AS THE FIRST UK DAIRY COMPANY TO GAIN B CORP CERTIFICATION THREE YEARS AGO, DANONE ESSENTIAL DAIRY & PLANT-BASED IS ALSO ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHAMPIONS OF THE MOVEMENT.
Here, Regional Vice President of the UK, Belgium, Netherlands & Ireland, Adam Grant, explains why B Corp is such an important part of the business’ DNA.
Gaining our certification in the UK in 2017, we were very proud to be one of the first Danone entities to undergo the rigorous B Impact Assessment and join the B Corp movement.
Today, over 30% of Danone’s total operations around the world are accredited B Corp. And as a global business we’re working hard to transform all our subsidiaries into B Corps by 2025. This is a movement that we’re excited to be part of building both in the UK and internationally.
The idea of using our business as a force for good is also deeply connected to our own history.
1972 marks a pivotal moment in our history as a company, when our then-CEO Antoine Riboud gave a speech to an audience of nearly 2,000 businessmen and women in Marseille. Antoine told his audience:
THE BEAUTY OF OUR PRESENT SITUATION IS THAT, EVERYTHING HAS BEEN STOPPED. SO, WITH THE ENGINES OF THE WORLD’S ECONOMY RETURNING FROM AN IDLE, WE HAVE THE OPTION TO REORIENTATE OURSELVES AS ECONOMIES.
The speech itself made a series of prophetic observations about the issues facing business in the future. It became an extraordinary articulation of the faith and vision, not only for the company, but for many others, and it made Antoine Riboud one of the chief promoters of the idea of sustainable development.
Today at Danone, we still challenge ourselves to fulfil that pioneering role. Our CEO Emmanuel Faber is a global champion of the B Corp programme and we have a ‘One Planet, One Health’ mission with clear goals to deliver against our values.
For us, becoming a B Corp has built both our heritage and our dual social and economic role.
Since setting out on our B journey in 2017, we have been continually challenging ourselves to do better and go even faster. It’s in the culture of our business: it’s all about trying to create a movement and make change happen.
DANONERS LIVE OUR B CORP VALUES
One of the most fundamental changes we’ve noticed from becoming a B Corp has been the reaction of our staff. It’s been incredible. When we asked people to volunteer for the B Corp team, we were overwhelmed by the number of people who put their hand up.
One way in which we’ve been activating the B Corp programme with employees is through developing and activating our volunteer programme, in partnership with another B Corp, Neighbourly.
We offer an extensive volunteering programme with no limit on the number of days people can take to volunteer. Recently, through lockdown we’ve been working with Neighbourly to allow people to volunteer remotely. We’ve been very pleased to be able to allow a quick and highly successful transition for our staff to be able to volunteer in their communities from home.
Each year when we do our annual employee survey, people tell us B Corp is one of the major initiatives that make people proud to work for Danone. Our employees are also constantly helping to drive us forward. Being a B Corp means striving to always achieve more as a genuinely progressive business. We will be going through recertification later this year and we’re already looking at what we could push ourselves to achieve.
BUILDING A MOVEMENT
There are now around 40 B Corps in the UK food and drink sector, and more than 3,000 B Corps across 150 industries in 71 countries. We want to help build this influential community even more, to leverage the current opportunity to build back better and accelerate positive change.
I regularly have conversations with big suppliers, retailers and multinationals and many of them are very interested in beginning the process to become a B Corp. At some time in the future, I can imagine it may even be a decision factor for who we decide to work with.
It’s already a key decision factor for our internal ways of working. For example, all our innovation projects today are looked at through a B Corp lens.
We consider the environmental sustainability and social implications and we stop projects if there are not green lit from a B Corp point of view. For instance, we’ve now taken the decision to stop producing polystyrene yogurt pots in the UK by 2021 in favour of more recyclable packaging.
B CORP WILL BE A VISIBLE MARK OF TRUST
Our belief in the values of B Corp is something we’re keen to share with others too, particularly to help consumers see B Corp as a mark of trust. This year we launched our Danone brand of yogurts in the UK & Ireland and we wanted to tell the story of B Corp on our packaging. We were launching a product with 100% recyclable packaging, with very clear labelling, and no added sugar. It felt like the right moment to be engaging our consumers with what a B Corp product could look like.
Antoine Riboud called his autobiography ‘Le dernier de la classe’, and it tells of how he came last in his class as a young student. Yet, despite the slow start, Riboud grew up to be an international thought leader and pioneer. In 1972, as the then CEO of Danone, he gave a speech that broke new ground for the business world.
Riboud had been influenced by recent social movements and in particular the widespread
civil unrest which caused 10 million students and workers to paralyse France for seven weeks in 1968, bringing the French economy to a halt and forcing President Charles de Gaulle to flee to Germany.
In the speech to 2,000 executives in Marseilles, he sought to reunite business and society, telling his audience: “That a company takes into account all its stakeholders is not an act of faith, but an act of reason: no company can thrive in a desert.”
“Let us conduct our business with the heart as well as with the head, and let us not forget that if the Earth’s energy resources have limits, those of man are infinite if he feels motivated.”
His speech – and his comments about the role of a company outside its factory gates – are today considered one of the sparks that help to ignite the later movement towards corporate social responsibility.
BUILDING A COLLABORATIVE COMMUNITY
There’s a lot of rhetoric in the business world, but ultimately we need to see businesses activating and moving forward together. Our world is facing some of its biggest challenges – packaging, food waste, biodiversity, climate change, malnutrition, to name a few – and we need businesses to collaborate to address some of these crucial issues together.
What I particularly like is the importance of interdependency in the B Corp community and the way you collaborate with other businesses to come together as a force for good.
A good example is the approach we’ve taken with a kid’s yogurt pouch in our new Danone range. We reached out to another B Corp, Ella’s Kitchen, who also used pouches. Then we built a joint relationship with Terracycle where they take them and recycle them into playground materials, outdoor chairs, etc. Through these B Corp relationships, we’ve been able to find a mutually beneficial solution to this packaging challenge.
Instead of trying to ‘out industrialise’ each other, we should be trying to ‘out collaborate’ each other. We have a responsibility to build a sense of movement and try to do things differently for the planet and its people.
THIS WILL ONLY CONTINUE…
I’m fortunate to be on the B Corp Ambassadors group for the UK and Ireland and we’re many different sizes: from a small business based in Cornwall, to larger businesses like innocent. But when we sit down as a group it doesn’t matter where you are from, it is much more about the mindset you have to learn from each other and be interdependent.
There are a lot of organisations who offer certification and ratings, but B Corp is about taking into account lots of different stakeholders and behaviours. It is about a more holistic approach for the business ecosystem than other things we have seen.
THIS WILL ONLY CONTINUE…
The B Corp agenda is important to us; we know we’ll never be perfect but that doesn’t stop us working to continually improve ourselves and inspire others to join us.
We have to be humble enough to know we have many areas to work on, but we’re also ambitious about what could be achieved. We want to push ourselves to do better, to keep improving with each B Corp assessment, to increase collaboration as much as we can, and to play our part in making this a movement that will help business to become a force for good – not only in the UK & Ireland – but all over the world.