Coalition, Covid & Collaboration – 3 ways in which B Corp put our values to the test

Julian Bambridge, CEO of MPM Products can you briefly set the scene for us?

For anyone not immediately familiar with our name, MPM Products is the company behind the brands in premium, natural pet food and a newly minted B Corp, set up by people who believe that what we feed our pets really matters. Fast forward through nearly 20 years of sustained double-digit year-on-year growth and we now have operations on 4 continents and customers in 49 markets worldwide. We were also bought by 3i – the original and still one of the most highly regarded UK private equity firms.

A moment for smugness?

Well, if were tempted, even for the briefest minute, the process of B Corp certification, comparison with pioneers in our industry and the struggles of Covid have ensured that we stay humble.

What made you want to be a B Corp?

We finally decided to go for B Corp certification in 2019 after a period of evaluation when Mark Cuddigan, CEO of Ella’s Kitchen and a Board member of B Corp UK nudged us on the benefits from the perspective of another international firm of a similar size.

We assembled a task force internally – people with knowledge of the business and our supply chain who would be able to capture data effectively. But we also needed a team with strong connections to the culture and the people in the business. B Corp isn’t just about operations, it’s also about attitude and behaviour and we needed to be able to tap into that too.

Where does industry collaboration feature?

As the process got underway, we were introduced by B Lab to the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) which has its own version of B Corp’s business impact assessment tool (BIA). This sector specific initiative is a powerful driver of pre-competitive collaboration in levelling up the sustainability standards of a sector through knowledge sharing.

As we compared our BIA scores against other companies outside of our own sector, it made us realise that we could learn a lot from them. We saw that in many ways that we are really just at the start of our journey.

Unlike PSC, which is really focused on product level sustainability, B Corp made us look at the underlying company – not only the brands and their reputation, but how we treat our people and our suppliers, as well as our customers.

What has changed most as a result of the B Corp certification process?

The Workers section of the BIA made us think much harder about people – how we train and develop them, how we get the best from everyone through better diversity and inclusion practices and how we ensure people feel connected to the work we do in the community and more fulfilled as a result- everyone gets an annual paid volunteering day and we also match the value of individual fund raising to reinforce how important it is to us to support animal charities.

Covid created a big focus on health and wellbeing which we’ve translated into some positive initiatives including a mental health programme, a bike to work scheme and fitness facilities on site. We’ve also looked at the accessibility of our buildings to remove any barriers for differently abled colleagues and visitors. We now have dedicated spaces for prayer and for breast feeding mums and an improved maternity policy. Like many others, we have embraced agile working, supported by investment into leadership development, coaching & feedback skills.

On the hiring front we now use blind CV interviewing without applicant names which negates any unconscious bias based on gender, age or ethnicity. We are also now consciously hiring for values and taking steps to understand how our suppliers fairly compensate their workers. We are finding that these initiatives along with gender pay gap analysis and gender role stereotyping are helping to promote positive engagement among the team.

What about waste, the environment and society?

Naturally product and packaging also came under scrutiny, as one of our continued goals is to minimise any level of negative impact we have on the environment. We focused on our Encore product packaging first, hitting 87% in terms of the amount that can be recycled. Those learnings are already being rolled out across the rest of the brand portfolio.

We screen every one of our suppliers for good environmental practices and we have started to measure the food miles and carbon intensity of our product. While we figure out how to bring our carbon emissions down as much as possible, we are removing CO2 through our support for the Nicaforest High Impact Reforestation program – a nature-based solution that also supports biodiversity and local people. We already use 100% renewable energy and we are encouraging the transition to electric vehicles by offering colleagues free vehicle charging points at work.

Thinking about our role in society and relationships with suppliers helped us focus on balancing impacts for our broader stakeholders:

  • We have given away 250,000 pet meals to help people under financial pressure during COVID

We have 12 major suppliers who we are supporting as much as we can, for example by sharing resources that helped us measure our carbon footprint.

How long did it take you to certify?

We started the process of certification in summer 2020 and completed it a year later despite everything Covid threw at us. We learned that we were already doing huge amounts of positive work which simply was not being tracked or monitored. Improving social and environmental impacts needs to have dedicated time, resource and buy in from the whole team. We quickly realised this could not be done alongside our regular work, so we found additional resources to help.
Our values Transparency, Simplicity, Responsibility have long been part of the energy that helped us grow the business to where it is now. We use them as our compass points, guiding how we communicate with our customers, informing how we act towards suppliers and other stakeholders, in good times and also when we are under pressure.

Now that we are a B Corp, we have formally committed to balancing the interests of all of our stakeholders. Like every other company in the movement, we have changed our articles of association to underpin this commitment at Board level.

What’s next?

It’s been an extraordinary 18 months and while we wouldn’t repeat it, it has made us surer of our purpose, values and resilience. We are committed to be better as we dig in for the next push, improving our score, getting ready to recertify in just under 3 years. Along the way, with their help and encouragement, we hope to bring a few of the other companies in the 3i portfolio along with us.