You’ve seen it on company websites, food packaging, and clothes—that B symbol with a circle around it. And it has probably made you wonder, “What does that B stand for?”

What the “B” really stands for is B Corp, and more specifically, a Certified B Corp. 

A Certified B Corporation is a for-profit business that has gone through a rigorous review process to ensure that it meets high standards for being socially and environmentally responsible. 

The B symbol you see tied to companies like Patagonia, King Arthur Baking Company, and Ben & Jerry’s is reserved only for Certified B Corps. The symbol proves that they’re committed to using their businesses for good even though they are not nonprofit organizations.

Certified B Corporation logo/symbol

Source: B Lab United States & Canada

Curious about becoming a Certified B Corp and impacting more than your bottom line? We’ve broken down the main pros and cons of B Corp Certification, along with the steps you need to take if you want to get B Corp Certified.

B Corporation vs. B Corp Certification

A benefit corporation and B Corporation are not the same thing (even though they sound exactly the same). The difference all lies in the capitalization.

TermWhat it is
Benefit corporation (aka B corporation)A legal structure
B Corp (aka B Corporation)A business that’s certified by B Lab as socially responsible

A benefit corporation, also known as a B corporation, is a legal entity. While not every state recognizes B corporation status, there are nearly 40 states that do. However, on a federal level, B corporations don’t receive any special tax treatment.

On the other hand, a B Corp is not an entity status but rather a business that’s been certified by a third-party organization, B Lab. The certification is similar to being Fair Trade Certified and ensures that a business meets a strict set of environmental and social standards.

While it does give your business clout, it isn’t a certification that’s recognized on a state or federal level. 

And just to confuse you more, businesses that are B Corp Certified are referred to as “B Corps” while benefit corporations are referred to as “B corporations.” Notice the capitalization.

Any type of business can become B Corp Certified, even the small-but-mighty sole proprietor. You just need to be:

  • A for-profit company
  • In operation for at least one year

Beyond that, there’s no minimum or maximum size. 

If you’re a startup that’s been running for less than a year and want to become part of the B Corp community, you can apply for Pending B Corp Status to show your commitment to investors and customers. The test, which includes the disclosure questionnaire, remains the same for eligibility, but you’ll estimate the answers and receive a special symbol that indicates your status as pending.

Certified B Corporation Pending logo

Source: B Lab United States & Canada

The benefits of B Corp Certification

1. It preserves your mission

If you’re an entrepreneur starting your business with a dream of making a difference, then B Corp Certification will hold you accountable to that dream and its highest standards. 

The legal framework and governance structure of B Corps requires that companies shift their focus from benefiting shareholders (i.e., making them money) to benefiting its stakeholders, which can be employees, the local community, and/or the environment. 

That means your business is legally required to consider its social and environmental impact and can make decisions based on this impact, not just increasing potential profits

Also, once you become a B Corp, all future owners and shareholders are required to stick to those rules to participate in an economic system that benefits the world. Even if you no longer own your business, the social responsibility and environmental focus need to be maintained if the company’s B Corp status is active.

2. It gives your business credibility

The B Corp Certification process is not an easy one. Not only do you have to be committed to seeing the process through, you also have to pass the B Impact Assessment.

The B Impact Assessment measures your company’s impact in the following areas:

  • Community
  • Customers
  • Workers
  • Environment
  • Governance

You earn points for the positive impact you’re making in the areas above. You don’t lose points if you’re not making an impact in a certain area. 

Many people look for companies that are environmentally and socially responsible. But, in the era of greenwashing, which is when companies claim to be “green” yet actually do very little for the environment and sustainability, customers don’t always know which products and services to trust.

Being a Certified B Corp shows your customers that you’re not just saying that you care about environmental and social issues with your initiatives—you’re actively making a positive impact in these areas.

3. It helps you attract and retain employees

For a potential employee, B Corp Certification signifies that the company is committed to maintaining a positive work environment and company culture

B Corp Certification shows potential employees your commitment to having a positive impact on the world. The more aligned you are with their values, the more attractive you are as an employer.

Also, part of the Impact Assessment focuses on how well businesses treat their workers through compensation, employee benefits, training, and ownership opportunities. Some of the questions in the B Impact Assessment include:

4. It helps you connect with like-minded businesses and investors

When you’re a Certified B Corp, you join a B Corp movement of more than 8,000 companies all over the world who share your values. 

B Lab also hosts networking opportunities for B Corps, including in-person and online events. This can be extremely helpful if you’ve just started your business and need advice, potential collaborators, suppliers, or anything else. 

Not to mention, many investors are attracted to sustainable businesses that are socially responsible. While investors still want you to have a profitable business model, some may also want to put their money into something that will benefit the world. Your B Corp Certification could be the thing that makes you stand out.

The drawbacks of B Corp Certification

1. There are no tax breaks

For both benefit corporations and Certified B Corps, there are no federal tax breaks. If you’re B Corp Certified and a benefit corporation, you will choose to be taxed like an S corp or C corp. Since a benefit corporation is a corporation, these are the only two tax structures available to you. 

If you’re another entity and B Corp Certified, your tax structure will remain the same.

2. You need to consider the non-financial impact of your actions

As a Certified B Corp, you’re legally required to consider the impact your actions will have on your stakeholders. 

Let’s say you could change your packaging material to a cheaper substitute. However, the substitute is not environmentally friendly and the production would expose your employees to toxic chemicals. Legally, as a Certified B Corp, you’re required to not pursue that opportunity. 

What happens if you don’t? Employees and shareholders can sue you and your directors for not upholding the social mission of your business.

3. You’re open to ongoing scrutiny

Once you’re a Certified B Corp, you’ll have a public profile listed with your company’s impact score on B Lab’s website. This is part of B Lab’s public transparency requirement. 

Here’s what Patagonia’s B Impact Report looks like:

Source: B Lab

For each area of the Impact Assessment, your score will be listed as well as the details about how you scored in the subtopic areas. For example, under your overall community score, viewers can see how you measure up in the following areas:

  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Civic engagement and giving
  • Economic impact
  • Supply chain management

If you’re doing well in these areas, then this is great marketing for your company. But, if you’re falling short, it could be a drawback. 

How to become B Corp Certified

Spoiler alert—you’re not going to become B Corp Certified overnight.

Becoming a Certified B Corp is a rigorous and lengthy process. Here are the three main steps you’ll need to take:

1. Take the B Impact Assessment

The first step is to complete the B Impact Assessment online. 

Your score consists of two ratings, one for your Operational Impact (how your business runs day to day) and another for your Impact Business Model (how your business earns money). To pass, you need to score at least 80 or above (out of 140 points for most companies) and submit supporting documentation.

Most businesses take the assessment for the first time and realize that they need to make significant changes in their operations and business model and formalize their policies. That’s okay. You don’t have to submit the test if you’re not ready. 

Even if you do pass the assessment, it will teach you about the areas of your business that need improvement so you can work toward them on an ongoing basis.

If you pass, you’ll go through a series of assessment calls with the B Lab’s Standards Advisory Council.

For the legal requirement, you’ll be required to change your legal structure to a B corporation, amend your Articles of Incorporation, or make other structural changes. 

B Lab will also run a background check.

3. Pay the annual fee and get recertified every two years

After you pass, you’ll pay an annual fee for the business certification, which can be as low as $2,000 and increases based on revenue. 

The certification lasts for three years. After that time, you’ll have to take the Assessment again to get recertified. If the owner who took the test leaves the company, you’ll also have to get recertified.

Yes, the B symbol is pretty cool. But given the length and depth of the B Corp Certification process, it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons so you can be totally sure that it’s right for your business.

And if you do become a Certified B Corp, then you’ll have permission to use the exclusive B symbol, just like so many businesses you admire.

Andi Smiles Andi is a small business financial consultant and coach who teaches business owners to take control of their finances. She’s helped hundreds of self-employed folx organize and understand their business finances, while also uncovering their emotional relationship with money.
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