B Corp and the hotel sector – understanding the process

by: Felicity Cousins | June 27, 2023

Sustainable Hotel News talked to Annie Olivier, head of growth for B Lab and Ben Harper, CEO of Watergate Bay Hotel and Beach Retreats, about the B Corp process in the hotel sector.

There are 7,012 B Corps around the world and 1,400 in the UK, (with many more in the process of being certified), and according to B Lab, which verifies whether a company has achieved B Corp status, there are a lot more in the pipeline – including those in the hospitality sector. 

Annie Olivier, head of growth for B Lab says: “We have a significant number of companies in the pipeline… [there are] about 200,000 companies using the BIA right now. [B Impact Assessment tool].We have a strong pipeline of companies in the hospitality sector and will likely have some exciting new B Corp hotel announcements shortly.”

You can find the list of companies which have B Corp Status on the B Lab website, and use the filter for hotels. It seems the hotel sector is a little behind on the uptake for B Corp status. Currently B Corp in hospitality includes individual properties and a few groups. The Exclusive Collection was the first UK hotel group to gain its B Corp status (in 2021). Other B Corp certified hotels include Mr and Mrs Smith (since August last year), and Inhabit Hotels (January this year) and lots of individual hotels.

B Lab’s Olivier says: “The B Corp movement in the UK has grown quite organically with the early adopters acting as ambassadors and sharing information about B Corp in their sectors. We didn’t have a hotel acting as an early stage ambassador so my take is that it has taken a bit longer for awareness about B Corp to reach the hospitality sector and hotel industry in particular. Now that we have some hotels in the community I expect this sector to start to grow. There are of course some challenges for hotels in becoming B Corp certified (as there are with all sectors) but I believe that addressing these challenges head on will actually improve the resilience and success of these businesses in the longer term. In general, hotels that have thought hard about their employment practices and how they can support their workers, and the transparency of their supply chain will do well on the B Impact assessment.”

Ben Harper, CEO Watergate Bay Hotel and Beach Retreats Holidays is nearing the end of the B Corp process, which started more than two years ago. He says: “There is under representation in the hospitality sector, because it’s a hard thing to do, particularly if you are in a business which is operationally complex. For many companies it gets left on the hard pile on the desk. For us, the pause in trading caused by the pandemic gave us the chance to reflect and look harder at ESG.”

Becoming B Corp certified was attractive to Harper and his team because certified B Corps work together across the globe and across different sectors to use business as a ‘Force for Good’. Harper says: “It is both good for business as a force for good – balancing people profit and planet.”

B Corps are legally committed to consider the impact of their decisions on all their stakeholders, not just shareholders. And they have to be accountable and transparent in their progress towards their goals. B Corps take collective action and often have a cultural ethos to be progressive and think about both people and the planet, as well as profit. This sounds perfect for the hotel sector and for those looking to hit ESG targets, for now and the future, but it also sounds daunting.

B Lab’s Olivier says: “B Corp certification is a bit different to other sector specific or product specific certifications because it offers a holistic look at a company’s entire operations and measures both their social and environmental impact. B Corps also make a commitment to people, planet and profit, including a legal commitment. Finally, B Corps are committed to continuous improvement and collective action. By joining the B Corp community they’re joining like minded business leaders who share best practice and work with one another to effect positive change in their communities, sectors, and/or specific operational functions they’re working in.”

Harper adds: “We didn’t look at other accreditations, because we found the ethos of B Corp inspiring and felt that it reflected what we wanted to achieve. It felt right from day one and, as I started to hear the language of B Corp being used by our teams across the business, it endorsed the decision we made.”

The process

So where to begin? The process starts with a B Impact Assessment (BIA), which any company can use to see what level it would be at when it starts out, before embarking on the B Corp certification process. It’s a great tool to get a business into B Corp shape and around 200,000 companies are using it. There is also the SDG Action Manager, another free tool developed by B Lab and the United Nations Global Compact. This helps businesses understand their contribution towards managing the UN’s SDGs and plan for any improvements. 

So a hotel would use the free B Impact Assessment tool (BIA), which looks at the hotel’s entire operation and covers governance, employees, environmental impact and supply chain. Once a hotel has understood where it is on the scale, it can choose to continue to improve using the tool (as 200,000 businesses are currently doing), or take the next step to become a B Corp. 

To pass the B Corp assessment a hotel will need 80 points – the average company gets around 51 points when they first do the BIA, so the idea is that B Corp is an improvement process – it will show a hotel what needs to happen to achieve its targets. This includes providing reports, data and strategies for the future. B Lab works with the hotel through the whole process, guiding them to achieve their goals.

Watergate Bay’s Harper says: “We are currently at the final stages of our accreditation process for the Watergate businesses and hope to announce in the next month or so. Watergate Bay has always had sustainability as its core value, with a focus on energy, teams and people and community. I’m not an ESG specialist – but we are on our journey and B Corp has been relatively life changing. The most powerful element is that you feel part of the community and it’s an unsaid commitment that as part of this journey you share and inspire each other.”

Once verified as B Corp, by B Lab, the hotel would be legally committed to making key business decisions with an awareness of how they impact on people and the planet.Even when verified, that hotel will have to improve on its impact every three years. B Corps also have a  commitment to transparency so properties and chains would show and share their impact scores with the wider community. It’s a big ask, but the B Corp community comes with many benefits.

Benefits of being B Corp certified

What is the benefit of becoming a B Corp? According to B Lab’s annual survey, B Corps consistently have faster annual growth, retention and engagement of employees than UK businesses – a massive plus for the hotel sector, which can have such high staff turnover, but also is struggling with workforce retention since the pandemic. B Corps saw average staff attrition of 8 per cent vs 16-20 per cent for the UK business population (although these figures are across all B Corps not just hotels with B Corp status). 

B Corps will also have a track record of the work they have been doing in ESG so are more successful at securing investment and securing loans. Watergate Bay’s CEO, Ben Harper, believes this hand-in-hand approach of people, planet and profit works. 

He explains: “We hope to have a positive impact on the communities around us as a result of our B Corp initiatives but the idea that it is good for business is something we shouldn’t shy away from. We’ve got three big developments in the pipeline at planning stages and our B Corp philosophy has been very important. It also helps stretch our relationships with partners – it’s really important that we are being asked questions by our bank on this at a strategic level. Our supply chain has engaged well but now we need to add the smaller ones on this journey.”

Future proof and buy-in

The idea with B Corp is that it also helps hotels make an ESG framework that is relevant today and in the future. B Corp changes its standards every three years and helps those in the B Corp community to achieve the changes together as an ongoing conversation.

The hotel sector was already on its sustainable pathway pre-pandemic, but while it was looking at being more sustainable and decarbonising the supply chain, post pandemic the focus is more about green energy, sustainable energy and how to reduce energy demand. There is also a bigger focus on managing food waste and sustainable purchasing, as well as looking at ingredients. We’ve written a couple of pieces about hotels and food waste this month – see Accor and easyJet Holidays.

For B Corp to work for a hotel or chain it needs not only leadership buy-in, but healthy steering and broad employee engagement. If a hotel misses that team engagement then it would be hard to go through the process. It’s also important to have a specific person in a role or a team to manage this part of the company. It can’t be one person or one department – everyone has to be involved.

Watergate Bay saw how important this leadership, steering and engagement was for the process and beyond and appointed Helen Bishop as group head of sustainability and engagement for the business. Finding the right person was key, and Bishop was perfect for the job, blending the skills of being able to manage detail and engage people. 

Hotel franchises

For the hotel industry as a whole there is the complexity of ownership and franchises too. For franchises B Lab has a moratorium on franchisees joining the B Corp community until it can develop guidance for them. 

Annie Olivier, head of growth B Lab explains: “B Lab is developing new guidelines for franchises and therefore, a moratorium is currently in place. This moratorium will apply to the certification of franchisor entities that do not own 51 per cent or more of global franchise store locations, in particular if the franchisor operates in the same market/s where there are independently owned franchisees (and the majority of locations in that market are excluded from scope as independently owned franchisees) and therefore are not mandated to certify within scope/alongside a franchisor.

This moratorium is to take immediate effect on companies that meet these criteria. It does not mean that B Lab will never certify franchises, but we will be working on evaluating and updating our franchisor/franchisee rules and guidelines, to account for companies that operate in this manner, and to provide a meaningful path forward toward certification. Franchisors that own and/or directly operate greater than 50 per cent of franchise locations remain eligible to pursue B Corp Certification at this time.”

More on that on the B Lab website here.

See more information on Beach Retreats Holidays and on Watergate Bay Hotel

Image: Scott Webb, Pexels