Forster Communications’ founder Jilly Forster on why leaders who are hungry for progress should join the movement
We live in interesting times. Oxford’s Saïd Business School created the great acronym TUNA to describe the world we now operate in – turbulent, uncertain, novel, ambiguous. The environment is changing rapidly and unpredictably; what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow.
Forster Communications' founder, Jilly Forster
I set up social change agency Forster Communications in 1996 and 20 years on I still believe that the story we’ve been told for years – that people are primarily competitive and self-interested and that life is best shaped around that bleak fact – is bunkum. People want positive and now is the time for challenging conventions, changing behaviour and collaborating to turn innovative thinking into influential reality.
For businesses, this is a time for careful thought, purposeful leadership and strong teamwork. Let’s come together in achieving what at least lies in our grasp. I believe there’s progress to be made in small things. Successful small things can become the big things that matter.
Since Forster launched, we’ve been measuring the impact we’ve made on the world. Every two years we work with independent auditors to chart our progress against set sustainability targets, to check that our policies are still relevant and best practice, and to publicly share what we’ve learned.
In August 2015 we became a founding UK B Corp (Benefit Corporation), independently certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. We felt that the B Corp movement played to our pioneering spirit and gave us the opportunity to share our “business to society” agenda – encouraging businesses to play a greater role in tackling social and environmental issues – more widely. It squared with our core intent to deliver material social change while offering us the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from like-minded for-profit businesses. To become a B Corp, two assessments have to be passed: the performance test and the legal test.
The performance test examines how a company performs against best practices regarding employee, community and environmental impact. It also compares overall impact against thousands of other businesses and recommends areas for improvement. A company must score a minimum of 80 hard-won points out of 200. Those who pass are audited by B Lab, and all B Corps must complete the assessment every other year.
For the legal test, organisations have to adopt legally-binding documents under which they commit to balancing the interests of shareholders with having a material positive impact on society and the environment. Companies have to commit to focusing on a triple bottom line – maximising benefits to the environment and society as well as shareholders – and requiring board members to consider the impact on all stakeholders when making a decision.
It was gratifying to be named as one of only 17 UK companies to be a 2016 B Corp “best for the world” honoree just one year later. Our next impact assessment will take place next year, with public results in September 2017. In the meantime, we have produced an interim 2016 Social Change Report that outlines our progress and our intent for the coming year.
There are almost 2,000 B Corps businesses, including around 100 across 13 sectors in the UK. Many are intrinsically focused on making a difference, including renewable energy businesses and impact investment firms, but there are some with traditional business models, too.
If you’re hungry for positive progress, be like a B Corp. With even Unilever publicly discussing becoming one (and a B Corp committee now looking at how it can open its certification process to multinationals), leaders with vision and optimism should turn B Corp guidelines into a checklist to drive their business in 2017 and beyond.
Forster Communications' founder, Jilly Forstersocial change B corp accountability transparency