Never has the value of being a B Corp been more evident than in 2020, as a global pandemic and social change have taken center stage and communities around the world have realized the true benefits of using business as a force for good.
For the next installment of our Industry Expert Interview Series, we were lucky enough to speak with Jen Gorin, the Founder and Lead Partner of Impact Growth Partners (IGP). Founded in 2017, IGP is a woman-owned boutique consulting firm that works to expand social and environmental responsibility within the business community. IGP’s main focus is to help guide clients through the B Corporation (B Corp) certification process throughout the country.
Check out our conversation below:
KSV: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how the idea for Impact Growth Partners came about.
Jen: Prior to starting Impact Growth Partners, I worked in investment banking and research-based consulting. After moving to Connecticut, I started consulting for nonprofits and eventually worked on an impact fund. It was during that process that I discovered Certified B Corps.
To achieve B Corp Certification, companies must complete a very thorough audit of their business practices across governance, and all stakeholders, including community, customers, workers, suppliers and the environment. If the company achieves a certain score and makes it through a rigorous verification process, they then become part of the B Corp community and can use the B Corp logo. B Corps help consumers, workers, and investors identify and support businesses that operate responsibility and at the same time provide a clear set of standards and criteria businesses can use to measure, track, improve, their social and environmental impact.
At the time, the number of Certified B Corps was very small but it was starting to grow. I just latched onto the B Corp movement as something that was really important, and I tried to determine what the right business angle around it might be.
KSV: And how do you think your business has evolved from when you first started in 2017 to where you are now? Do you think that clients that you work with are facing similar challenges when they first started out working with you?
Jen: I would say that the awareness of B Corp has certainly increased during that time. But it's a slow process; 3,200 Certified B Corp companies globally is not a lot of companies. But given the prominence of some of the big brands, and especially a lot of the work they’ve been doing, there is a lot more visibility.
KSV: So, do you find that clients typically reach out to you proactively or it's more of a progression where a business is looking to become more mission-driven or socially responsible and you eventually land on the B Corp component?
Jen: When we reach out to potential clients it's B Corp specific. Many of our clients have started the process and just get stuck because it can be a pretty time consuming and daunting process. There are so many challenging questions in the initial Impact Assessment, plus there is a lot of supporting documentation that is needed. Other potential clients have completed the assessment and are perhaps just a bit intimidated by the fact that they're going to have to provide a lot of documentation.
Our primary job is to help make the certification process easier and more efficient for our clients. Even if the company is not yet ready to be certified, we help them identify ways to improve their social and environmental impact, with the goal of becoming certified someday or just tracking and improving their operational metrics.
KSV: What do you think, other than being so niche targeted, is the differentiating factor for Impact Growth Partners right now?
Jen: The community of similarly niche consulting firms is not large. It is growing, but other firms tend to be clustered in California, Canada and Colorado. There are some in Boston, but even New York City (as far as I know), doesn't really have a similar type of offering. So, we are unique geographically. In addition, all of our work can be done virtually. We sometimes meet local clients in person, but we don't have to in order to get the work done.
I'd say our biggest competition may be the free resources that are currently available. The Impact Assessment itself is helpful and answers many questions companies may have. B Lab (the nonprofit that is the certifying body for B Corps) sponsors some student-led B Corp groups that help assist in the process. There is also a group in New York City, Inspiring Capital, that helps companies complete the assessment.
Other than that, in terms of consultants, I’d say our biggest differentiator is the experience of our consultants. Personally, I have the perspective of coming from a traditional business, with an operational and financial background. As I was learning this trade, the consultants assisting businesses in the B Corp process were often environmental consultants who realized that this was a natural extension, because a lot of B Corp certification relies on environmental issues. But there is so much more to B Corp certification than environmental issues. It is an advantage to the client to have a consultant who has a broader business understanding, in particular when it comes to B Corp’s emphasis on governance (setting up a board of directors, having your business structure in place), transparency and audited financials, this experience is invaluable.
KSV: Prior to Coronavirus, what would you say were some of the biggest challenges that you saw from clients on a day-to-day or long-term basis? And then now, in the Coronavirus era, would you say that those challenges have shifted at all?
Jen: Our clients all face different challenges, but really the biggest challenge they all face when going through the B Corp certification process is the ability to stay on track and get it done. The highest level of management needs to be involved in this process in terms of existing operations as well as expressing the visions and goals of the company for the future. Whether it's for a larger company, where someone who's not the CEO is in charge of the certification process, or for a smaller company where it's really just the CEO we're working with, we act as the project managers and help our clients commit to getting the work done in a timely manner. We help companies meet the challenge of having the bandwidth to be able to manage and run the business, but also deal with all the steps it takes to document and to track and to verify all this information about their operations, not to mention putting changes in place.
Post-Coronavirus, it's a whole new world. It's a scary time for most businesses. That being said, our clients are pretty optimistic. They feel that because they are mission-based businesses, and have built their businesses with such thought and integrity and are already honoring the social and environmental issues that are just now becoming so evident, they are well positioned for a solid recovery. It is proven that purpose-driven companies tend to be more resilient during such challenging times.
KSV: With the global pandemic, the idea of success in 2020 is totally different. For some businesses it’s just surviving and keeping their doors open. What sort of advice would you give or are you giving to clients who may be concerned about what the future's going to look like?
Jen: Right. Well, of course the ability to financially survive in the moment is critical. And some can't, some have a long (financial) runway, some have a shorter runway. Many of our current clients are taking advantage of this slower time to stop, reflect and get the assessment done. That way, they will be stronger in the future.
And really there are so many reasons why companies become Certified B Corps in a normal economy, but the pandemic has made a lot of those reasons even clearer. First and foremost, the strength of the B Corp community has been demonstrated during these challenging times. B Lab has continually reached out to the B Corp community regarding help, support and resources they can offer during these times. That’s an objective way that B Lab is helping.
In addition, the B Corp community has each other to lean on. But even more important than that is the fact that the requirements of the B Corp certification entail businesses establishing really deep networks. Whether it's by creating a board of directors or an advisory board, it engages people from different backgrounds to assist with your business, which in a good environment is helping a business grow. In an environment like the pandemic, these boards are critical to help leaders figure out how to manage through a crisis.
KSV: There might be a lot of brands out there that understand the benefits of a B Corp Certification, and probably know it's a good thing for them to do, but they're not sure if they're ready to make the leap and take the commitment to going through the process. What would you say to convince them otherwise?
Jen : I would recommend considering all the benefits of being part of this purpose driven, B Corp community. I would ask the company if they are interested in ensuring that their operations are aligned with their values and if there are things that they can do that they're not currently doing to improve the lives of all their stakeholders (staff, customers, the community, the environment).
Even just taking the impact assessment, without getting certified, gives you so many ideas of operational changes that may not be that difficult to make, that may not only bring you one step closer to being certified, but will make you more socially and environmentally responsible. I’d encourage anyone to think about it as a tool to assess where their brand is and get ideas for the things that it could potentially be doing in the future.
Thank you so much, Jen! You can learn more about Impact Growth Partners and the work that they are doing with clients across the US here. For specific questions, feel free to reach out to Jen directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.