Learning from the B(enefit) Corp Assessment


Bcorp LOGO IMG certification is still pending.

Wow, I haven’t written a blog article since July. Time flies.

In the ensuing months, we released our Ian Martin website and video (yes, we’re still working on The 500 and Granary sites), had our launch event, and joined the crowd on twitter and Facebook… Looking at that list, it doesn’t seem like a lot but it sure felt like it.

Along these lines, Loree and I have recently been working on our B Corporation certification.  B Corps describe themselves as “a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.” Here’s Richard Branson’s colorful new take on the general concept:

For a more academic look, check out B Corp co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert’s fantastic presentation at TEDx Philly:

So where does The Ian Martin Group fit into this strange new world? I found the following chart helpful in thinking about the kinds of organizations that are populating this brave new economy. Traditionally, Ian Martin would probably best fit in the 2nd category on the right. By becoming a B Corp, we are taking the challenge of moving into the “Socially Responsible Business” category – in other words, ‘social responsibility’ will need to become part of our operating DNA – not just a description of how our economic outputs are distributed.

bcorporgspectrum2-2 From the report: “Mobilizing Private Capital for Public Good” supported by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, MaRS Discovery District, PLAN Institute and the University of Waterloo.


Given that we’re an old company just beginning to move along the spectrum, I thought it would be interesting to look at our initial score on the B Impact Assessment to see what we can learn.  Personally, I found some of the questions incredibly insightful and challenging.  Even companies that are not considering certification could learn a lot by spending the two hours to take the free assessment.  The B corp guys appear to have done some heavy research to put this together.

Quick disclaimer: there is more to becoming B certified than simply scoring a minimum of 80/200 on the assessment.  You have to have your results verified by supporting documentation and make a change to your Articles of Incorporation, among other things.  Ian Martin is not officially certified yet… what’s below is just our initial result from the freely available online assessment (Ian Martin was officially certified as a B corporation in December 2011).

Phew, we passed.  It would have been nice to have more breathing room but “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” – that’s the beauty of their scoring system.  It gives an excellent overall metric to measure a company’s “responsibleness”.  I’m actually pretty proud that after 50 years in business, we do qualify to be labelled a “Certified B Corp” without changing a thing … however, a score of just 88.2/200, presents an opportunity for improvement – nowhere to go but up!

Unlike in grade-school, a score over 60% on any section of the B Impact Assessment is considered an “area of excellence” … that’s why the number 63.2% above is highlighted red (note to the b-corp guys … red numbers are not usually a good thing in business!).

The “Governance” section looks at pretty basic issues like your mission statement, board structure, financial controls and auditing.  However, one question I found particularly challenging was: “What portion of your management is evaluated in writing on their performance with regard to corporate social and environmental targets?”  I guess any company claiming to be a B Corp should answer 100%.  Right now, we answered 0%.  This is just stuff that most 50-year-old companies haven’t thought about yet. But, how valuable is it that someone is now thinking to ask…?

The “Transparency”  topic is an interesting one, we’ve been making strides in this area but as you can see, our score was 46.2%.  I’ve been talking to different stakeholders about this to get a read on their thoughts and feelings.  If you ever want to see lawyers and accountants squirm, tell them you’re thinking about adopting an “open book financial management” process (as it’s called in the assessment) when you’re a private company. It’s quite fun.  The truth is, we probably won’t change our existing practice anytime soon (which is annual audits by a CA firm – open to the board and the bank only)… however, I would be very interested to hear from other private companies that have considered this.  If you happen to know any, comment below or get in touch with me on LinkedIn.

Going in, I figured “Workers” would be one of our stronger categories – and indeed, it played out that way.  Most of the questions are HR-related items that Loree and others have diligently addressed over the years: proper policies, medical benefits, vacation/leave, performance reviews, market-rate compensation, etc.  However, since Ian Martin has been a family-owned business for over 50 years, we don’t score well in “Worker Ownership”. This is one score that will likely remain static over time.

One of the most interesting questions in the “Workers” section is: “What multiple is the highest compensated individual paid (inclusive of bonus) as compared to the lowest paid full-time worker?”  The options for this heavily-weighted question are:

This is where the going gets tough.  Honestly, I would have expected to fare better in the “Community” section than we did.

The sections on “Suppliers” and “Local Involvement” deal mostly with having policies around choosing local, mission-aligned suppliers wherever possible.  Within a year, I believe we can move these scores up significantly – again, we just never thought about these issues before – though they totally make sense.

Several of the questions in the “Diversity” section will be difficult to address quickly – the assessment focuses heavily on whether “underrepresented populations” are reflected in ownership and management of the company.  Truthfully, our overall employee-base is continually becoming more diverse; however, we still need to improve our management diversity over time. (Note: For the purposes of the assessment, 3rd party recruitment is considered our ‘product’ and is therefore not being evaluated in this section.  Just in case you’re wondering, our professional recruitment practices are strictly diversity-friendly.)

The “Job Creation” and “Civic Engagement” sections contain several questions that prompt some amazing insights about how companies can create opportunity and share innovation to improve both the local and global community.  There will be much future action on this front – and pages of blogs to fill so I’ll leave it short for now.  Add your ideas in the comments below.

At Ian Martin, we have several good environmental initiatives going on but we do not yet have a comprehensive strategy to address our footprint – hence the relatively low score.  I believe this can be vastly improved within a period of 2-3 years.  As a service business, we have a lighter footprint than our manufacturing cousins and therefore more low-hanging fruit.

For some inspiration as we begin this trek, watch this TED talk by the late Ray Anderson. In 1994, he began moving his industrial carpet tile business, Interface Inc., toward a goal they call “Mission Zero”.  The company is now on track to have absolutely zero ecological impact while maintaining their full economic impact by 2020 (including their entire supply and recovery chain).  You have to see Ray’s speech – and his amazing humility – to believe it.

If you watched Ray, you will undoubtedly understand that this B Impact Assessment is merely the first step in a new journey for The Ian Martin Group – it is not the destination.  Like Ray’s company, we will need ideas and action from a full range of stakeholders – both inside and outside our company to continue moving forward.  Please comment below, share and participate if you have any thoughts, questions, reactions or ideas… all feedback both positive and negative (in prose or in poetry) is welcome – as it helps move the dialogue forward.



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