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Aligning your work to your ethics and values

How pursuing B Corp certification can help practices track "what good looks like".

24 March 2022

“Every practice always needs to be doing new business planning, looking ahead at new and potential projects,” states Judith Topley, Director at Morris+Company.

“If you go for a bid it costs money and time. So ultimately it is not worth chasing work that is not aligned with what you want to achieve.”

Measuring is key to assessing your impact

For Topley, ethical issues are practical business issues. They are all part of ensuring her practice is heading in the direction that its staff are comfortable with. Morris+Company have adopted several ways of turning its principles into formal commitments.

“In 2019 we set up a spreadsheet that directly measures project performance against practice values,” she explains. “We wanted to directly measure our internal progress on social value. It’s part of assessing new business; deciding what to do next.”

At the end of each project, it would be assessed in the spreadsheet. What social value has the project achieved? Has it brought about ecological harm? Do we want to work with that client again?

“It is a tracker for ‘what good looks like,' a way for us to define what a good project or good client really is,” she continues. “Where does potential new work score on those issues?”

While the management of that spreadsheet rests with the new business team, the practice also engages in staff feedback because they want to understand their staff’s experience with projects and clients. This feedback extends to how the practice itself did, asking questions such as "how well did we manage the wider project team?" And "how well was the project managed internally?"

“We want to foster a sense of purpose, to work on projects that align with our key values,” Topley states. “Becoming a B Corporation seemed like the next logical step.”

A growing interest in the B Corp model

B Corporation certification is increasingly popular in the UK. It can broadly be summarised by its defining slogan: business as a force for good. Companies receive verification if they meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability, and they must be able to formally evidence these.

Morris + Company are currently working towards that goal.

“We are not yet certified,” Topley explains. “We have carried out a BIA – a B Corp impact assessment, which scores a business based on 200 questions. A business must score at least 80.”

B Corporations do not have to be non-profit businesses, but they have to balance profit and purpose and make this part of their legal corporate governance structure. The US-based B Lab, which created the standard and the tools for assessment, currently lists 18 UK businesses defined as architects, including some well known names such as Bennetts Associates and Stride Treglown.

There are a number of actions, large and small, by which practices can assess their social and environmental impact. The B Corp Impact Assessment is one valuable online resource that is free to use.

“We are using it as a way of improving our practice’s impact on the wider world. Even if you had no intention of becoming B Corp certified, the Impact Assessment is an excellent tool to assess your position.”

The five pillars of impact assessment

Many businesses use it as a measurement tool: it is free to use on the B Corp website. There are five pillars:

  1. Governance
  2. Workers
  3. Community
  4. Customers
  5. Environment

We took these pillars and set our practice objectives for 2022 against them,” explains Topley.

The practice sees this as a project for the whole team and has set up working groups for finance, HR, environment, sustainability, directors, and governance.

Topley reassures practices that the B Corp community provides supportive resources. The B Corp Handbook breaks down the impact assessment into ‘quick assessments’.

“It contains prompts, suggestions and challenges, asking if you have considered a policy of X or strategy of Y. These generate ideas and set in motion trains of thought, such us carrying out more staff consultation, or employee surveys on diversity.”

Accreditations are useful business tools

Accreditation to ISO 9001 for its quality management system and ISO 14001 for its environmental management system are seen as complementary to the practice’s B Corp ambitions, as well as being useful business tools. And the practice already has Planet Mark accreditation, which recognises continuous improvement in sustainability and comes with its own methodology for strengthening environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies.

“We believe it is important to contribute to the local community. We have worked with Inspire, a Hackney-based community education enterprise who bring volunteers from business into local schools. The schoolchildren we volunteer with will be able to walk past our window and see things they have worked on, with an explanation of who we are and what they did.”

“Ultimately, it is about aligning everything we do as a practice. We sense that architects generally want to make a difference beyond the projects. People’s motivations are not just financial; that is not why you go into architecture. There is a richness there.”

Thanks to Judith Topley, Director, Morris+Company.

Text by Matt Milton and Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum topic: Architecture for social purpose

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, professional features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD core curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as a RIBA Chartered Member.

Updated 9 September 2022

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