Adventurous and passionate are the first words that come to mind when describing the jeweller Shakti Ellenwood. An intrepid traveller in the early 1990s, her adventures included riding a classic Royal Enfield motorcycle on the busy roads of Mumbai, training as a goldsmith in San Francisco after meeting an inspiring Israeli goldsmith while sick in India, and opening her own boutique as soon as she set foot back in her native England. And here she is now, handcrafting precious one-of-a-kind jewels from her welcoming boutique in Devon.
Shakti is inexhaustible when talking about the spirituality of Native American Indians, the romanticism of the Victorian era or other cultures and times that have provided the inspiration for her creations. She is indefatigable when describing the intricacy of her jewels and her love for her work. She is also bubbling with excitement and enthusiasm when she explains her latest adventure: becoming a certified B-Corp member.
Shakti says: “As an ethical company, I was keen to become a B-Corp for several years. It was on my to-do list but was getting lower and lower down. Last year, while I was speaking with fellow members of Fair Luxury, an independent British collective of jewellery industry changemakers, I made a pledge to become more ethical. Suddenly, the idea of B-Corp came back up again.” She embarked on the year-long process that led her to become one of the first B-Corp certified jewellery companies in the UK.
But what is B-Corp? B-Corp is a movement launched in 2006 by business associates and longtime friends Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan and Andrew Kassoy, after they sold their American footwear and clothing company, AND 1. The trio had already made clear their ethical values by offering benefits to their employees, from a basketball court at the office to on-site yoga classes and donating 5% of their profits to local youth charities. When they saw the new owner drop all these good practices, however, it inspired them to embark on their next challenge: the creation of B-Lab, a nonprofit organisation that measures the long-term social and environmental footprint of private companies through a certification named B-Corp. The idea behind the certification is that it guarantees that companies meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. By becoming a verified B-Corp, your organisation commits to having a positive impact on all stakeholders – workers, communities, customers, and our planet.
When speaking to Shakti, she explains that her small business has been very sustainable from the early days. She was always very sensitive to environmental issues and switched to using certified Fairtrade gold in 2015. She told me that 100% of her gold and 70% of her gemstones were traceable at the start of the B-Corp certification process last year and that she is working towards achieving 100% in both categories. In 2011, Shakti also set up a giving-back project to help different causes and, when she started the B-Corp assessment, she doubled her donations from 1% to 2% of her turnover. She says: “It’s a lot of money, but I feel like it’s the right thing to do. It is a positive force.” There were numerous calls with the environmental consultant she hired to help, many documents and proofs to send to the B-Lab’s assessment team. It took a year and a lot of time and energy. But she passed in the end. She was granted a mark of 113.7, the highest score in the UK so far for a jewelry business.
When asked if she would do it again, she confirms that she would gladly do so – and will have to as she aims to keep her “B” after it expires in three years’ time. It was a real challenge, but she says: “B-Corp gave me a structure to assess every aspect of my business. It made me consider things that I had never thought of looking at before.”
Listening to Shakti describe her long and complex experience to get certified, it seems that the company’s motivations to join the B-Corp movement must be deeply rooted in the companies’ intrinsic ethical values, far from any PR or communication objectives, to succeed. Who could survive such a painful process unless they believed that those changes were deeply needed? Because, as stated on B-Lab’s website, there is no planet B.
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