Becoming a B Corp: AV1’s decision to take the plunge
Two staff members, including Operations Manager Nathan Murray, attended the Purpose conference in 2015 and were inspired to explore the possibilities when they realised just how closely their company values came to the requirements of the certifying body.
Murray took the idea to the company-wide retreat in January 2016. B Corp certification, he suggested, would be a great way to formalise a lot of the work already being done by the company. And the team agreed.
“Purpose provided a lot of value for our own strategic retreat,” said AV1 Managing Director Keith Wootton. “We saw many elements, brands and initiatives at the conference that are so clever and we felt aligned to them.”
B Corporations represent an emerging group of companies that are using the power of business to create a positive impact on the world and generate a shared and durable prosperity for all. The progressive industry body likens its certification for sustainable business to Fair Trade certification for coffee, as an example.
Simply put, B Corps use business as a force for good.
The power of purpose
Based in Sydney and Melbourne, AV1 is an audiovisual and media production business for conferences, events and road shows all over the world.
If you think this sounds like an unlikely fit for purpose-driven business, Wootton would agree with you.
“We’ve always been non-conforming to the typical AV crowd,” the Managing Director said. “We are unique, progressive and socially conscious. It differs us (from the competition) in the industry.”
The idea that doing good can be a competitive advantage is something that B Lab Australia & New Zealand (the non-profit behind B Corp certification) touts as reason for becoming formally certified. The organisation lists differentiating from pretenders, generating press, and attracting and engaging talent among its reasons why becoming a B Corp makes good business sense.
Wootton claims the company has already experienced benefits like this with low staff turnover, commercial success and good client relationships resulting from AV1’s commitment to its values.
“The B Corp certification was never seen as a way to drive commercial success,” says Wootton. “We did it with the intention that it was genuinely aligned with who we are and what we do. We didn’t say “hey let’s join this club and make a million dollars.” Becoming a B Corp is a natural next step based on how we’ve always run our business.”
Nathan Murray, Operations Manager at AV1 and the driving force behind the company’s B Corp certification, felt the time was right for the company to seek a formal framework for its practices.
“AV1 has experienced rapid growth and is now at a maturing stage where we need more formal procedures,” he said. “We were at a tipping point. We’re big enough that any positive impact we have would be quite large. But equally, inadvertently our negative impact could be large.”
In what may be a familiar situation for many fast-growing purpose-driven companies, AV1 found that much of its ethical processes and culture were driven by a small but passionate group of staff within the company. Becoming a B Corp, Murray argued, would formalise this behaviour as the team grows.
“It’s no longer a choice,” he says, “but written into the DNA of the company.”
AV1 found much to celebrate in their existing practices, while also experiencing surprise at just how challenging it can be to consider the 360 view of a purpose-driven business.
“We discovered we’re hitting the ball out of the park with some things,” said Murray, “while other things took some detective work in understanding where we choose to spend our money.”
The company learned a lot about its procurement process while taking a magnifying glass to its suppliers.
“We had to better understand the businesses we choose to work with; what’s their corporate structure? Are they independent and local? And are there minorities represented within management positions?” said Murray.
Assurances and risk
It’s this kind of detail that perhaps demonstrates one of the major benefits of the B Corp stamp of approval. While AV1 had to manually check many of its suppliers, this process would become easier (the logic goes) if more companies had been through the rigours of formal certification.
And this is something that is beginning to creep into tendering processes, according to Wootton.
“A lot of the companies we deal with are multi-nationals and large financial institutions. There was one tender we did that specifically favoured B Corp certification.”
While not so much of an issue for AV1, both Murray and Wootton believe that B Corp certification could benefit larger corporations in building trust among stakeholders.
“Social media storms can result if a corporation takes the wrong step or (unknowingly) picks the wrong supplier,” said Murray. “It (B Corp certification) is a safety measure and way of mitigating risk.”
Driving a purpose-driven economy
In addition to tightening its eco practices and procurement process, AV1 was interested in measuring its impact on the movement at large.
“One of the questions is how are you impacting the purpose-driven economy?” said Murray. “B Corp is clear that making money is not a bad thing, and it was really interesting to put a dollar value on the support we offer values-aligned companies with our pro-bono sponsorship.”
Equally, offering a B Corp certified service to like-minded companies is an excellent way of increasing the importance placed on purpose-driven business.
“To our knowledge we are the first AV company in the world to become a B Corp,” said Wootton. “There is value in bringing a new service to the purpose-driven economy.”