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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

    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 80,000 customers a week. Tired of meetings, brands and the assumption that greed is our predominant motivation, Guy converted the business to employee ownership in 2018, using the proceeds to buy a small farm and return to growing organic vegetables. In common with many of Riverford’s new co-owners, Guy is an advocate of using business to shape a part of the world, however small, to be kinder, more considerate and sustainable; more like the world most of us want to live in.  His weekly newsletters connect people 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.

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    The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity losses will be the defining stories of our future, but it is not too late to change direction. 

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