When Shay and I started Evident four years ago we had a vision for the type of business we wanted to create. From day one certain values, principles and ideas have steered and inspired us. We wanted Evident to a disruptor in the construction sector, focused on making buildings better for both people and the environment. We want our work to be open source so others can copy, maximising our impact. We want the inner workings of the company to be transparent so what we learn in establishing a businesses can be used by others. And we believe our work and personal lives should be inseparable in that they are guided by exactly the same values and principles.
However, while it’s easy to have bold ambition in a business - especially in the early years - it’s far from easy to embed it in the strategy of a business, much less its day-to-day operation.
For me, this is where B Corp comes in for Evident. B Corps are for-profit companies that seek to use business as a force for good in the world. They are certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. The certification framework was established a decade ago and today there are more than 2,000 B Corps in 50 countries.
Last month we became New Zealand’s 11th certified B Corp, and the first in the country’s construction sector. We’re proud of much of the work we’ve done in the past four years, but personally I think B Corp certification might be one of the most important things we’ve done so far.
Our journey to B Corp certification
The first part of B Corp certification is an online assessment comprising hundreds of questions adding up to an overall score of 200. To achieve B Corp certification requires a minimum score of 80.
We first flirted with the idea of B Corp certification in 2014, and after a quick self-assessment were confident we could achieve it with no changes to the business. From memory our initial self-assessment scored way above 80.
A year ago we decided to commit fully to the certification process, and reached out to existing NZ B Corps and the B Corp certification team to learn more about it. In doing so we started to understand the online assessment is just the entry point - at its heart, B Corp certification is fundamentally evidence-based. This is achieved through an audit of your self-assessment, follow-up interviews, requests for documentation (reports, policies etc) to justify answers, and onsite audits of 10% of B Corps each and every year.
This understanding dramatically changed how we approached the self-assessment. Unless we had the documentation to back up an answer, we marked ourselves down. Crucially - for a company dedicated to impact through education - we scored almost no points for our public education work. This is because, even though our content is read by thousands of people a year, we have no idea what impact it has amongst our audience in terms of energy and water saved, positive health incomes etc.
This significantly reduced our score to well below 80 - which led to a period of implementing changes in the business (via new tools, procedures, and documented policies) and submitting those to the B Corp audit team for review. After a few iterations of this we were finally certified as a B Corp in May 2017 - three years after first considering it, and almost a year after beginning the process in proper detail.
Why is it so important to Evident?
At the beginning of this post I alluded to the fact B Corp allows us to embed our values and principles in the day-to-day running of Evident. That wasn’t something we knew when we started - we learned it along the way to certification as we went deeper into the process.
For a small business like Evident, we don’t have in-house personnel in areas like HR and Accounts we can turn to for guidance when we’re making decisions. However, the B Corp assessment tool can steer us.
As an example, one area we’ve been exploring over the past year is how we can make the salaries of all Evident staff - including Directors - more transparent (the reasons why deserve a post of their own, but we are inspired by the team at Buffer). Looking at the B Corp questions related to that issue can show us what options would give us most points, how companies (inside and outside of B Corp) score on that matter, and case studies of B Corps who are doing it well.
In this way, B Corp is incredibly valuable to us. It took a long time, but the assessment has effectively given us a 100% accurate baseline of the company measured on hundreds of attributes. It’s also shown us areas for improvement and I’m sure it will be one of the main forces that shapes Evident in the years to come.
In addition to using B Corp as a framework to shape Evident, it creates opportunities to communicate to the world what we’re about. We want to demonstrate a better way of doing business, and that a business can be used not just to generate profit but for a force for good in the world. B Corp certification lets us demonstrate we are serious, and raise awareness of what we’re doing to encourage others to do the same. It also allows us to clearly communicate to our customers and suppliers why we are here and the outcomes we want to achieve from our work.
B Corps are encouraged to improve their score year-on-year and we will be setting targets and identifying key areas of improvement for Evident. In practice this means we will develop and implement policies and procedures - it may also mean changes to the ownership and governance structure of the company in coming years.
Beyond our own improvement, we want to use our experience as a B Corp to help other NZ businesses. We already have plans to share more details about the process to certification, the benefits we get from it, and the policies that have been audited by the B Corp team.
However, we’re keen to understand what other people need or want to know. If you’re interested in B Corp, get in touch. It may be the answers you’re looking for can help others and we shape the information we share with everyone as a result.
View our B Corp report here.