B-Corp Q&A with Managing Director, Cheryl Hadland

Back in February 2021, Tops Day Nurseries became the first UK day nursery to achieve a B-Corp Certification, and Aspire became the first UK training provider. We spoke to Cheryl Hadland, MD, to find out why she decided to pursue this award. Check out her answers below!

What factors influenced your decision to pursue certification?

“I think it’s very easy for companies to claim that they are “green” or “eco” themselves, whereas submitting your policies and procedures to an independent organisation exposes you to external scrutiny to prove that you are what you say you are.  There are a number of organisations that provide this service such as B-Corp; for example PlanetMark and ISO standard and there are some that are specific to education such as Eco Schools, Healthy Early Years, and some that are focused on specific areas of sustainability such as Plastic Free and Soil Association “Food for Life”.

“We could have decided not to be registered or certified externally, but to add a section to the annual report that we are required to produce for Companies House each year with our accounts. We have decided to do this anyway from this year onwards in addition to being certified. We are also required by law to complete an ESOS (energy use) survey every 4 years, which is a very useful survey to do for any business, and does inform where your biggest energy use is, and therefore focuses where you should be looking to reduce it, whether that’s specific buildings, vehicles, or processes for those in the manufacturing sectors.”

Why did you decide to register as a B-Corporation business?

“I looked for a standard that was doable and affordable and appropriate for us and found nothing that was perfect, they all have areas that they either don’t address, or focus too much on details that are irrelevant to us.  However, B-Corp does go further than eco sustainability and is a measure of social impact too which is something that drew me to it. I also found the free to access self-assessment tool that came with registration for B-Corp very useful, a structure that we could use to evaluate every aspect of our provision with the exception of our pedagogy.”

“A fundamental difference between B-Corp and the other accreditations is the commitment to change the legal structure of a company to commit to sustainability, something that I felt would help protect the company’s vision and mission if and when I step back or down.  Tops, Aspire and the Hadland Care Group primary mission is about creating value for the community, and for all our stakeholders, rather than the more old fashioned vision of creating value for just the shareholders through EBITDA and profit. We create value through our childcare and education, and myself and my whole team work with that goal.”

In what ways have Tops and Aspire benefited from becoming a certified B-Corp?

“We are the first day nursery group to become certified B-Corp which carries some kudos although probably more amongst people already aware of green credentials.  I feel it can attract the right type of customers to us, those who are also wanting to save the planet for their children and grandchildren and are interested in learning with us and doing what we can. It helps to have independent assessment of our sustainability to share with people, it helps people trust us in this world where green wash is so common. Results of annual questionnaires to parents and staff support our understanding that sustainability is very important to both parents and staff and therefore this certification is important evidence of our commitment in this area.”

“Other organisations stories and scores are published within B-Corp so we can read and learn from each other, which can be very helpful. Collaboration rather than competition is an important attitude, becoming B-Corp has meant joining a wider network of similar minded organisations, so there are some good business to business links to be made at all levels in the organisation.”

Describe your experience participating in the B-Corp assessment to meet the requirements of this award.

“The award was gruelling on our time. We had to relook at a lot of what we do, self assess where we are, plan to improve in some cases. This wasn’t a one person job but involved all the directors and their teams plus we formed a sustainability group to meet regularly to guide, coordinate and monitor the various action plans.”

“The scoring system is such that you can achieve B-Corp with quite a lot to do still, but it allows you to focus on the areas that are most relevant to your circumstances. Being B-Corp is being on the path to improving sustainability and we are expected to chip away at our actions into the future and to progress, which is certainly our intention, although Covid did throw a delaying spanner in the works!”

To what extent do you believe the B-Corp status can positively influence a companies reputation?

“B-Corp certification is held by around 5000 companies in 77 countries, that is a significant force for good that we are proud to be part of, and I think that as more companies join and it becomes better know, this will be good for us also.”

“Certainly there are more B-Corp companies than PlanetMark companies, which was a close second although I felt PlanetMark were rather too focused on the environment than on social or economic impact for us. The ISO standards are also a good option, again requiring rigorous reflection of all relevant policies and procedures, but again more environmental than social or economic.”

“Having B-Corp certification may help with winning government contracts and other awards, which in turn should help the companies reputation, but we shall see!  Certainly the process that we have gone through, and the improvements we have made, are supporting our reputation as a sustainable organisation.”

What sustainable plans do you have for the company in the future?

“We would like to be carbon neutral or even positive as soon as possible. We would like to invest to improve insulation on sites with older insulation, to install more efficient heating systems, for example, but this has to be balanced against the more pressing needs of colleagues currently earning low salaries due to poor government direct funding of early years education and childcare and indirectly with poor support for parents, which are both amongst the worst in the developed world. I so envy countries like Denmark and Sweden, New Zealand, and the other European countries where the whole community shares in the education and care of the youngest children knowing what a great investment this is and realising that parents need help to provide the best opportunities for the children.”

“Sustainability includes investment in people as well as the planet and financial sustainability, it is not just about the environment. Our staff groups for LGBTQ, and Men (being the minority), and our multi cultural, and mental health groups all meet regularly and bring actions to the company in order to make our environments as welcoming and inclusive of all as possible for colleagues, which in turn provides the best support for the diverse children who attend our settings.”

“We do however, plan to make more of our gardens for the children in the future, encouraging diversity (butterflies and bugs), respect for living creatures, learning to grow food to learn about this as well as supplementing children’s diets.  We have a wonderful head chef, who is working with local farmers as well as our main suppliers to provide as healthy and sustainable diet as possible, focusing on plant based and unprocessed foods, having moved to no added salt or sugar many years ago.”

Posted in: Sustainability, Company News, Going green