FS Partnership talks B Corp with Founder of Profit Impact, Sarah Whale.
Sarah Whale is the Founder of Profit Impact, an organisation guiding companies in how to achieve, and evidence, best practice sustainable performance. One of the ways they do this is through advising on B Corp certification via their MindSeed platform. There are currently 6,800 B Corps across 90 countries – and rising – with the goal of driving meaningful change at a global level.
We spoke to Sarah about why certification is both morally and monetarily important, how she supports companies starting their B Corp journey and why it’s vital not to get left behind.
Could you tell us a little bit about how B Corp is affecting financial services in particular?
Financial services is a hugely important industry in the context of supporting our journey to a sustainable future. From managing systemic risks, to stewarding capital towards or away from both positive and negative impact companies, to supporting the financial well-being of their individual customers — these companies have considerable power over the well-being of people, communities, and the planet.
The team at B Lab are currently setting up a two-year cross institute review. It’s not just B Lab. They’re spearheading it but they’ve brought in a bunch of other stakeholders. The end goal is putting a system in place to ensure the model meets the specific needs of the financial services and holistically improves the industry. They’re due to start implementing it in Q4 2024.
B Lab is placing a moratorium on new B Corp Certifications for financial services companies with greater than $1B in revenues. Financial services companies with less than $1B in revenue will undergo B Lab’s normal risk assessment and verification process to determine if they are eligible for B Corp Certification, but may also be subject to wait for the new standards. All existing B Corps in the financial services industry will be eligible to undergo their normal recertification process while the new standards are in development.
What do you think is the main challenge in implementing B Corp?
A lot of companies still see sustainability as something that is a tick box exercise – or even something which involves solving isolated issues or producing “quick fixes”. That’s not what this is about. In order to truly implement sustainable practice and be a genuine B Corp business, companies need to analyse, assess and amend their entire ways of working. A lot of companies are unwilling to look long-term and strategically even though they acknowledge it’s necessary in principle!
If a company wants to achieve the equivalent status as a B Corp, how can they go about achieving an equivalent accreditation or access the benefits of accredited B Corps?
Our recommended first step is to look at your market and see what others are doing and what your customers, investors and teams are asking for? Once you have these answers you can consider whether B Corp, Future Fit, the Good Business Charter, Social Value, Public Sector Net Zero standards are what you want. Or perhaps a blended approach which doesn’t lead to a certificate but one which allows you to put your own stamp on it?
What would you say to anyone who’s still not convinced that B Corp is the way to go – for both businesses and the planet?
I mean, fundamentally, it’s about money, right? People are increasingly concerned at the state of the world and will move away from companies seen to be doing the ‘wrong’ thing.
If businesses start doing this in the next two to three years they’ll just about be able to capitalise on competitive advantage. If you leave it any longer, however, it becomes all about risk management. You can see more businesses are moving into this area because this is what society, as a whole, wants. That’s the financial imperative. The moral imperative is more obvious – I hope! I have teenage kids. I look at the future they’ve got and I just want to help shape the future they grow up with to be a positive one.
People are admirable in their desire to make change individually but ultimately, we need businesses to start taking this seriously as they have so much power to affect change.
How does your work at Profit Impact help companies to attain these goals?
At a basic level, we help organisations map out their sustainable future so they can ensure their business stands the test of time and has longevity. It’s not going to be perfect but we can help them increase their resilience to weather whatever global or economic storms come their way. This might involve refining their strategy, providing advice or upskilling members of their team. But effectively our end goal is increasing the profit of our clients through ethical means. The B Corp certification is an option to reflect their progress – it isn’t the end goal in itself.
We also act as a very effective bridge between corporates. We’re highly experienced in creating sustainable supply chains and can create and maintain partnerships in far more ethical, environmentally-friendly and long-lasting ways.
Can you tell us a bit about Profit Impact’s Continuous Impact programme?
So, we’ve got different levels within the programme but the ultimate idea is that our customers become integrated thinkers. While, as I mentioned before, money is obviously a driving factor, you shouldn’t just think of fiscal results in isolation. You need to think, at a wider level, “what do I want my business to achieve”. Obviously the immediate financial results are a huge part of it but this shouldn’t be the only measure of success.
To do this, you need somebody on your team who is consistently and accurately keeping up to date with, for example, the sustainability landscape – because it’s constantly changing. That’s where we come in. I wouldn’t advise a business approached it internally and I’m not just saying that because of what we do! Effectively, much of this would be completely new territory to whoever is trying to pick it up within a business and the outcome won’t be as successful compared to a business like ours who are trained and specialise in it.
Can you tell us a bit about why you started your own B Corp business?
After a number of years in senior Finance roles I became increasingly dissatisfied but couldn’t pinpoint why. My last role was a very good job: I was leading a team of 70 in a global FD role… but I felt like a round peg in a square hole.
I then took a break – you know, the classic go on a yoga retreat, get some coaching – specifically NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) coaching. While I was going through this, I applied for a finance director role for a company called allplants which is a B Corp certified business. When I found out what this meant, I thought “this is what I’ve been missing!”. I didn’t get the job. However, it sunk in that I was approaching 50 and senior finance jobs would be really hard to get as an ‘older woman’. And then to get into a B Corp itself seemed even more unlikely. So effectively I realised if I wanted to do this I was going to have to set up my own business!
I did some training with London Business School and Cambridge Institute of Sustainable Leadership. However, then, as so many of these stories go, covid hit! So, I launched Profit Impact in 2020 and pretty much no-one was willing to enter into conversations about what we did.
Part of the problem was that we hadn’t really defined our value proposition. However, we’ve finally nailed that and are in a much stronger position.
We’re excited to continue supporting business to become more resilient and, together with our customers, we are building the blueprint for successful integrated thinking.
To find out more about Profit Impact please click here
To learn more about B Corp certification in the UK, please head here