May 21, 2024

To be or not to B-Corp?

Those serious about sustainable business practice agree accredited recognition is key. Julie Baxter debates the challenge of securing B-Corp certification with Marc Warde

Eco credentials matter for the planet and for business but why should sustainable buyers look for certification along their procurement supply chain?

JB: Why is independent certification important?

MW: Corporate social responsibility is generally self-measured, or self-assessed. Manufacturers and suppliers submit to various audits and accreditations, BRCGS, STS, AOECS, Medina Food Quality and the like, but none centre on  environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals or credentials yet these are the ones that ensure an organisation is run responsibly, something that I believe should be at the core of a sustainable business. There are lots of organisations setting up to assess this but B-Corp is widely recognised as one of the global leaders in this field.

JB: What is B-Corp status?

MW: B Corporation (also B-Lab or B-Corp) is a global non-profit organisation which certifies for-profit companies in recognition of their “social and environmental performance”. It is a rigorous assessment across many elements of the business and certified companies must re-certify every three years to maintain their status.

JB: How do you get certified?

MW: It is not straightforward. You must examine every facet of your business, your customers, your philosophy, your training, your employees and, as a manufacturer, everything that goes with that. The assessment basically covers your entire impact on the world.

JB: What are the challenges?

MW: In your own manufacturing business, there are many things you can control yourself but when supplying travel operators there are a number of things that you just can’t control, particularly now, as airlines come back from the brink and reinvent themselves in a new, more environmentally-conscious world.  

JB: Are airlines supportive?

MW: We recognise airlines face a challenge but the aviation industry is just not there yet. It still uses systems, software and, in some cases, aircraft older than my socks (and that’s old!), and in the special meals sector I supply, the coding system was created over 34 years ago, is in part out-of-date and makes no dietary, medical or religious sense. Special dietary meals need a complete overhaul in governance, training and international agreement. Thankfully airlines don’t take this same attitude to aircraft maintenance.

JB: If clients don’t care, don’t suppliers face a moral dilemma?

MW: Some airlines have made great strides and have specialists in environmental impact within their organisations but most still have plenty of single-use plastics onboard, don’t recycle (because it simply isn’t possible to do so legally) and use a whole lot of greenwashing to make it look like they are doing more than they are. This is where it gets tricky for suppliers trying to do the right thing.

Ultimately, the packaging we use on many airlines is dictated by our clients and even if we know it’s wrong environmentally, they make that call not us. As a consequence we contribute to the problem we want to solve. What should we do? Do we say no to those clients, and lose hard-won business? It is a moral question, a dilemma, and honestly one we struggle with. In the last two years 90% of our customers have moved away from single-use plastics while others say they are “in the process of updating the current packaging” but plan to continue as they are while stocks remain.

We have set deadlines to allow for change because we know ultimately we must do the right thing and turn away from those who won’t change.

JB: What motivates this decision?

MW: For us it is about understanding the true long-term value of our choices, not just the short term costs. We want to leave a legacy through a business fit for the future and have used the pandemic tough times to evolve everything we do with an eye on our corporate social responsibility and impact on the world. We urge others to genuinely engage with this too.

Marc Warde, the founder of Niche Free-from Kitchen, champions the need for environmental accreditation and an end to green-washing.