Alicia Darvall is the Executive Director of B Lab in Australia and New Zealand. B Lab helps consumers determine which businesses give back to their communities and which are simply all about investors and making profit.

Although momentum is still growing in New Zealand, B Lab is responsible for turning many companies into B-corporations; businesses that have a certification for sustainability. Here’s Alicia with more about what they do and why their work is so important.


What is B Lab and B Corporations?

B Lab is the not for profit that looks after B Corporations and in turn, B Corporations are businesses with a social and environmental mission. So it’s a bit like Fairtrade for business. At B Lab, we look closely into everything the businesses do and make sure that they are actually doing what they say they are doing.

So where did this idea of a certification for businesses come from?

It started in the U.S. by three guys who used to own the basketball sneaker business called And1. As well as growing their business, they started with a very strong social mission. They used to do things like offer maternity and paternity leave, build basketball companies in undeveloped regions and give 20% of all their profit to charities. That wasn’t because the people who bought their sneakers really cared about that, but because that was the kind of business they wanted to be a part of.

However that changed when they decided to sell the company, right?

Yes, so as they were growing the business they had to take on investment. When they got to the point where their business was the same size as Nike and Reebok, they looked to sell. But at the point of sale, all the investors said that the company couldn’t be sold with all the extra benefits they had and made them cut away a lot of their social impacts. Then, when they got to the sales table, the investor who bought the company essentially stripped everything away. It was no longer a company they were proud of, it was just a brand. So they set up an organisation which supported entrepreneurs who had a social or environmental mission, to be able to grow their businesses and potentially exit them, knowing that the mission would continue.

The logo to look for

So where does B Lab fit into this vision?

What we’re trying to do, is to shine a light on the entrepreneurs who are doing extraordinary work and then protect them and help them grow, so that at the point of sale there will be a multigenerational change.

What has the reaction from companies been like to the idea of a certification?

It’s incredibly positive, particularly when I get to meet the entrepreneurial founder who started the company, because they almost always have a really strong vision about how they want their company to be. The biggest issue for them is time, so why they should take on this certification now. That’s where we really have to build a case about how there are consumers and other stakeholders who want them to do this. Basically there is a lot of interest, but we really need to answer the question ‘why now?’.

What is the next goal for B Lab right now, with expanding the concept of B Corporations?

We’re looking to sign on 10 to 15 companies in New Zealand so that we can do a big media launch here. We want to really build momentum around the idea of people using businesses as a force for good and redefining success in business. What I want to do is find ten companies who are willing to step up and talk about being founding B Corps.

The B Corp group

The B Corp group

How can youth support this mission of sustainable businesses who are serious about being a force for good?

By looking deeply into the product you buy, understanding where your money goes and who you’re supporting. By making sure that the companies you work with are aligned with your visions and your values, [which means] asking new employers what their values are. Finally also, by supporting the companies who are working to make a social impact.

And how do we know who these companies are?

So you can log on to the B Corp website and find an index of all the B Corp businesses in the world. When you’re looking for a particular product or service, and while it’s still growing in New Zealand, if you can choose a product that is wearing its heart on its sleeve and doing what they say they are doing and support them, then that’s how we’ll get these businesses to grow.

For more information about B Lab and B Corporations, check out their website.