“Don’t be evil!” “Refresh the world”. “Make a difference”. These are some examples of “purpose statements”: statements that companies, corporates and entities the world over are considering and producing to hone focus and to inspire. Usually these statements proclaim a “positive impact” such as Ford’s: “To drive human progress through freedom of movement”.
This might all seem thoroughly modern: the preserve of Harvard Business Review authors and TED talks. But are they any different, in fact, from the ancient practice of devising family mottos?
The Portman family motto is “a clean heart and a cheerful spirit” and its Estate is made up of 110 acres of prime commercial, retail and residential London property together with two rural estates (Buckinghamshire and Herefordshire).
Recently The Portman Estate achieved “B Corp Certification”: a badge earned by applicants who can show evidence of socially and environmentally responsible practices relating to energy supplies, waste and water use, treatment of employees, diversity and transparency. This was both the culmination of years of focus on sustainability and the beginning of an organised and externally measured approach. To become B Corp certified, the Estate demonstrated excellent levels of social and environmental performance, made a commitment to become accountable to all stakeholders and displayed transparency by listing its performance against B Lab™ standards publicly on the B Corp Directory.
These might leave many landowners scratching their heads. How could an estate be awarded a badge designed for companies? And separately, why would an estate be interested in such an accreditation?
Firstly: how? The process was kick-started and driven by Katie Balderson, Corporate Director, who has been at The Portman Estate since 2009 and got the project over many hurdles. Last year, Farrer & Co advised The Portman Estate on navigating B Corp’s corporate governance requirements in order to make them work for a non-corporate structure. Although the standard documents intended to facilitate the process are designed for corporates, it is possible for other entities to achieve accreditation with a bit of extra thought and effort. As a result, in September, The Portman Estate became the first estate to achieve B Corp designation (among the 5000 B Corp entities worldwide).
Secondly: why? Why would an estate voluntarily submit itself to a rigorous process of measuring and scoring? Seeking B Corp accreditation is not for everyone.
It’s also not the only way to achieve a sustainable life. Many of our clients have been looking after their employees and prioritising the environment for decades or, in some cases, centuries.
But for estates already interested in sustainability, who would appreciate bringing some rigour to their efforts and some objective goals to strive for, with an externally recognised accreditation, it might just be something to consider. Benefits of B Corp status are many: employees are proud to work for one, making recruitment easier and motivation more genuine. And importantly, the estates’ custodians can feel a sense of pride and achievement. Sustainability and ESG (Environment; Social; Governance) are often wrongly described as priorities for the “next generation”, but in our experience clients of all ages are interested: the young, old and everyone in between.
If you are interested in hearing about B Corp accreditation, do get in touch with Ali Hollingshead or India Benjamin.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, July 2023