Proving you meet the highest social and environmental standards is quite an endeavour, says the practice’s co-founding partner
You’ve recently been certified as a B Corporation. What does that entail?
B Corps are businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility, transparency and accountability. You provide information on every aspect of the business, with evidence, and have to score over 80 out of 250. The average applicant gets around 50; we got 85.3. Assessment was quite an endeavour; it took a lot of time and drills down deep, not just asking if you’re doing staff wellbeing surveys, but what proportion are satisfied.
Why did you want to get certified?
We’ve always tried to be a good business, and say so, but that’s meaningless unless it’s externally verified. There are benefits beyond getting a warm glow inside. We now have a structured set of goals for improvement. It’s good for recruitment – candidates have raised it as a distinguishing feature. And clients are assured that they are working with the right people. As ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues rise up the agenda, it can be useful to demonstrate the values of their suppliers.
Did you have to make any changes to qualify?
It prompted us to do things we might not have considered, such as reporting financial results quarterly to our office of around 20 people and giving written career advice. Our articles of association now commit to balancing profit and purpose. Making the changes was straightforward because we have autonomous control within the business – no board approval required. We need a policy to support breastfeeding mothers? Done.
How well does the assessment reflect the nature of architectural practice?
No equivalent scheme considers the whole of what we do; the impact of our projects and how we run the practice. The fit isn’t exact, but it does a very good job. There’s a set of general questions and others that are specific to the ‘built environment stream’. We do a mix of research, masterplanning and buildings, so got fewer points for sustainability measures than others might. Yet good scores for our impact on low-income neighbourhoods don’t count in our stream. That was frustrating, but we were pleased with our result.
Do you think many practices could achieve certification?
Many have told us they are starting the process. There are some pass/fail criteria, so if you’ve got some tricksy tax set-up you’d fall at the first hurdle. After that, most could aim for it. The bar is set high, but running through the assessment to see whether you’re within touching distance of 80 is useful and thought-provoking.