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What does it actually take to become a B Corp?

Photography By @monarc_jewellery, Monarc
Published 23.06.22

If you’ve ever spent time on the couch with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s (don’t lie) or browsed through Chloé’s website, you might have come across a little black and white logo of an encircled capital B.

It stands for B Corp Certification, one of the most reputable certifications out there, signalling brands that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance.

As customers, we can take that information at face value: you see the B Corp logo, you know a brand is doing good. But one of the most interesting things we’ve discovered about this certification is just how hard it is to achieve. There are no shortcuts in this process. If a brand wants to wear their impact on their sleeve, they have to prove they’ve put in the work to get that tick of approval. 

So, what exactly does that involve? To answer our burning B Corp questions, we spoke to Ella Drake, the founder of Monarc Jewellery. Over the last two years, she’s been working through the B Corp application process and recently became New Zealand’s first B Corp certified jewellery brand.

What is a B Corporation?

The first generation of B Corps were certified in 2007, and the number of brands earning the certification has grown exponentially ever since. In fact, there are now more than 5,000 businesses from over 80 countries who have the accreditation.  

Certified B Corporations are social enterprises verified by B Lab – a nonprofit network working to make businesses a force for good. “B Corp has always been a really sound and balanced company … it’s not about focussing on one aspect but a 360 [degree] approach – a holistic approach” Ella says. This means they only certify companies who meet the highest standard in an array of areas: verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

Monarc Jewellery shot by Michael Comninus for RIISE

What do brands have to do to get B Corp certified?

As we mentioned, B Corp is one of the most reputable environmental certifications there are, but it’s also one of the hardest to obtain. To become certified, businesses must answer up to 300 questions to demonstrate high social and environmental performance. They need to achieve an assessment score of 80 or above. “I submitted what would have been around three financial years to back up any statistics [I included in my answers]; they really like to dig down” Ella says.

Because it requires compiling so much detailed information, which is then fact checked by B Lab, the process can take over 12 months.

Achieving B Corp certification also requires applicants to make a legal commitment, which involves changing its corporate governance structure to be accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders. “A large part of the process is governance, so you have to submit what I like to call ‘the oath’ Ella says. This means a business needs to go back through its memorandum and business documents and rewrite them and submit that to the government. “We are held accountable to the fact we are now a business that is a force for good and we make decisions based on environment and social upstanding,” she says. 

Monarc Jewellery shot by Michael Comninus for RIISE

How did Monarc go about achieving B Corp status?

Ella founded Monarc Jewellery in 2017. Prior to that, she worked for an international jewellery production house, managing their European accounts. It gave her a lot of insights into the industry – including how it could operate better. “I was getting real hands-on experience … sitting with [jewellery] accounts and thinking, ‘I like the way you do that and I don’t like the way you do this’. I thought I could definitely tread lighter and kinder and change aspects of production and procurement to support the environment and people,” Ella says. 

Unlike many other jewellery brands, Ella undertakes extensive research to find the right materials, including using recycled and certified precious metals and above ground diamonds and gemstones. This eliminates the need to mine for resources and encourages a circular approach to jewellery production.  

“A part of my thinking [around getting B Corp certified] was, ‘if I’m doing all these things [for the planet] already, why not gain some accreditation for that?’ … The space is becoming increasingly confusing and crowded regarding sustainable brands, so we really wanted some certification to back up what we’re doing.” Monarc ended up scoring an impressive 103 on their impact assessment from B Lab, which is on the higher end of the scale. 

While Monarc has been crowned the first jewellery brand in New Zealand to achieve B Corp certification, Ella doesn’t want the brand to stand alone for long. “We encourage other brands, be it in jewellery, fashion or the food and beverage industry, to take a look at themselves. If they’re doing things really well, why not also strive for that certification” Ella says.

Monarc is still striving towards new goals too. Every three years businesses need to prepare for recertification using the B Impact Assessment for continuous improvement. “[The B Lab portal] gives us some direction and inspiration for what else we’d like to do in the year ahead. It’s a guiding tool we can refer back to and say, ‘hey, let’s tackle this now’” she says.

Ultimately, Ella says this certification should “help people feel even better about what they’ve bought”. And once you realise what that unassuming capital B stands for, it really does. 

 

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