The Business Case for B Corps: The Secret’s Out, Part 2

(3BL Media and Just Means) - The movement is growing. Fast. 1,400+ B Corps worldwide. And, the community is partnering together in incredible ways. Sustainable Harvest, for example, a global coffee importer focused on building relationships with farmers, is selling a new coffee, using a 100 percent B Corp supply chain. (More on that story coming soon.) More and more business owners are realizing the value of the B Corp model. Happier employees, tangible environmental impact, greater accountability—it’s easy to see these effects. But how many B Corps actualize an impact on the third “p” in the triple bottom line, as in “Profits”?

A few weeks ago, I gave away a few of the best kept secrets about B Corp consulting. After participating in the “Secrets of B Corp Consulting,” a four-week, webinar series offered by Honeyman Consulting and Conscious Brands, I became confident in my understanding of the model, how to add value to companies and how to get started as bona fide B Corp Consultant. (In case you missed it, check out the link to it below.) My biggest hang up during the series was understanding the return on investment of the B Corp certification for clients. I know business owners can expect to see an increase in employee engagement and retention, a protection of the company’s mission and access to an incredibly supportive community. But, “give it to me in dollars, Honeyman,” I kept thinking. How much moolah can a midsized company expect to see in the bank account after spending a few thousand dollars to certify? And, shouldn’t I know the answer to this as a B Corp consultant? How do I pitch financial results? I wasn’t the only one in my cohort wondering about the business case for B Corps.  As Christian Greico, President of Optimus One, put it:

“On one hand it [the ROI of the B Corp model] focuses on the prolific paradigm of measuring success exclusively in financial terms. On the other, it's practical, and who wouldn't want to equate a dollar returned for a dollar invested?”

Turns out, the business case for B Corps is still a bit of an enigma, especially to those of us new to the model. If that’s you, well, today’s your lucky day. Be mystified no longer. The “Secrets of B Corp Consulting” series revealed the following:

Business Case Secret #1:

The financial ROI is seldom the reason a company becomes a B Corp.

“I think it’s disingenuous to say that becoming a Certified B Corporation will definitely save you hundreds of thousands of dollars. I believe companies will save money, but the savings might be realized in a different form of ROI,” explains Honeyman.  

According to Honeyman, redirecting the conversation to attracting and retaining talent and increasing brand value is more effective. So, how then does a B Corp consultant steer the understanding away from the nitty gritty numerals and back to the bigger picture? Honeyman lays it out in two examples:

Example 1: The client could say “what's the ROI on this?" Your response could be "Well, let me ask you a question. What has been your experience with staff turnover? Is it hard to retain the best folks?" You could also say: "B Corps are very appealing to millennial talent, which are now estimated to be 50 percent of the global workforce. People want to work for a company that is about more than just profits, and the B Corp logo communicates that quickly and effectively."

Example 2: For increasing brand value, you could say, "Purpose-driven companies are the future of business. B Corp certification is a fantastic way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. It associates your brand with well-known thought leaders like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry's, Etsy and Seventh Generation."

Essentially, says Honeyman, you’re answering their question without saying a number. Grieco suggests helping the client to identify the low-hanging, cost saving activities first so at least the cost of the certification is covered.

“I am of the opinion that any return cannot be calculated until effort, focus and action is quantified on the sustainable operations side of the house. It may be that this client may need to first focus on the low hanging operational efficiency fruit that probably exists but they cannot see. If you help them identify it by instituting operational improvements that will save them money, those savings could be used to fund the cost of certifying,” says Greico.

But if you’re like me and you’re not so sure you can sell the model by avoiding numbers, keep reading. There is a quantifiable value for the cost savings in the B Corp model.

Business Case Secret #2:

B Corps have enjoyed more than $5 million in savings and have accessed technology, talent and expertise for their businesses.

How do I know this? B Lab has helped track the savings of B Corps through various “B Lab service partner discounts.” Larger corporations who understand the value of the B Corp model offer discounted membership and products and often, B Corps offer discounts to one another for their services. But I hear that skeptic in you asking, “Really? Discounts? How much is that saving a company or two?”

According to B Lab, BetterWorldBooks has saved close to $300,000 on discounts on CRM licenses from Salesforce, credit card processing from Inspire Commerce and marketing via free ads and business leads. Still skeptical? King Arthur Flour is making impact and eating their cake too. They’ve saved over $76,000 on press hits, recruiting talent, campaign ads and CRM licenses from Salesforce. The business case for Guayaki Organic Yerba Mate is just as impressive. A whopping $99,500 has been saved through service partner discounts including software from NetSuite, a free GIIRS Rating and free ads in a national B Corp ad campaign.

For all of you up and coming B Corp Consultants, I’d say finding the financial savings through service partner discounts for your clients is convincing way to pitch the model. B Corps aren’t charities. The first two P’s of the triple bottom line, People and Planet, need that third P in Profit to keep the movement growing and the impact thriving. That’s no secret.

Read Part 1 The Secret’s Out: B Corp Consulting is Coolest Gig of this series. Check out the work of Conscious Brands and Honeyman Consulting. Order your copy of The B Corp Handbook.