For many years now, sustainability has become increasingly important and, in the last period, it has also begun to have an impact on economic activities. In a report dedicated to the Millennial generation, 40% of respondents stated that companies should have as their primary objective to generate well-being for society. It is therefore evident how sustainability is and will be increasingly at the center of corporate strategies, thanks to both the growing importance of the trend and above all the increasing attention that the consumer will devote to these issues. We are witnessing the growth of a new point of view in imagining the world and the economy: working for a better world, both in terms of social dynamics and in terms of environmental sustainability. These two sides of sustainability will, in the coming years, play a pivotal role within company policies.
However, there have been people who have been able to recognize this trend before it became "fashion", bringing sustainability to the center of the corporate vision since before this issue became part of the public debate: we are talking about the B-Corp Movement, name taken from the company B-Corp, founded at the end of 2006. This company was born from the minds of three friends, coming from two radically opposite fields. One of the founders was a Wall Street manager, while the other two had founded a basketball clothing brand with some success, having also been bought by Nike. Thirteen years ago, in 2007, a first group of nineteen companies took part in the initiative, obtaining certification. Another key year was 2010, during which legal status began to be conferred on B-Corp, starting from the State of Delaware in the USA, arriving then in Colombia and also in Italy, under the name of "benefit company".
B-Corp certified companies differ from others in their ultimate goal. Generally, the purpose of every business is to make profits, the B-Corps combine economic objectives with those focused on creating shared value for each individual involved in corporate actions. These are therefore long-term oriented objectives, totally different from modern business practices often oriented to tangible results in a single year. In addition to this, companies able to obtain certification must adopt transparency practices and, above all, create precise and rigorous measurement systems capable of calculating the actual impact of their actions.
The companies that are at the heart of the B-Corp project are generally new companies or start-ups.
The reason is simple: for relatively new companies it is easier to implement these good practices, incorporating them into business processes right away. In addition, they are those that would benefit most from the communicational impact of certification, also attracting any lenders. Despite this, multinational companies have also acquired the certification, some even active on the market for many decades. Two examples among these are Patagonia and Danone. The latter, in particular, has introduced sustainability practices since the 1970s, for example through aid programs for third world countries. Nevertheless, it is also essential for Danone to activate these practices to increase their reputation, thus “using” the B-Corp certification as a catalyst for any new investments.
In spite of the countless points in favor of a possible certification process, it is clear that there are as many negative points, in particular by analyzing the impact on management. Some companies, in fact, may prefer not to be certified. One of the main reasons is that B-Corp is in effect a company. Many companies could see this subjection to its rules as exercising a real influence over them, subjecting themselves to long and constant analysis procedures that do not lead to a real economic benefit and that, in one way or another, it would limit their autonomy. Others, on the other hand, already enjoy an excellent image and, therefore, any certification would not bring any real advantage in this sense, as is the case, for example, for the brands owned by VF Corporation (among others Vans and The North Face). The last negative aspect, not least, is the tax impact. The companies that decide to become certified do not obtain tax relief of any kind and, on the contrary, become obliged to make a greater effort in accounting measurements.
It is impossible to define a single action procedure or a single outcome after obtaining the certification. As far as we have analyzed, there are both positive and negative points. Companies should personally analyze the impact that B-Corp would have on their business model and based on this decide what to do. Trying to summarize, in favor there would be the enormous communication and image impact deriving from becoming a "member" of a community of companies renowned for the importance reserved for sustainability. Point against, the obvious decrease in freedom of action due to undergoing continuous checks and revisions.
Sustainability is at the center of present and future political and economic choices; sooner or later every individual or institution will have to do their part anyway.
Translated by Arianna Giannino