To be or not to be ……… accredited

I’ve been celebrating this week.  My application for Pending BCorp status has been accepted.  As a Sustainability Consultant, I feel it is important to demonstrate I have the credentials to help other businesses on their journey, and what better way than external accreditation.  Being a new business, I am unable to become fully BCorp certified until I have been trading 12 months, giving me plenty of time to ensure all my paperwork and processes are in order.

There are many organisations offering accreditation, locally, nationally and internationally.   It is important, if you are thinking of working towards some form of accreditation, that you choose the right one for your industry, for your customers and for your aspirations.   

Which one?

Perhaps the most widely known one is ISO14001, which helps organisations ensure their processes minimise impact on the environment and are compliant with environmental laws and regulations.  ISO14001 forms part of the European Union Economic Management and Audit Scheme, so anyone wishing to trade internationally may wish to adopt this.  However, it is very focussed towards processes and resources, and does not fully address the human aspect.

Individual industries have their own schemes.  The hotel industry has several, such as Green Tourism Business Scheme, Green Globe, Trip Advisor Green Leaders and other more local schemes such as South East Cornwall Tourism Association Acorn Awards. 

Other examples of accreditation are Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Organic, BREEAM, all of which apply to specific industries with their own challenges and opportunities.

B Corp

After much deliberation and research, I chose to work towards BCorp status.  B Corp businesses are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.  B Lab is a ‘nonprofit organization with a vision all companies compete not only to be the best in the world, but the Best for the World® so that society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity.’  For me, the crucial point was that BCorp looks at every aspect of the business, from resources through processes, the workforce and how the business interacts with the wider community. 

It is also a community of like-minded businesses who share experiences and expertise as well as opportunities to trade with other BCorp businesses worldwide.

Why?

But what is the benefit of accreditation?  Is it worth spending time preparing your application, money submitting it and facing the possibility of rejection or a low grading?  To answer this, you need to understand why you are applying to be accredited.

Why have you decided to embark on your journey to sustainability accreditation?  Is it to have another badge on your website and demonstrate to your customers, investors, workforce and suppliers that you take the environment and your resources seriously? 

This is a great reason, as long as you are genuinely committed to taking positive action to be sustainable in the long term.  If, however, you slip back into ‘business as usual’ having achieved your accreditation, then your stakeholders and customers will see through you and it will backfire and damage your reputation.

The best reason for applying to be accredited in some form is the belief that it will benefit your business and improve it.  Going through the accreditation process will shine a light on key areas of your business such as your overheads, your processes and your supply chain.  Often these are areas we ignore in our day to day management, but looking at them in a fresh light could identify issues that need tackling. 

What will it cover?

When was the last time you looked at your water or energy usage?  Our efforts are often focussed on what we are paying, but not really how we are using these utilities.  Could a change in practice lead to significant savings in use?  The way we do things in our business and where we do them have most likely evolved as the business has grown and changed, but a focussed review could help identify different methods to improve productivity or make better use of the space available.

You may decide to take a close look at your supply chain.  Whilst you may decide not to move suppliers, you may opt to work with them to improve their sustainability so that you can continue trading with them long into the future. 

For many schemes, you will also have to examine your workforce and connections with your community, and this provides a great opportunity to take them with you on your journey.  By bringing them together for a common cause, not simply to make a profit, employee engagement in all aspects of their work will be enhanced.  Your team will be invested in your business and will therefore be more productive.

So, think about your reasons for deciding to work towards any form of accreditation – what do you hope to get out of it?  You are signing up to a process which could have a dramatic impact on how you do business, who you do business with and where you do business not just for today, but long into the future.  And, it could help ensure you have a long and successful future as well.

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