we have seen here, those who have lived experience are keen to share their learnings and advise other businesses. The strongest message here has been to engage all the relevant coworkers early and make sure that they are clear that B Corp actions will touch almost every part of your operations. If you are on this journey and you want more guidance, don’t be afraid to reach out to the community, the very nature of the B Corp
tribute volunteer is to be of help! A huge thanks to Cat, Charlotte and Joy for taking the time to share their experience of B Corp.
Since becoming a B Leader in 2020 and joining the team at Greenheart, Laura has worked with dozens of companies (including cosmetics companies, F&B and tech) on their journey to certification and beyond. Want to learn more? Reach out to Laura via LinkedIn, or contact her via the B Corp UK B Leaders Directory.