Becoming a B Corp
Sustainability certification can help attract and retain the best and brightest employees.
Many engineering firms seek to gain an edge by attracting their choice of employees—in particular, individuals who are motivated, keen and taking an intentional approach to their work. One way to get their attention is by showing your firm lives out the values it preaches. Such commitment can be demonstrated by taking steps to change the firm’s corporate structure to that of a ‘B Corp.’
Benefit Corporation (B Corp) certification is to businesses what fair trade certification is to coffee producers, i.e. it signals to outsiders that a company measures up to a verifiable set of ethical standards. The concept originated in the U.S., where corporate law requires firms to operate with profit as their number one goal, to the exclusion of all else, but where savvy business owners are also aware that prioritizing short-term profit and shareholder value over client and employee relationships can threaten a firm’s own long-term success.
With this in mind, B Corp certification allows for legal protections that permit a firm to prioritize other stakeholders, in such a way that will eventually lead to more profit and sustainable success. Indeed, certified B Corps are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their customers, suppliers, workers and community and the environment.
Why you should consider it
As its name might suggest, there are many benefits to B Corp certification. Among the biggest advantages for small to medium engineering firms comes in addressing the constant challenge of hiring the best and brightest new workers.
According to multiple studies, millennials are more likely to choose to work for employers that exhibit higher commitments to sustainability. In fact, surveys show more than half of them consider sustainability when accepting a job offer and determining whether or not they will stay with the firm for the long term. Some are even willing to take a pay cut to work for a firm committed to sustainability.
B Corp certification allows a firm to express such values succinctly to potential hires and get them excited about working there. Examples of smaller, service-based businesses that certification has helped attract and retain outstanding employees include Fiix, OpenConcept and Enviro-Stewards.
Another benefit related to B Corp certification is going through the assessment process and examining your current business practices, as many outdated and/or inefficient activities can be identified and then adjusted. Taking expensive flights to remote construction sites, for example, is not always as important for today’s consulting engineers, when the right technologies and safety checks are in place. Any reduction in such travel is likely to be welcomed by your staff and, in terms or profits, yourself.
How to get certified
The certification process begins with the assessment, which is designed to be sufficiently flexible for small businesses. Through asking a series of questions about your organization, the assessment determines how to rate various facets of it. Points are awarded for ‘best in class’ practices integrated into your business.
As service-based businesses, engineering firms do not have much of a supply chain to worry about with regard to sustainability. So, questions about your suppliers will not be scored as heavily as they would for a fashion firm, where supply chain issues are much more important.
Instead, the most important facets of your business for assessment purposes would include ongoing training/education for employees, banking with a credit union (to support the local economy), adequate parental leave and support, on-site renewable energy (where possible), paid volunteer days, environmental consulting services, carbon footprint reductions and inclusive hiring policies to encourage workplace diversity, to name a few.
That said, engineering firms are also advisors for how buildings and infrastructure are made, using which materials. As such, they are in a position to ensure vendors incorporate environmental policies into their operations. These policies, which can be checked for through supplier questionnaires, generally indicate which suppliers will be less risky to work with in an age of increasing environmental focus. Pursuing and incorporating these changes will show your employees you are walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
Employees are already an engineering firm’s greatest assets, so consider asking them (perhaps anonymously) about where their priorities and interests lie. Do they want to work for an employee-owned firm? Would they like incentives for choosing environmental commuting options, such as transit subsidies or on-site showers for cyclists? Following through could enhance trust and morale.
How to get recertified
A word of caution: after a firm goes through the assessment and becomes a certified B Corp, it is important not to forget about the process, as recertification will take place every three years.
As such, the documentation necessary for the recertification process should be incorporated into your yearly budget projections and financial reviews. That way, you will always have up-to-date information on hand, rather than enduring the additional stress of finding out too late if you have earned enough points to requalify.
An annual review provides a great way to engage your workforce, remind them about the certification’s broader purpose and find ways to continually improve your B Corp status.
Indeed, I would highly recommend the B Corp process to anyone who wants to improve their business, even if they are not interested in pursuing certification. The assessment tool is an easy way to track your firm’s progress over the years, which can provide valuable insights for you and your colleagues, and it is a great way to ensure your firm is creating a legacy that will be remembered in the future.
Samantha Richardson, CPA ASA, is the author of the book, Ethical Profit A Guide to Increasing Profit Using Sustainable Business Practices, and founder of Ethical Profit Agency, Canada’s second B Corporation accounting firm. For more information, contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.