Charmian Love worked for one of the first companies in the UK to certify as a B Corp, putting purpose over profit. She was so impressed, she decided to focus on helping other companies get there too.
What inspired you to create B Lab UK?
When I first moved to the UK [from Canada] in 2008 , I co-founded a company called Volans with two amazing leaders John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan. Volans operated at the intersection of innovation, sustainability, strategy, systems change and entrepreneurship. Through all these different themes, we were looking at ways in which we could help people understand where and how they could drive change. One of the things we did in that journey of building the company was certifying as a B Corp.
“I loved the process so much that I felt we needed to get more B Corps on board”
We had been watching the B Corp movement unfolding in the US and it was really exciting because they were doing exactly what we were trying to do in the UK: showing that it’s possible to be a business, but also to have an impact and use business as a force for good.
We were one of the first companies in the UK to certify as a B Corp. I loved the process so much that I felt we needed to get more B Corps on board. But I also realised that B Corps were not going to come unless somebody created a community for them. So in 2015, together with an incredible team, we co-founded B Lab UK, and I moved on to hold roles as Chair and then Activist-in-Residence.
Today, I hold the role of Social-Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. This gives me a chance to be constantly engaging with young people who have new ideas and who are engaging with some of our contemporary issues in unique ways. I teach an MBA class on Regenerative and Circular Economy, but I always say that I’m not teaching, I’m very much a learner with the students.
About B Lab UK
B Lab UK is part of the international B Corp community, a network of businesses who are working to benefit people and the planet. Charmian Love is the co-founder of one the first B Corps in the UK. She’s also the co-founder, former chair and Activist-in-Residence of B Lab UK. Since this interview was conducted, Charmian has moved into a new role as Global Director of Advocacy at Natura & Co, the world’s biggest B Corp.
“I want to be a part of a movement of people who can look their kids in the eyes and say they did the best they could at a time when it really mattered”
What challenges did you encounter while building this community?
There was a general question of awareness. People didn’t know what the B Corp movement was because it wasn’t as active as it is today. Also, some businesses are afraid. And fear can create a sense of inertia. What we need to see are leaders that embrace a sense of courage. But one of the hallmarks of the B Corp certification is that you actually have to change your articles of association. This means that being a B Corp is deeply embedded into your legal structure. And to us, that really is what locks it in and makes it quite distinct, because it requires board members to consider these issues at the very highest level of decision-making within a business.
Will we ever reach a point where every business puts purpose above profit?
We’re going to be there faster than we can even imagine. We need to get there faster, we needed to get there yesterday. Businesses that are being proactive today, are getting ahead of the curve and shaping what that frontier is going to look like. They’re the ones that are going to survive and thrive through this transition period.
“I’m invigorated, fascinated and hopeful about what’s happening in this newly defined space”
What’s your ultimate vision for the world?
I want to be a part of a movement of people who can look their kids in the eyes and say they did the best they could at a time when it really mattered. It’s not about me. It’s about we.
In the work I do today, I’m learning about the intersectionality between business, activism and movements. I’m invigorated, fascinated and hopeful about what’s happening in this newly defined space where businesses become more activist in their approach, knowing that this is what’s needed when it comes to addressing the climate emergency.
We need to be hopeful while being moved by the urgency of this moment. As a metaphor, I’m inspired by a natural phenomenon called heliotropy. Literally meaning “to turn towards the sun”, it describes how some plants such as sunflowers follow the sun in order to grow. Just as endless fields of sunflowers all turn towards the sun as it crosses the sky, I believe that as humans we are also motivated by warmth, light and positivity. But sunflowers don’t just float into the clouds, they are deeply rooted to the ground from which they grow.
Like sunflowers, we too must remain rooted: rooted to the causes of these challenges, rooted to the science that’s telling us what to do, rooted to our communities. The Latin word for root is radix and is directly connected to the word radical – often used to describe what activists are doing. It’s about radical action and radical collaboration.
“Often it’s when things are hard or uncomfortable that you are breaking into new areas”
What advice would you give to inspire others who want to make a positive impact?
Don’t be afraid when things are hard or uncomfortable, because often it’s when things are hard or uncomfortable that you are breaking into new areas. When it comes to addressing both the growing levels of injustice and inequality in our world, and the growing climate emergency and the impacts of it, we need new thinking, new collaborations, new approaches. Work with people who are smarter than you and willing to teach you. Spend time in conversation with people from across generations. It might feel hard sometimes because it’ll feel different than what’s been done before, but that’s okay, that’s exactly what we need to do.
Who would you like to give a High 5 to and why?
I would like to give a High 5 to Kaya Axelsson. She’s a Net Zero Policy Engagement Fellow at the University of Oxford and has been a mentor to me when it comes to how to take action and engage in these interstitial spaces between business and activism. She gives me hope.
High 5 Charmian!
Charmian Love was nominated by fashion entrepreneur Genia Mineeva, read her interview here.