I’m a solopreneur and I want to belong. I want to belong to the B Corp movement where companies like Method, Etsy, WorkSquare, Suncommon and Green Mountain Power hang together. But what does it really take to join them? Does it make sense for me to spend the time working through a lengthy questionnaire, pay $500, form a Board of Advisers, organize an audit and track all of my impact? If I commit to all of this, will I have time to do my real job, as in provide content strategy and storytelling for the B Corp community?
For me, it’s a no-brainer. I’m joining the B Corp movement. I believe it formalizes “social enterprise” like no other model ever has before. I started B Storytelling—B as in B Corp—to help popularize the good things happening through the movement. I understand the unique B Corp story because I too, balance profit with mission. But I’m still in startup mode, so for now, everything on to-do list is an urgent priority; completing the B Impact Assessment has been pushed farther and farther down on my list. Until now. Why now? Because Ryan Honeyman’s B Corp Handbook has helped soothe my fears. I hope I can file for “pending B Corp status” (B Lab now offers “Pending Status” for startups) soon. So, for the next few weeks, I’ll be putting Honeyman’s tips to the test. I’ll share my own journey through the B Impact Assessment so that hopefully, yours can be a little easier.
Before You Begin.
The B Corp Handbook Tip:
Do a trial run of the B Impact Assessment and block off around 90 minutes.
Block off four hours. When I took the assessment the first time, it took me around three and a half hours. I found it almost impossible to view the first attempt as a trial run. For one, some of the language threw me off. It made me question whether or not, for example, I should implement a way in which to track the outputs of my suppliers and subcontractors (question EN4.1a) or what it means for a one-person startup to have a written consumer policy (question GV5.6). In the B Corp Handbook, Honeyman encourages you to skip questions you don’t know, but I found that be challenging because, well, then I just have to come back them later.
I found myself reading questions such as this one in the governance section: “Are there key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics that your company tracks on at least an annual basis to determine if you are meeting your social or environmental objectives? (question GV2.9) and spending time thinking, “No, I’m not, but does this question mean, I should be? And, how do I do that as a one-woman show?” If you can force yourself to think of your first attempt at the assessment as a trial run per Honeyman’s suggestion, you might not get as hung up as I did.
Thankfully, B Lab has customized the assessment to fit the needs of start ups and one-person businesses. For B Storytelling, the assessment began with Governance, specifically Community Accountability. I flew through the first two questions. Yes, we have a corporate mission statement. I got hung up on question three (GV2.4a): Does the Board of Directors or other governing body review the company's social and environmental performance on at least an annual basis to determine if you are meeting your social or environmental objectives?
No, it doesn't, but it sounds like it’s probably a good idea. The next question is a follow-up to the previous one: Are there key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics that your company tracks on at least an annual basis to determine if you are meeting your social or environmental objectives?
Again, a great question, but how in the world does a one-person company set and track metrics around social and environmental objectives? Of course, B Storytelling wants to do this, but what does this look like for me in everyday practice? As a service-based company, B Storytelling’s biggest environmental output is probably the energy used by the office space. Our environmental objectives are to stay paperless, always use co-working office space and live within a bikeable distance from the office. Right now, I’m accomplishing all three goals, but I’ve never set metrics around them.
The B Corp Handbook Tip:
Conduct an environmental audit of your energy, water and waste efficiency and make the results transparent to the public. Honeyman affirms that small companies will concentrate on paper, water and energy use. He recommends starting with energy efficiency and suggests benchmarking office space with the free Energy Star Portfolio Manager software.
I downloaded the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Quick Start Guide. At first glance, it looks like an easy to use tool, but I’m still not sure how I would measure the efficiency of my co-working space. Along with four other women solopreneurs, I currently rent daytime space at The Blind Monk, a wine bar during the day. And they rent space from a larger condo building, the Whitney. According to the B Impact Assessment, is B Storytelling responsible for the environmental outputs of The Blind Monk and the impact of the Whitney? I think so! It’s both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s a time challenge for me for sure, but it definitely presents B Storytelling with the opportunity to connect and work with local business owners to improve their environmental impact. I better make some time to begin these conversations!
The B Corp Handbook Tip: Week 1: Get a Baseline
Honeyman suggests mapping out a six-week timeline for your assessment process, beginning with understanding your baseline of environmental and social impact. I think, for a solopreneur, this might look more like a 12 to 15 week timeline. I know at least for B Storytelling it is.
I was relieved to read Honeyman’s baseline encouragement. A starting score of 40 to 60 is average, he says. (80 out of 200 is the minimum score required for certification). B Storytelling is currently at a baseline of 55. I know we have a ways to go, but we are on our way.
My Tip: Read Chapter 4, The Quick Start Guide of The B Corp Handbook first. It gives you a game plan for the journey you’re about to take. It’s been helpful as I build the assessment into B Storytelling’s strategies.
This is one of four pieces I’ll write about my B Corp journey as the founder of a startup and as a solopreneur. (I promise they won’t all be this long!) So far, the B Impact Assessment has helped me to understand what it means to measure our environmental impact. It’s already shaping B Storytelling’s values and business strategies and is opening doors for conversations with other business leaders about sustainability in South Florida. Honeyman is right. This journey takes a solopreneur out of their silo experience and into a much larger, much more exciting community.
Order The B Corp Handbook. Start your Assessment. Track your environmental impact with Energy Star’s Benchmarking Starter Kit.