Lifestyle industry executives share how to go from ”sustainable” to a B Corp Certification
In an industry full of certifications, brands in the Nordics put more and more attention to B Corp. We ask leading Nordic brands how they obtained it.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
In an industry full of certifications, brands in the Nordics put more and more attention to B Corp. Conferred by B Lab, a global nonprofit organization with offices across the globe, it’s measuring a company’s entire social and environmental impact. To be granted and to maintain a B Corp certification, companies must receive a minimum score of 80 from an assessment of ”social and environmental performance”, integrate the certfication’s commitments to stakeholders into company governing documents, and pay an annual fee based on annual sales. They must then re-certify every three years to retain the status.
But what’s so special about a B Corp Certification? And how to get one? We speak to executives from the fashion and lifestyle sectors who have been through the process.
Jess Fleischer is the founder and CEO of Son of a Tailor, a Copenhagen-based clothing-tech company.
— We did our B Corp Impact Assessment in May 2021 which included more than 250 questions covering everything from business model to operations, he explains. For the certification, you need to back up all your claims and B Corp experts will review and verify the material you provided. We were in the queue for this verification for about one year. In June 2022, we had a call with B Corp analysts to go through our assessment and we signed the agreement in July 2022.
Shaun Russell is the founder of Skandinavisk, a sensory brand from Copenhagen. More recently, he’s also the Chair of the Supervisory Board of the B Corp Beauty Coalition, a Steward of the B For Good Leaders movement, and the recipient of Denmark’s inaugural ESG Frontrunner award.
— We started the process to apply for B Corp in early 2019 after deciding we needed to benchmark ourselves against the world’s best companies when it comes to social and environmental impact. It took more than 6 months and was one of the toughest challenges we’ve ever undertaken. We certified in September of that year, and are currently going through recertification, which happens every 3 years, says Russell.
Aldis Eik works as a project manager in CEO’s office at Reykjavik-based outdoor fashion label 66°North, which decided to apply for B Corp Certification in early 2020.
— We received the certification in December 2021, she says, so it was a process of two years. I remember that I sat on my sofa and got an email stating that we passed the 80 points and I sent a message to the owners in caps: ’WE DID IT – WE ARE B CORPORATION’.
Nicolaj Reffstrup, the founder of contemporary ready-to-wear brand GANNI, explains that he’s hoped for industry-wide auditing for years with sustainability initiatives still being largely unregulated.
— As long as our politicians keep proving they don’t have the guts to push the green agenda forward via legislation businesses are left to regulate themselves.
What’s special about B Corp and why did you apply?
Aldis Eik, 66°North: Because it is a great way to get a holistic view of us and to get to know us as a brand in more detail.
Shaun Russell, Skandinavisk: The principle difference is that B Corp certification is a complete company certification, rather than one for product, packaging, or ingredients. B Corps are audited in detail on the impact of all their actions on their governance, employees, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment. The standards and certification process are run by a non-profit — our logic for choosing B Corp is our belief that it’s much harder to design a company for certification than a product.
Nicolaj Reffstrup, GANNI: It offers a tangible and transparent framework for keeping businesses accountable and setting industry benchmarks. Becoming certified is a testament to all the work our team continuously puts into this journey of becoming the most responsible version of ourselves. Receiving it is worth celebrating. However, there is still a long way to go.
Jess Fleischer, Son of a Tailor: B Corp shares this holistic perspective on sustainability. At the same time, it has a clear, measurable result. As a data-driven company, this is something that we appreciate. So for us, it was an obvious choice that we wanted to get certified.
Tell us more about the process. What was it like?
Shaun Russell, Skandinavisk: Extremely challenging. Aside from revealing all our guilty secrets, the process also made us realise how many things we needed to be thinking about that we weren’t even aware of. Humbling.
Jess Fleischer, Son of a Tailor: The entire process lasted about 15 months, due to the long line of companies that needed to get verified. This means long waiting times but is of course also a good sign as it shows the increasing interest in B Corp. We knew that our business model, supply chain, and way of doing things are better for the environment compared to the standards of the industry, that our materials are less toxic, and the waste is lower, but the process highlighted the importance of being able to prove everything — for example how you screen your suppliers, how you track employee wellbeing, and how you keep the environmental and social impact in mind. As we are a comparatively small company, many procedures and criteria for decision-making are clearly defined but not necessarily formalized or written down. In order to back up our claims, we have done so now which was also a great side effect.
Aldis Eik, 66°North: It was a bit challenging and we really needed to dig deep into every seam, setting up new structures, improve documentation, and review our policies. I feel like it is also more challenging when you are both a retail company and manufacturer — to combine these types of businesses took a little while. We applied as a Retail company but when we were going to submit, we needed to swap over to a Manufacturer. It is important to get people on board, to take ownership and participate. It was a key for us that there was a top down commitment. What will be challenging is to keep the momentum but it is our vision to be in the forefront in sustainability and the people within the company are really motivated.
What did you learn from it, the process?
Jess Fleischer, Son of a Tailor: The main learning for us was the importance of writing down and formalizing procedures, protocols, and such things. But the assessment also helped us get an overview of where we can improve. We were already aware of many of these aspects but seeing the potential points associated with the activities helps put things into perspective and informs the setting of priorities.
Aldis Eik, 66°North: We learned a lot. I guess it is like that when going nitty gritty into all aspects of the company — and it was so worth it in the end. I feel like we gained so much from it, the certification and the details of it, to seek opportunities on how we can do better as a business. It is a great school. I’m looking forward to hitting our goal next time we submit and seeing where we stand.
Shaun Russell, Skandinavisk: I learned the tremendous difference between how good you think you are — as a company, as a leader, as a person — versus how good you truly act. The gap was uncomfortable, to say the least, and motivated us to do something unprecedented: we replaced our entire product collection less than 12 months later to become more local, natural, organic, ethical, and responsible. We did it precisely because the B Impact Assessment not only validates what you are doing right, but it also helps you understand how much better you can be.
Have you used the certification in your communication? And have your end-consumers noticed it?
Aldis Eik, 66°North: We have been using it on our social media and web, but we can do more of it. We are currently working on how to communicate it better and tab more into the B Corp community. We are creating new foils for our shop entrances and speaking more about it in-house. The feedback we have gotten so far from our end-consumers has been positive.
Shaun Russell, Skandinavisk: We put the B Corp logo on all our products and materials. For us, it represents a trustmark that can reassure customers that we meet the highest standards of social and environmental impact. Our most loyal customers are definitely aware of the certification, and very supportive of our actions, but broader awareness is still quite low. This is partly because there are so few B Corps worldwide — approximate 5,000 — and even fewer B Corp retail brands like ours, and partly because there is so much other deafening industry noise and greenwashing that distracts shoppers from making informed buying decisions.
Jess Fleischer, Son of a Tailor: We created a landing page on the website that includes some key facts about the assessment and how we performed. We also announced our certification via email, across our social media channels, press interviews, and ads. You can further find the B Corp logo in our website footer and our social bios mention that we’re a certified B Corp. It’s important to us that our customers and other stakeholders understand what’s behind the certification and that it’s not a once-and-done exercise but rather a journey to become better until the next assessment. With our score of 117.5, we were among the top 8% of B Corps worldwide which of course makes us super proud. But more importantly, we want to see other brands try to be better. I have argued before that we should make sustainability a parameter to compete on. Historically, it’s been the drive to be best in class that’s driven brands to really move the needle. B Corp is a great framework to enable this sustainability-driven competition because it takes the entire business into account and has a concrete, measurable result: the B Corp score. As part of our B Corp announcement, we’ve publicly challenged the industry to get certified too, and to put our score to shame. I want to repeat that here: Scandinavian clothing brands, it’s time to join the game. The feedback from customers and our professional networks has been great. B Corp is very respected and the fact that we did so well really impressed people. When we had just gotten certified, Steffen Kallehauge, Head of Impact at B Corp Movement in the Nordics, called Son of a Tailor ’an archetype of a B Corp company.’ This made us extremely proud. But we also realized that while B Corp is well known among US customers and brands, the Nordics are a little behind. That’s why we see it as part of our responsibility to get more brands on board and to educate customers. Just this week I spoke at a webinar hosted by B Corp for the Swedish Fashion Association about our experience with the certification.
Lastly, there are many certifications in the industry. Too many?
Jess Fleischer, Son of a Tailor: There are indeed. That’s confusing for consumers and can even block real change in the industry. Because efforts become too fragmented. Another issue is that many certifications only look at one particular aspect of the business. Let’s say you get your fabric certified, that’s great. But if the garment is made under horrific conditions, you throw out mountains of unsold stock, and those items that get sold fall apart after a few washes. Is that really moving the needle?
Aldis Eik, 66°North: In my personal opinion, I feel that there are too many certifications within the industry that are costly, need different frameworks, and are sometimes misleading. But, overall with B-Corp, it is such a good learning. It is hard but the feeling afterwards is amazing. I would recommend every company to join the movement.
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