Beyond box-ticking: What Faversham House has learned from its B Corp journey
There are now more than 1,100 B Corps in the UK, with edie’s publisher Faversham House striving to join this group of purpose-led businesses. Here, chief executive Amanda Barnes outlines her key learnings from this process, providing tips on timeframes, culture change and more.
Two years ago, Faversham House’s chief executive Amanda Barnes had her first introductory call with the B Corp consultants at Seismic.
Like many others, she had noted the growth of the B Corp movement in the UK and globally. With the world in the full throes of Covid-19, businesses were increasingly being asked to justify their purpose beyond their profit.
Becoming a B Corp enables businesses to do just that. B Corps must prove they have strong credentials relating to governance, worker treatment, community impact, environmental impact and impact on customers’ and/or clients’ lives. They must also evidence they are maintaining or improving their performance and ambitions by re-certifying, taking a fresh B Impact Assessment every three years.
An official kick-off meeting for Faversham House’s B Corp process was held in May 2021, after Barnes pitched the idea to the board and subsequently brought Seismic on board as an official partner. As Barnes recounts to edie ahead of her appearance at edie 23 next month (scroll down for details), attendees at that meeting left with the “naïve assumption that we would be certified by Christmas”.
Now, Faversham House is set to submit its B Impact Assessment in the coming weeks. It will need to score a minimum of 80 points to certify but is aiming higher.
“What took the most time was changing the culture within the company,” says Barnes, stating that the biggest surprise for her during the process was its duration.
“You change your mindset, and that happens more gradually than you would anticipate. But this is what happens if you do this properly.
“You could put together a small team, put in an assessment and it could be done quite quickly. But if you take the other side of the challenge, which is working with the entirety of the company on an exercise far bigger than just ticking a box… then it does take more time.”
Seismic’s co-founder and chief executive Paul Lewis noted that many companies, particularly SMEs, take longer to certify “when they really want to make meaningful, lasting, substantive change”. Lewis and his team have supported the B Corp journeys of more than 120 organisations to date.
Barnes, in turn, notes that it is important to work with a partner like Seismic to have an external “challenger and guider”, providing learnings from other organisations while prompting her team to stay on track during the lengthy certification process.
Building the business case
Faversham House is an independent media group with 56 full-time-equivalent staff. As well as edie, it runs publications and events (online and in person) in the utilities and visual communications markets.
When the company began its B Corp journey, the UK was still in the depths of Covid-19-related lockdowns. Barnes recalls the challenges of getting the journey underway in a situation where the firm was unable to run face-to-face events, which are a major part of its business. But she ultimately concludes that “balancing several different priorities” led to a better understanding of the business case for becoming a B Corp.
She elaborates: “A lot has been written about why you should become a B Corp, and some of the obvious answers are ‘it’s the right thing to do’, or ‘it’s a positive demonstration’, or ‘it helps to attract staff’ or ‘it will be a pre-qualifier in the future’. All of this is important.
“From my point of view, as a hard-nosed, long-serving CEO, the biggest reason for certifying – setting aside all the cultural ones – is that it builds an enormous resilience. It helps you mitigate risk, and there is an enormous opportunity coming out of it. These are things that maybe aren’t talked about enough.
“Resilience partly comes about because you spend more time considering, and speaking to, your supply chain and your customers. This is often where opportunities happen.”
Building longer-term partnerships with key suppliers is one of the “pragmatic” reasons for certifying that Barnes pitched to the board. For example, a multi-year, sustainability-focussed partnership with GES, a major supplier of signage and stands at events, has led to a marked decrease in exhibitors building their own stands. This gives Faversham House greater control over the environmental impact of these stands, as those who built their own stands often couldn’t guarantee recycling or reuse, and sometimes had little information on the materials used.
Another “pragmatic” reason for B Corp certification, Barnes believes, is access to finance in the long term. For example, Coutts, one of the UK’s leading banks for the media sector, is a B Corp itself. Coutts, like several other banks, is increasing ESG-related disclosure requirements for companies it lends to.
Barnes argues that successfully certifying as a B Corp does require commitment at the board level “because there will always be competing priorities”. If the board does not understand the ‘why’, time and resource simply will not be allocated properly.
“There are a few companies we work with where there is heart and soul passion from the CEO,” Seismic’s Lewis adds. “Faversham House is one of them… This level of understanding, inspiration and passion at the board level makes a massive difference.”
But Barnes also argues the case against responsibility sitting solely with the chief executive or another board-level member, as this can create “bottlenecks” to progress and give staff the impression that this is a top-down exercise, with limited understanding of their role in the process or how they will stand to benefit.
To that end, all new starters at the business have a B-Corp-related KPI in their job description – as do all staff changing roles within the business. B Lab, the body which oversees B Corp certifications, recommends that businesses take this step for managers, but Barnes wanted to go further. Bonuses are tied to the delivery of these KPIs.
Barnes emphasises that the KPIs are not implemented in a “draconian” manner’; staff speak to their line manager or hiring manager to jointly agree on targets that make the most material impact using their skillset and role.
It bears noting that Faversham House first started looking at values and purpose more than 15 years ago and has set out core values for all staff for more than a decade. Presently, the values are ambition, creativity and caring.
For Barnes, becoming a B Corp gave her a “framework” and a “structure” to formalize work already well underway and to encourage her team to push their ambitions and actions further. The HR team at Faversham House has been hard at work recording and documenting progress so far; transforming the company intranet with a new virtual ‘people hub’ and filling that hub with updated policies relating to worker wellbeing and company impact. For example, new policies are in place regarding employee volunteering, employee training and ethical marketing.
Additionally, an Environmental Management Forum has been set up, comprised of staff from various departments and at differing levels of seniority. The Forum exists to measure and reduce the business’s environmental footprint, ensuring that work in this field is collaborative.
All in all, Barnes believes that the B Corp certification process has led to the discovery of an unexpectedly high level of engagement and buy-in, plus deeper knowledge of staff skillsets.
Don’t miss out: Register now to attend edie 23
Taking place in London on 1-2 March 2023, edie’s biggest annual event has undergone a major revamp to become edie 23, with a new name, new venue, multiple new content streams and myriad innovative event features and networking opportunities.
edie 23 will take place at the state-of-the-art 133 Houndsditch conference venue in central London. Held over two floors, the event will offer up two full days of keynotes, panels, best-practice case studies and audience-led discussions across three themed stages – Strategy, Net-Zero and Action.
Faversham House’s chief executive Amanda Barnes is appearing on Day One of edie 23 (1 March) in the Action Theatre. She will be providing more learnings on the B Corp process in a seminar chaired by DAME’s head of impact Richard Johnson.
Seismic will also be at edie 23, co-hosting a ‘B Ready Lounge’ with B Lab. Designed to guide companies at the start or at the early stages of their B Corp journey, the lounge will be open to companies at the start or at the early stages of their B Corp journey, with experts on hand to provide advice. To make a lounge appointment with one of Seismic’s B Leaders, email [email protected].
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