Using business as a force for good, and why Research Consulting decided not to become B-Corp certified

By Lucia Loffreda, 04/06/2020.

Research Consulting recently participated in the Nottingham Consultancy Challenge – a University of Nottingham initiative partnering Nottingham-based SMEs with undergraduate students to work on bespoke consultancy projects. Our project, which we introduced in a previous blog post, involved working with five students to investigate the potential for Research Consulting to become a certified B-Corporation – a company that uses business as a ‘force for good’.

After a thorough investigation, including a literature review, gap analysis and cost/benefit analysis, the students concluded that Research Consulting should not pursue formal certification. This post discusses some of the motivations behind their recommendation, and how this inspired us to make some internal changes for good at Research Consulting.

Why was certification not appropriate for Research Consulting?

So, why should Research Consulting not pursue certification? While on the surface becoming certified would seem the right thing to do, in practice, the students’ research found that this would involve some drastic changes that were ultimately culturally inappropriate for a business of our size.

The requirements of certification are outlined in the B-Impact Assessment Tool. This allows firms to test themselves against five areas of business: governance, workers, community, environment, and customers. Research Consulting scored 60.2, excelling in the workers category but falling slightly short in areas such as governance and environment.

After looking into our weak spots further, it became clear that pursuing certification might be a big challenge. Our student team found that, generally, the certification process was designed to suit firms with more complex organisational structures and layers of governance. Certification requirements to alter the company’s legal status for example, would simply be unfeasible for our small team of eight staff.

Our shared office space at the University of Nottingham’s Ingenuity Centre also meant that we struggled to perform in the environment category. While we as a team, do make our own efforts to consider the environment on a day-to-day basis – with almost all staff cycling or using public transport to get to the office – our influence to make major changes in this area is limited. However, we’re really pleased to work at the University’s Innovation Park, right next to the Jubilee Campus, where unusual architecture meets sustainability and low-energy design!

Where do we go from here?

While arriving at the decision to not pursue certification might appear disappointing, we learnt some valuable lessons after going through the self-assessment process. At the heart of the students’ recommendations for example, was the idea that Research Consulting should ‘cherry-pick’ some improvements, based on the B-Corp values, that could help us to drive positive internal change.

With their guidance in mind, we identified a few key ideas that we will take on board. We discussed these recommendations at our last team meeting and have decided as a team to implement these changes going forward:

  • Ensure all staff can work from home at least once per week. Building on our experience of virtual working in recent weeks, we will make efforts to ensure that all members of the team can work from home comfortably part of the time, even when we are able to return to the office. We’ll take extra care to make sure staff have appropriate equipment to work with out of the office – something that has taken on a new importance in recent months.  
  • Build feedback from peers into staff performance reviews. Going forward, we’ll integrate peer feedback into staff appraisals. We hope this will create a transparent working environment and encourage staff development.
  • Establish a community giving scheme. We’ll work to establish a company-wide charitable giving scheme which will allow staff to donate to charities of their choice.

As a mission-driven business, where the common good is very much at the heart of what we do, we look forward to implementing these changes at Research Consulting. We hope that, despite our decision not to pursue formal certification, we can still strive to be a company that uses business as a ‘force for good’.

Thank you

We’d like to say thank you to the student team, Lexie von Celsing, Josh Gooch, Usama Zidan, Dominic Rose and Sameer Masurkar for conducting a thorough analysis of our options, Rana DiOrio (Creative Mint) and Max Mosterd (Knowledge Unlatched) for their insights on the certification process, and finally Anna White and George Lycett in the University of Nottingham team for ensuring the Challenge ran smoothly even in uncertain times.