Jane Stephenson, business development director at Resource Futures, explains why the company decided to join the B Corp movement and how others in the waste and resources industry could benefit too.
The B Corp movement started in the US and arrived in the UK in 2015. It is part of a global movement seeking to redefine success in business by recognising the social, environmental and economic benefits that business can deliver over and above making profit.
In good company
At Resource Futures, our vision for everyone to use resources more sustainably is at the heart of everything we do. As a relatively small environmental consultancy business, we are committed to a holistic approach to bringing about positive and impactful change.
We recognise the importance of tackling issues such as effective community engagement and education alongside the more ‘profitable’ lines of work such as collection, strategies and options appraisals.
The impact that waste services have on local communities and how to effectively engage them in behavioural change is key. Long-term collaborations with both the public, private and third sectors also defines our approach to developing our work and an example would be the Community RePaint network – the result of a 24-year partnership between ourselves, AkzoNobel, manufacturers of Dulux paint and over 70 community projects across the UK.
The more we learnt about the B Corp movement the more we realised that this is a group of companies we would like to do more business with. Since joining the movement a year ago we have been encouraging others to find out more and play an active part in the Bristol and UK networks, which includes companies such as Triodos, Pukka Herbs, and Neighbourly.
What relevance does B Corp have to the waste industry?
There are several B Corp characteristics that I feel are of particular relevance for the waste and resources industry.
Key to being part of the B Corp movement is being a business that can demonstrate that they are a force for good. There is a strong correlation between what the waste management industry is aiming to achieve and being a ‘force for good’.
The origins of waste management date back to the mid-nineteenth century as a result of the emergence of a health debate following devastating cholera outbreaks and concerns about sewage and rubbish on the streets of cities.
The Public Health Act of 1975 made provisions for municipal authorities to provide street cleansing functions. The purpose of those early rubbish collections was primarily for the public good, in other words to keep our streets clean and clear of rubbish and reduce the negative impacts on public health.
As our concepts of the ‘public good’ have matured to take into consideration broader environmental considerations and the social benefits of an economy based on waste avoidance, reuse and repair, so the industry has developed its offering to meet these new challenges.
We all make choices about our consumption, usage and disposal of resources. The waste industry has a huge role to play, alongside the regulatory bodies and public authorities to influence the way in which we minimise the negative impacts of consumption and production.
At the same time policy and regulatory frameworks have developed. As well as legislation to protect humans and the wider environment from emissions from treatment and reprocessing facilities, new regulations have introduced such concepts as producer responsibility and we now have Sustainable Development Goals being embraced internationally including a specific goal relating to sustainable consumption and production.
All a long way away from those early days of dust carts and night-soil collections. Whilst the old adage ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ still stands – there are many more ways that money can be made from muck – including advising about avoiding mucking the stall in the first place.
B Corps are expected to be responsible employers. Issues such as gender balance and pay ratios between grades, health and safety records, training and career development, and mechanisms used to engage staff at all levels in developing and delivering the success of the company are all considered as part of the impact assessment required to become a B Corp. Some of these issues will be challenging for the waste industry.
In recent years many companies within the sector have recognised the need to improve their performance in these areas and the process of completing the free, online impact assessment is a useful way of identifying what a company is doing well and where improvements need to be made.
Another area of interest to the B Corp movement is transparency. This relates to transparency within a company itself – regarding governance and communications with staff about company purposes and performance.
But also includes the influence of supply chains and wider social and environmental impacts. In the context of the waste industry the transparency of what happens to collected materials – recyclate and residual waste fractions and the impacts of materials reprocessing – is important.
Readers will be well-aware of the debates within the industry on these issues and the increased interest from clients in the public and private sectors who want to know more about the impacts from the waste they are responsible for, as well as wider interest from the general public and communities themselves.
As a B Corp, it’s also important to recognise the impact you have on the wider environment and the communities in which you work. Everyone from an individual householder to an SME to large multi-national corporate all engage in one way or another with the waste industry. We are all consumers.
We all make choices about our consumption, usage and disposal of resources. The waste industry has a huge role to play, alongside the regulatory bodies and public authorities to influence the way in which we minimise the negative impacts of consumption and production. Customer engagement is critical to the success of any waste company.
Alongside the industry’s role in delivering cost-effective and environmentally responsible services there is also a role to play in working in partnership with clients and other agencies, including third sector and community led organisations, to explore new ways of making sure that we do find ways of managing our resources sustainably, now and into the future.
The B Corp movement is one way of taking a step towards looking at how your company is doing across a range of impact assessment criteria. At Resource Futures we’ve found it a useful tool. We are excited about being part of the growing network in the UK and the opportunities of working more closely with profit-driven companies who, like us, are committed to being a force for good.