What is B Corp?

28 April, 2023

Environmental and social responsibility have become essential to business, and achieving the highest standard possible involves hard work, Drinks International sits down with Tim Etherington-Judge to talk B Corp.

The business world has shifted. Corporate environmental and social sustainability has become central to operations and consumer messaging. Rarely a month passes without a vow to deliver net zero or a pledge to invest huge amounts of money in reducing a company’s harm. The world is burning, and corporations want you to know they’re doing their part. And in this new landscape, it’s the environmental and social framework outlined in the B Corp certification that are the gold standard.

For the uninitiated, B Corp is a certification for for-profit companies that meet a rigorous framework for social and environmental performance. It was created and is verified by non-profit B Lab, which operates under the banner “make business a force for good”.

In the alcohol industry, B Corp-certified brands include global giants such as Baileys and Maker’s Mark, but the movement is gathering pace at every level of the industry. January to April alone of this year saw the certification achieved by English sparkling wine Rathfinny, Kendall Jenner’s 818 spirits, Elephant Gin, Really Good Beer Society, Think Wine, the non-alcoholic Everleaf Drinks, Pensador Mezcal, beer subscription service Beer 52, Community Spirit Co, and Northern Ireland’s Boatyard Distillery.

“There has been a big push by brands around B Corp,” explains Tim Etherington-Judge, co-founder of Avallen Spirits, which was certified in January 2022. “During the Covid lockdowns B Lab saw a huge increase in the number of companies applying for B Corp certification, so we’re now seeing the results of that as there’s a 12-18 month certification period.

“Of all the certifications you can have, it’s the one that is most comprehensive across all of your business aspects. Being organic, or being Fairtrade, covers your environmental performance – this does that but includes things like your relationship with your customers, your workers, all sorts of stuff."

Inevitable controversy

It’s always a temptation to approach sustainability announcements with a level of cynicism – perhaps that’s a healthy response to greenwashing marketing tactics – and B Corp is a certification that isn’t without its controversies. In December 2022, Brewdog was stripped of its status after an investigation was conducted following reports of a “toxic” workplace environment, and the inclusion of Nestlé’s Nespresso brand was met with criticism from coffee companies which alleged that some of its farmers earn poverty-level incomes.

“There’s a wider problem when talking about sustainability. Everybody wants to criticise people for not being perfect rather than encouraging people for doing the work,” says Etherington-Judge. “Anyone who does the work to get B Corp certification has put a lot of effort into it. It's not an easy thing to get. If Nespresso is certified, surely that’s a good thing. Of all the certifications that I know of, B Corp is the only one that legally binds you to change your articles of association to say that you will continue what you’re doing.

“It’s super positive that we’re seeing so many drinks brands coming on board. It’s nice to see a mix of small, independent brands which are able to collaborate and share information, but also we’re seeing some bigger bands, which is fantastic. The positive impact that larger brands can have by changing their business models is enormous.”

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