Our Journey as a Certified B Corp - Q&A with Chloe Van Dyke
In March 2021 Chia Sisters became a certified B Corporation, demonstrating that our business meets high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. While ethical decision making has always been in our DNA at Chia Sisters, the B Corp framework supports us to keep doing better. We caught up with Chloe, our Chia Sisters co-founder, to share more about our journey as a certified B Corp and why it’s unlike any other certification.
Why did Chia Sisters choose to go through the B Corp Certification process?
When I started Chia Sisters I always had this idea of having a business that does things well at every step and in every decision that’s made. At the beginning most people would suggest giving 5 cents per bottle to a charity and then to base our brand around that activity. Which is a lovely thing to do, but I thought surely this shouldn’t just be about one thing. It must be something you spread across everything you do. You must have that integrity at every step of the way and be continually learning, advancing, and getting better.
I didn’t know about B Corp at the time, so I started to create an ethical framework within Chia Sisters to see how we can be both ethical and still be profitable and grow accordingly.
As we grew, I heard people talk about B Corp and the certification process. I had always been unsure about certification processes in general. I wasn’t interested in acquiring a new certification logo or ticking boxes. I wanted something where we would learn and understand what we could be doing better.
I then looked through the free B Corp online assessment and was blown away by the fact it was an ethical framework - something I was trying to evolve all by myself and it already existed! There is a lot of thought and care that goes into the different questions. It’s not perfect, it’s still evolving because ethics continually evolve according to the environment. Once I realised it was just what we needed, I jumped right on board and have learned a lot through the process.
"I had always been unsure about certification processes in general. I wasn’t interested in acquiring a new certification logo or ticking boxes. I wanted something where we would learn and understand what we could be doing better."
What was the biggest challenge you faced when going through the process?
I was really impressed by the level of thought that had gone into the B Corp process. There were a lot of questions in there that I had never thought about before (and I had thought about lots of things quite a lot). So, it wasn’t really a challenge, more of an ‘aha’ moment.
What are some of the key lessons learned from going through the B Corp Certification process?
Some of the B Corp framework is based on the written documents you have in place, such as an employee handbook or an impact report. While at first I was put off by all the documentation I now realise it is not good enough to hold this information only in your head. The documentation allows for processes that ensure the continuity and regularity of the framework, along with transparency for stakeholders such as employees, suppliers and customers.
There was a question asking whether we cover employees names and addresses prior to interviewing to remove any unconscious bias. I hadn’t thought of that before. We all have unconscious bias even if we don’t think we do – so that was an important learning.
B Corps create a legally binding constitution that ensures the longevity of the ethical framework they have created; if there is a change of management, if investors come on board, or if the business is sold it must continue to operate in a way that prioritises social and environmental good alongside profit. This is to overcome the dilemma that businesses are required by law to always operate in the best interest of its shareholders, which is often translated to what will make the most profit for shareholders even at the expense of social and environmental good.
Chia Sisters was named by B Corp in the top five per cent of companies in the world for the environment. What have been some of the big enablers of the progress Chia Sisters has made?
For us it has never been about being the best, it has always been about being one of many.
Bringing our personal values into our business is where it started. Florence and I grew up with solar panels and planting trees. Our parents sold possum fur hats to save the forests, so it’s engrained in us. It was important to us that when we came to work, we didn’t need to be someone else. I think a lot of people have what they do at home, then come to work and act differently. We didn’t want that to be the case for us or our team.
Our team have always been keen to be involved and they’ve got behind initiatives and put forward ideas which have then been implemented such as composting, reusable net covers for pallets, to even using the cardboard toilet roll inners for growing vegetables in. Our community is also really encouraging this – for instance the Nelson Council has declared a climate emergency, so we have a lot of community support for businesses like ours.
What have you learned from other B Corps?
When we became a supplier for Health Post, we needed to complete a new supplier form which asked questions like are you zero carbon? Are you fair trade? Are you organic? Are you minority owned? Are you a certified B Corp? I thought that was a great way of growing awareness and the importance of ethics throughout the supply chain. It inspired our own supplier forms.
Ethique has a policy around direct trading, so again that’s around trying to understand who your grower is and what the conditions are like for them. This is something I’d really like to get better at.
Raglan Coconut Yoghurt have a cool initiative where the water they wash their tanks with goes to a local farm to water the trees. They’ve figured a way to reuse their water. I love the idea of our production facility being thoughtful in everything and water is an important aspect that can often be forgotten in New Zealand!
What are some things Chia Sisters are looking to do better at?
I would love to continue to improve on what good business means. There are a lot of things we could be doing better at, for example, we’re still in a single use bottle – I think the world needs to move towards a circular model.
We have great relationships with our suppliers in New Zealand but getting to know who is growing our ingredients from overseas is important.
More collaboration! Sharing ideas and resources to do better. For example, if we were to establish a system to reuse bottles, we could work with other local businesses and beverage companies so they can do the same.
Continuing to improve our energy efficiency throughout the production process.
One piece of advice for businesses starting out their B Corp journey…
Use the B Corp platform as an opportunity to do good holistically in all areas of your business. I think from that, you will enjoy your work a little bit more and those around you will too. Don’t use it as an avenue for ticking what you’ve done, but as a tool to see what more you can do.
"Use the B Corp platform as an opportunity to do good holistically in all areas of your business. I think from that, you will enjoy your work a little bit more and those around you will too."