New Zealand infant-formula maker Synlait Milk is the latest food sector business to seek B Corp certification.

It lodged its first submission in the certification process in January and hopes to be certified by July.

B Corp certification takes into account all stakeholders, rather than holding as pre-eminent the return to a company’s shareholders. 

The B Corp movement has grown substantially since its launch in the US in 2007 and now claims a foothold in some 150 countries. Food manufacturers have found themselves drawn to the B Corp ideals of sustainable and transparent business practice. 

There are understood to be 16 certified B Corporations in New Zealand, with most being small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Synlait is aiming to be the first large scale, NZX-listed business to join the cohort.

Outlining its thinking, a Synlait spokesperson told just-food: “B Corp certification would provide us with third-party recognition of our sustainability performance and therefore add credibility to our sustainability strategy. It would testify that our purpose, Doing Milk Differently for a Healthier World, is a real journey backed by tangible actions towards sustainability.

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“B Corp is a business community we want to be part of.”

The spokesperson said Synlait adheres to B Corp’s commitment to transparency. “We believe it is essential to inform our stakeholders of our sustainability performance and to show how and where we achieve progress over time,” she said.

Collaborating with other “like-minded, purpose-driven companies, [which] will inevitably lead to the creation of new business opportunities,” is another reason for going down this route. 

One of Synlait’s major clients, French dairy giant Danone, which has embarked on the B Corp certification of its subsidiaries around the world, has offered its support “throughout our sustainability journey”.

Synlait said the main challenge to gaining B Corp certification is time.

“The entire company, including our senior leadership team, are willing to make significant changes in our operations in favour of sustainability, but these significant changes cannot be made in just one day,” the spokesperson said.

“Sometimes we are hindered in our progress by external constraints, such as the availability of more sustainable supply; sometimes projects are lengthy simply because they are complex and involve multiple stakeholders. We must accept the fact that sustainability has its own pace, despite our desire to act quickly.”

By way of an example of “external restraints”, Synlait pointed to the difficulty it is having in finding sufficient supply of biomass to co-fire its boilers at its Dunsandel facility.

“We’re also looking at reinventing aspects of the farm system and many parties are required to make that happen – farmers, scientists, government, engineers etc. It takes time to gather views, create solutions and to test and develop those solutions,” it added.

just-food deep dive: Why should food companies consider becoming B Corp?