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News from the farm   |   Ethical business

Can B Corp make business better?

Few business leaders are evil. Most aspire to do something their children will be proud of. But ‘doing the right thing’ is complex and multifaceted.

We all have our passions, be it climate change, marine pollution, social inclusion, equality. And what’s right for one cause is not always right for the others. But, most consumers want to support businesses that behave well, and most employees want to be part of something good. So why is business so often the problem, rather the solution? If we could agree on a definition and measure of ‘the right thing’, business would deliver it more effectively than any government or charity.

‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’ – or so the management mantra tells us. We desperately need to harness the creative and commercial resources of business to address our environmental and social challenges. We must reward those who use business as a force for good; who do not disregard or even destroy what doesn’t appear on the balance sheet.

Business has improved quality of life for billions, but the current model, in which shareholders reign supreme, with planet and people an afterthought, is clearly not fit for the more subtle job now required.

Riverford has always sought to balance the needs of planet, staff, suppliers and customers, with commercial success being a means to an end, not an end in itself. We have done right by our own definitions, and developed our own measures. I, for one, am intrinsically resistant to assessments of virtue.

But these are niceties we can no longer afford; we need an objective, global approach to avoid the ultimate market failure of thoughtless overconsumption leading to self-destruction. That’s why Riverford has recently become a certified B Corp.

This not-for-profit certification uses a broad assessment, substantiated by an evidence base, to score companies’ social and environmental performance. It is not perfect – but it is gaining credibility, and has the potential to nudge business towards broader measures of success.

Importantly, a B Corp has to change its articles of association to give people and planet the same weight as shareholders or profits (something Riverford didn’t need to change). We see the most vital benefit as not marking our own homework; regular assessment will highlight areas for improvement, and help us balance the competing demands of one ‘right thing’ against another. You can learn more and read our (pretty good) score at riverford.co.uk/bcorp.

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 55,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.

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