“Undertaking B Corp is akin to undertaking a sustainability transformation and getting its sustainability practices in order.”
With the news that Australian brand Bassike had achieved B Corp status last month, there have been new calls for local fashion brands to ensure they meet their sustainability and ethical transparency goals.
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But what exactly is “B Corp” and why is it important? Below, we take a look at the certification, how many labels have achieved B Corp status in Australia, and why it may not be the sustainability silver bullet that consumers are hoping for.
What is the “B Corp” certification?
The B Corp certification is an international certification that signals a company’s good reputation for sustainability, ethics and transparency in everything from day-to-day operations to raw materials and the supply chain. Basically, it is meant to act as a standard audit of environmentally and ethically responsible business practices.
For a company to achieve B Corp status, it must go through a rigorous application process, achieve a minimum valuation score, and then recertify every three years. According to the B Corp website, “In order to obtain certification, a company must:
- Demonstrate high social and environmental performance by achieving a B impact assessment score of 80 or higher and passing our risk review. Multinational companies must also meet the basic requirement standards.
- Commit legally by changing their corporate governance structure to be accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders, and obtain for-profit status if available in their jurisdiction.
- Be transparent by allowing information about their performance measured against B Lab’s standards to be publicly available on their B Corp profile on the B Lab website.
Rosanna Iacono, managing partner and advisor at The Growth Activists, the consultants who provided strategic advice to Bassike throughout the long and detailed process, says B Corp certification is an opportunity for local labels to “benchmark the company to a better world”. framework of practice and certify B Lab as an organization dedicated to using business as a force for good”.
Which fashion brands are certified in Australia?
There are only a very small handful of apparel companies that have achieved B Corp status in Australia – in fact, despite the 23 results that show up in an Australia-specific and apparel search on the site B Corp’s web is even less than at first glance, as many of them are specialty retailers or niche brands.
In terms of general clothing labels that consumers are familiar with, the most prominent are probably Indigenous social enterprise Clothing The Gaps; Melbourne-based podiatrist-designed shoe retailer Bared Footwear; Afterpay Australian Fashion Week favourite, Bondi Born; the Melbourne label Arnsdorf; ethical denim company, Outland Denim; and now Bassike.
Given the shift towards sustainable fashion and ethical manufacturing in recent years, it’s probably surprising that Bassike is the first of Australia’s biggest clothing brands to achieve certification. However, Iacono thinks this is just the beginning.
“There are a number of reasons why there are so few major certified labels,” says Iacono. “Part of the reason is that the ESG and the B Corp movement has only started to gain a lot more momentum than in recent years, so we can expect to see a lot more fashion brands announcing their certification in the 12 to 18 months ahead.
“However, one of the other main reasons is also that it is such a rigorous evaluation, and therefore a significant commitment of time and resources to drive the transformation work of durability and to document all evidence prior to verification.”
Mary-Lou Ryan, co-founder of Bassike and director of sustainability and supply chain, agrees. “It’s a big undertaking to work on the comprehensive reporting and data required for something like B Corp or Climate Active Carbon Neutral certification, so I can understand why we’re the anomaly at the moment.”
Why should consumers care?
With the growing popularity of sustainability and ethical manufacturing as drivers of consumer buying behavior, it’s no surprise that we’ve also seen an increase in greenwashing. What does “sustainable fashion” really mean? And how does a consumer identify “sustainable enough” brands?
“The B Corp certification, like other certifications like FairTrade or Woolmark, acts as a mark of trust, not only for consumers but for a variety of stakeholders. It signals to consumers, wholesale partners, employees, community partners, suppliers, investors and a whole host of other stakeholders that the company is dedicated to driving a more inclusive and sustainable economy,” explains Iacono.
“Particularly for Gen Z and Millennials, who are increasingly goal-oriented, it creates the confidence to engage with a company because it has met the highest standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency.As a company-wide certification, it proves that it’s not just a product or two that are ethical, but that practices across the company are excellent.
The use of the words ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’ or ‘green’ may not be regulated in fashion, but the B Corp certification certainly is, so it acts as a great marker of practices. responsible business, as well as other tools, such as transparency reports.
Why is it so hard to get B Corp certification?
In addition to sustainability and ethical manufacturing goals, B Corp certification is an extremely rigorous process that requires specific areas of the company to meet governance standards that the typical company may not apply in its day-to-day operations.
Thus, to achieve the minimum points required to meet the assessment, many companies must completely overhaul their structure, as well as spend the time, money and resources necessary to prove all aspects of the analysis of more than 200 questions (the exact number of questions a score answers will vary as this is a decision tree based model).
To learn more about the B Corp certification process — straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will — we spoke with Bassike about his recent experience. According to Ryan, it’s not as easy as it sounds, but the benefits outweigh the significant costs in time and resources.
“To get certified, you must complete Impact Assessment B,” Ryan explains. “[It’s] a demanding analysis of over 200 questions that assesses companies and organizations against five key areas: governance, workers, community, environment and customers, to ensure you meet the strict criteria set by the international B Lab network.
“The extensive review process has opened my eyes to the scope of what organizations can do to support and advocate for benefits for all – it’s a new way of thinking and a new lens to apply to every decision. that you take as a business owner and brand founder.
Deborah Sams, co-founder and creative director of Bassike, agrees. “Achieving this certification was a long and painstaking process, but it is this level of detail that makes [the] B Corp certification so respected and personally rewarding.
Should all fashion brands seek B Corp certification?
Despite the lengthy process, Iacono believes that regardless of company size, B Corp can act as an increasingly valuable tool in a company’s sustainability tool belt.
“The B Corp Assessment Framework is one of the world’s leading standards for good social and environmental practice and can serve as a powerful guide for companies of all sizes to discover what good practice looks like and continue to create policies and procedures that allow this best practice to come to life.
She also thinks it can be a great practical tool for small businesses that aren’t quite ready to apply for B Corp certification, but are struggling to understand what their sustainable business should look like. “Essentially, undertaking B Corp is akin to undertaking a sustainability transformation and getting its sustainability practices in order,” she says.
“For small businesses, including start-ups, it’s also a way of thinking about creating a solid foundation for future growth by creating the policies and procedures they will need anyway at some point in their journey. .”
What is the future of B Corp in Australia?
With businesses under more pressure than ever after the pandemic, is devoting the massive amount of time and resources needed to apply for B Corp certification a realistic undertaking for local fashion brands?
Ultimately, it depends on consumer demand. And, as the market evolves, it looks like B Corp has become another important indicator that local consumers are looking for when it comes to buying ethically.
“Consumer interest in conscious shopping and support for ethical brands is here to stay,” says Sams. “B Corp is a universal certification that verifies that Bassike holds values of high social and environmental performance, corporate governance and transparency – a belief in using business as a force for good.
“We’ve always viewed the challenges of improving change as a long-term investment,” says Ryan. “And I hope other Australian brands and businesses will see this as a sign of encouragement or inspiration to embark on their own B Corp journey.”
Bianca O’Neill is Fashion Journal’s senior industry columnist. Follow her on @bianca.oneill.