What it means to be a B Corp

Gail Steeden, founding partner of Humankind Research reflects on the B Corp movement and what it means to be a B Corp research agency.  

March marks B Corp month, a month where B Corp organisations around the world celebrate using business as a force for good. 

At Humankind Research we’ve been a B Corp since our inception in 2017, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share more about the B Corp movement, in the hope of inspiring others in this sector to join. 

B Corps are for-profit companies committed to balancing profit and purpose. They believe that society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and non-profits alone. Rather they see a vital role for business to play in shaping a fairer, more inclusive, more sustainable society. By using their profits and growth as a means to a greater end, they believe business can have a positive impact for employees, communities, and the environment.
Any for-profit company in any sector can join the B Corp movement. There are many consumer-facing B Corp brands such as Innocent, Danone, The Guardian, The Body Shop and Bulb Energy.  But there are just as many B2B B Corps, across fields such as architecture, accounting, design and of course, research. 


How do you become a B Corp? 

In order to become a B Corp, it’s not enough to say that you believe in using business as a force for good. You have to tangibly demonstrate that you meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.  

This is determined through a rigorous B Corp assessment process that measures a company’s impact on its workers, customers, community and environment. Businesses must meet a minimum score to certify and then make their impact report publicly available. They must also amend their legal governing documents to require their board of directors to balance profit and purpose. 

Why did Humankind Research decide to certify as a B Corp? 
We started Humankind Research with a clear purpose:  to use research to improve the impact of social communications and programmes for the benefit of humankind. As such, we work with charities, foundations and purpose-driven corporates aiming for positive change. 
When founding our agency in 2017, we knew from the offset that we wanted to join the B Corp movement because its values align so well with our own. It also provides us with a clear framework for implementing and applying that purpose into our day-to-day operations, whether it’s thinking about our environmental impact, how we treat our employees, or how we can create positive impact within the community. 
Moreover, as an agency that provides strategic guidance to clients on how to have positive impact, we felt it was only right that we should also ‘walk the walk’ and demonstrate our own commitment to driving positive change. 
Being part of the B Corp movement means we are connected to a network of truly innovative, progressive organisations, demonstrating endless ingenuity on how business can be redefined as a positive force. The inspiration and collaboration we enjoy from the B Corp community in turn helps strengthen the advice we are able to give to our clients in shaping their own impact journeys. 


How does being a B Corp impact on our work as researchers? 

The type of work that we do: our focus on working with underserved populations and purpose driven enterprises enabled us to accrue significant points in our B Corp assessment, and remains central to the work that we do today. Much of our work focuses on engaging seldom heard communities to better understand their lived experience and develop programmes to better meet their needs. For example, we’ve worked extensively with clients to tackle challenges related to race & discrimination, mental & physical disability, marginalisation & poverty. This ethos also shapes the work that we don’t do. We’ve made the difficult decision to turn down work in the past that doesn’t meet our criteria for positive social impact. 

The way that we work: the B Corp assessment involves a thorough audit of your operational environmental impact, which means we’re often thinking about the most sustainable ways to conduct research. Even before the pandemic, we tried to cut down on unnecessary travel, by operating as a fully remote team and by championing digital research methodologies where appropriate. We’ve previously turned down work that required excessive and unnecessary trans-Atlantic flights, instead deciding to hone our remote workshop skills.

Who we work with: the B Corp framework places emphasis on selecting suppliers and partners that share a commitment to positive impact. For us that means working regularly with other B Corp agencies, for example during creative development work. We’re also currently taking steps to ensure our preferred recruitment partners are those who champion inclusive research and positive social practises.

We very much consider ourselves to be at the start of our B Corp journey, one that will involve regular re-assessments and improvements on our performance. But we feel hugely energised by being part of such a positive movement and hope to see many more research agencies join the fray in the future. Given many social research organisations already focus their work on positive causes and take great consideration over ethical practices, becoming a B Corp hopefully won’t feel like too big of a leap! 

If you would like to talk more about our experience of being a B Corp, please get in touch at hello@humankind-research.com. 

Or for more information about the B Corp movement please visit https://bcorporation.uk/

Author Bio: Gail is one of the founding partners at Humankind Research, a specialist agency  partnering with charities, foundations and purpose driven corporates seeking positive social impact. Gail has a background in experimental psychology which led her to her first job in qualitative research in 2001. She started in-house at an ad agency, followed by 10 years at an international qualitative agency working on global brand and comms strategy, and then her dream job as head of insight at Oxfam. She returned to the agency world initially to establish the Social Purpose practice within a large agency, before co-founding Humankind Research. She continues to work closely with the international development sector as well as delving into issues including the environment and gender for charities and corporates alike.