On 4th May 2020, Bruichladdich, a whisky distillery based on the Isle of Islay in Scotland, became the first gin and whisky distilling company in Europe to qualify for B-Corp status. It scored 83.2 points from a possible 200 on the B Impact Assessment.
Bruichladdich is led by chief executive, Douglas Taylor, who arrived after a 13 year career at booze industry behemoth Diageo. Douglas joined Bruichladdich as commercial director in 2011 and in 2012 the company was bought by Rémy Cointreau. In 2017 he took over as CEO.
He tells us about Bruichladdich’s journey to becoming a B-Corporation and the lessons along the way.
We heard about B-Corp as a movement four or five years ago and thought ‘that’s interesting’. As we were going through our reevaluation of self, it was quickly clear that, as a values-based business, we would fit really well into that world. But it’s also a question of having time and having resource, and trying to unpackage what it means, and what the qualification process is.
How would we do it? Could we do it? What was involved? How much work was it going to take? Did we have too many other priority projects that needed to be delivered first? You need to dedicate quite a lot of time to completing the assessment and we had to identify someone in the business who could help us do the paperwork. If we were to give the direction, who was going to help us through the application process?
2. Impact assessment
Going through the business impact assessment, there’s 240-odd questions and you’ve got to score 80 to qualify from 200 points available. We did the business impact assessment offline, which you should do to try and get your score, and then look at it and check. Try and create things that are missing, or find things that need to be identified. And then do it again online.
3. Putting in the work
At times we referenced policies that were parent group policies, but it became clear that you’re not allowed to do that. You can’t just go, ”this is easy. We’ll just bank on the parent group policies.” If that parent group has other subsidiaries that make it through B-Corporation approval process, they can’t use the same policies. For the few policies that we’d thought ‘oh, that’s a no brainer’, we couldn’t use them. So either we didn’t get points for them, or we had our own version of it. It was an interesting jigsaw.
4. Speak to other B-Corps
We connected with Tom Kay, the founder of Finisterre – we knew they were B-Corp certified. We kind of doorstepped him and said, “Look, could I just talk to you? Or can I introduce myself and what we do, and talk to you about your B-Corp journey?” And he said, “Sure, no problem.” I phoned him – I was trying to understand whether we had the capacity to take on this project. We had the will, we had the want, we had the desire; but did we have the capacity? I was worried about having to burden a lot of work onto the broader exec team and onto the managers.
Tom was interesting. He said, “There’s the business impact assessment that you know about. Do it offline. If you go through and score 25 points, don’t bother. The way you’re describing the pressures on your business, don’t bother, because it feels like you’re too far away. If you go through and score 40 points or more,” he said, “I would go for it.”
I explained to him that in our first run through the business impact assessment we scored something like 62 or 63 points. And he said, “Look, that’s the perfect jumping off point. That tells you that the business you run is fit for purpose for the B-Corp movement. You may not be all the way there yet – you may not be perfect – but what you have is a very, strong ethical foundation – a socially-conscious or environmentally-conscious foundation – that will help you get there.”
B-Corp status isn’t a tangible benefit to your business, it’s a philosophical one. It’s validation that everything you’ve been doing in the past is worth something and it’s worth carrying on. There are benefits to society and the environment too. The more businesses are willing to push forward change from a B-Corp perspective, the greater the outcome for our planet, and the societies living here.
You should never aim for B-Corp certification in order to use it as a marketing tool – but inevitably being certified brings some marketing benefits. As B-Corp certification gets built into the communications strategy for the business, it will undoubtedly reach a new values-driven audience, directly or indirectly. The ‘win win’ here is that values-based consumers are looking for brands that reflect their own values and brands are looking for consumers who believe in what they do… B-Corp becomes an enabler for that conversation to happen.
I had a call from a friend of mine who works for a financial services and law firm. I hadn’t spoken to him for ten years, but he saw our news on LinkedIn and reached out for a chat. I felt a bit like Tom Kay, saying to him, “If you feel like you’re quite close…” He started to talk about the way their business was set up, and their values… the way they were doing profit share and the way they were running philanthropic initiatives and pro bono stuff. And I thought ‘absolutely, go for it. You’re exactly the type of business that should be going through this process.’
6. Lessons learnt
One of the things that we learnt was that, while we had a lot of this philosophy stored up here amongst a few of us, it wasn’t always evident to our wider business. We have a team of 100 people, and do these surveys every year, so how are we doing on communication? What’s the staff satisfaction like? We used to get badgered to do more communication and we’d try these different methods and it didn’t ever really cut through. What it told us was sometimes we were leading from a position that wasn’t completely shared through the business. Sometimes we’d talk about things externally before we talked about it internally, so you’d get that, ‘Hey, I’ve worked here ten years and I’ve just read something in the paper that I didn’t know.”
The other thing we realised was that we talked about being values-led and evidence-based. And we realised there was nowhere on paper that our company values existed. So we felt like we had them, and then had to go through that process of weeks spent trying to write them down, defining them, sharing them and rationalising them.
7. Work continues
I think a lot of people see it as a rubber stamp. I’ve seen businesses that have been B-Corp certified and then done nothing for three years, and then not resubmitted. But they still use the badge in their marketing saying they’re a B-Corp. For us, it’s about keeping it live and keeping it current. We’re always referring back to this working document that we’ve created, that is the road to 100, or 150 points.
We’ve just commissioned a feasibility study with an independent energy consultancy firm that’s looking at 13 different renewable technologies that we could apply. And we’re also looking at things that benefit the whole island as well – not just for our benefit. I think it’s really important point that you don’t necessarily do these things to get a competitive advantage, you do these things because you think it’s the right thing to do. And if you can capitalise on them, and seek a benefit for your industry colleagues or for the community, then that’s to everybody’s benefit.
Sustainability hasn’t always meant environmental sustainability to us. Often it’s meant community sustainability. How do you sustain the economic side of the island that has fallen by the wayside for a host of reasons? And I think that moral compass has always been there. The B-Corp thing really helps because it helps us go, “Hey guys, remember we’re a B-Corp. We’ve got to do this,” or “We’ve set ourselves this target”, or “These are points that we’ve got to play for”. It gets us focused on things.