Infarm’s B Corp journey
Author: Sudhanshu Sarronwala, Chief Impact Officer at Infarm
It was during the latter part of my decade with an international environmental organization that I started to feel that something was missing at a systemic level in how sustainability was approached by corporations. Having had the opportunity to understand several companies' sustainability journeys and recognising the bespoke, environmental nature of the efforts, it always felt somewhat ad hoc from a process point of view.
There weren't any outstanding, acceptable holistic standards to make these journeys more standardised and well-rounded and, at the same time, more comprehensible to employees. I believed a clear and solid framework to guide companies in their journeys would be of significant value. Especially in a world of fast-depleting natural resources and social challenges.
I can't pinpoint the exact date I first heard about B Lab and B Corp Certification.
That day, everything changed for me.
There indeed was a system: a reliable method to help companies undertake their sustainability journeys. Holistically. To truly become a force for good. To define their purpose. All through an open-source tool called the B Impact Assessment.
B Lab, the institution behind the B Corp Certification, and I quote, 'is a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 to pave the way towards a more inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy'. It created the rigorous methodology for certifying qualified companies as 'B Corporations': companies that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
My global search (starting with B Lab in the US and across Europe) led me to B Lab Switzerland, literally an hour down the autoroute from where I lived! In minutes I was registered to train as a B Leader.
In one of the early calls, as I discussed a role with Infarm, I mentioned this to Erez Galonska, Infarm's CEO and Co-Founder – someone already interested in B Corp Certification. In inimitable style and speed, he asked if I would take Infarm through the certification process. It was a no-brainer for me to accept, but not without fear of the unknown.
Off to a running start
I joined Infarm and trained as a B Leader in late 2020 and subsequently introduced the process of becoming a B Corp-certified company to the heads of the different departments at the beginning of 2021. When we kicked it off in January 2021, we had yet to learn how deep it would go and how rigorous it would be. They are objective, detailed to a fault and strongly adhere to their well-thought-through benchmarked standards. Respect.
There are two clear phases in the process. The first is the submission and the demonstration of commitment to becoming a B Corp-certified company. The second is to go through verification by the analysts at B Lab to earn certification.
But before we could even submit, we had to put some fundamentals in place. For example, it is likely that even though a company is essentially operating sustainably, it lacks the proper documentation or an efficient system to monitor itself to ensure that it will remain sustainable over time.
At Infarm, for example, even before we started the process, we already had an advanced irrigation system, which allowed us to use 95% less water than conventional open-field farming. In addition, our R&D was working on making the system even more efficient. However, we didn't have very strict targets and specific goals for the future. So we had to set measurable targets across all the departments and implement them in the teams' Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).
From January to June 2021, we engaged with the leadership level of the company. We not only asked questions and collected data but also outlined how the process could benefit the company and their division with guided changes that we agreed on. As a result of this consultation and engagement, we came up with 46 recommendations. This sometimes slow, incremental journey took us six months.
All this before we had even submitted our intent and application to B Lab!
The long and winding road
All in all, we engaged with more than 20 departments in the company, from sales, finance and legal to energy, hardware and water. All the while establishing agreed on ways by which the company could genuinely become a force for good.
That was the North Star that guided us throughout the process.
Half of the 46 recommendations were implemented before the submission took place in July 2021 – the others continued to be implemented even after the submission, recognising that these changes would not impact our certification journey but continue to make us a better company.
We then settled down for the crucial Verification stage. As it turned out, we had to wait seven months until we heard back from B Lab. While the wait was challenging in that we lost some internal momentum, it was also a great testimony to the growing movement and the number of companies seeking to be a force for good. As the movement has grown rapidly, the market demand has simply outstripped the B Lab capacity which continues to be built up.
The Verification stage was a 3-month long, focused, intense and powerful audit of the company's systems and submitted data. As I mentioned above, the assigned analyst was meticulous, principle-driven and thorough, provided regular constructive input and never made exceptions, which further cemented our faith in the process.
When the finish line is only the beginning…
At the end of this two-year process, during which we invested hundreds of people-hours and submitted over a hundred documents, Infarm was certified as a B Corp company.
The B Corp Certification is a tremendous achievement for the company, in fact, for any company. However, this is only the beginning. We now have another 50+ recommendations we need to implement and many business systems we need to improve and put in place to become an even better company and get recertified in 2025.
The journey so far has been extremely difficult. But so is running a business that creates a positive impact on people and the planet. If it were easy, we would not have had to deal with an environmental crisis! I want to personally thank all the team members across the company who have been involved up until now and will continue to be going forward as well - this is truly reflective of their commitment to a sustainable future.
Importantly, while the past few months have been challenging for the company and the industry at large, driven in large part by the energy crisis in Europe, it is important to remember the need to operate sustainably and not lose that focus. B Corp helps us to do that.
There are now an increasing number of B Corp-certified vertical farming companies, and I firmly hope this becomes a de facto standard for our sector.