Being a B Corp Restaurant Isn’t Easy, But to Hawksmoor, It’s Entirely Worth It

“We’ve always been quite sustainable,” says Ellie Besley-Gould, Head of Purpose of Hawksmoor restaurant group, the buzzy British brand specializing in steak since 2006. Despite over a decade of accolades including Best Companies and sustainability assessments, Hawksmoor’s founders Huw Gott and Will Beckett aimed for something higher, and set their sights on becoming a certified B Corporation. “What we wanted was something that really put us through our paces,” Besley-Gould continued. “There’s no faking it with B Corp. They prove that you are the best employer with the most sustainable systems, but not just within our sector, but across every industry. But my goodness, it’s a long headache-ey process.” 

Hawksmoor’s status as a steak-focused restaurant with B Corp certification comes at an interesting moment. You could argue that we are at the height of certification; think of the grocery store aisle where packaged foods are covered with words and symbols that represent some vague seal of health or sustainability — but it’s hard to know what they are and what they mean. Also, largely due to the instability of the economy and the effects of Covid, the public has never been more well-versed in the intricacies of the restaurant industry and what makes restaurants unique as a business. So, how can an opulent steakhouse with 10 large restaurants across the UK and in New York City be certified to help save the plant and the economy? 

What is a B Corp?
In Fall of 2022 Hawksmoor became the newest restaurant to be a certified B Corp, an accolade introduced by B Lab, a nonprofit working to harness the power of businesses to work towards a more sustainable and equitable economy. “B Lab became known for certifying B Corporations, which are companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency,” according to the B Lab website. “We do much more than that. We’re building the B Corp movement to change our economic system — and to do so, we must change the rules of the game.” 

How B Corp Certification Could Help Build a Better Restaurant Culture
B Lab's stated goal of addressing the “structural underpinnings of capitalism” starts at the business level. Their B Corp certification can take up to years to achieve and carefully inspects each business with a range of criteria. Historically B Corp certification was achieved by scoring at least an 80 on the B Lab assessment, a multi-step vetting process that is tailored to the size of a company and its revenue. The process begins with a B Impact Assessment that rates the business’ performance on issues including employee experience, environmental sustainability, engagement with community, and more, and continues with a series of evaluations conducted by B Lab analysts to verify the data submitted in the B Impact Assessment. Businesses submit documents backing up each of their claims and begin a back-and-forth dialogue with B Lab to assess every aspect of the business and learn where they can improve. Certification lasts three years and has to be re-upped with noted progress on set goals from the last assessment. B Lab continues to alter their B Corp performance reviews to stay up to date with the most pressing issues that define leadership. 

“I was handed a gift in Hawksmoor’s application,” says Besley-Gould, who ran point on Hawksmoor’s B Corp certification process. The company applied with B Lab soon after she joined in 2021, but had been working to achieve B Corp-worthy business practices for years. “Hawksmoor scored well above 80 the first time we submitted the assessment. Most other companies I’ve worked with in the past came in at 30 or 40 and were then given a roadmap to get the correct marks.” 

Assessment is just the start
Hawksmoor’s high initial score was reassuring, but they still had work to do. The very same day Hawksmoor got certified, they also received a report of improvement on what needed to change in the next three years to maintain their status. “They told us ‘you’re doing well, but this is where you can get better,’ and it really forced us to address what we needed to focus on.” 

Though Hawksmoor’s road to B Corp certification was relatively seamless, it was because the restaurant group’s work had been intentional from the start. “Hawksmoor has always been about more than the bottom line,” says co-founder Huw Gott. “16 years ago, we set out to start a restaurant and a business we could be proud of, doing things with integrity and having a positive impact.” 

Two West Coast Wineries Named 'Best for the World' for Environmental Efforts
Gott and Beckett have always kept their mission at the core of decision making, and often the careful choices paid off when it came to profits. They’ve made changes like swapping the whole company to more environmentally-friendly LED lighting, an expensive switch that quickly paid for itself with rising energy costs. Creating a healthy workplace for all staff — whether that be in the kitchen, on the restaurant floors, or in the office — with generous benefits, paid time off, and career development has helped Hawksmoor maintain their workforce and prevent costs on recruitment. 

The meat of the matter
And of course, sustainably sourcing meat. “Beef is at the center of what we do,” says Melanie Greenblatt, Hawksmoor NYC’s Head of Marketing. Before opening their newest NYC location, the Hawksmoor team visited countless cattle farms to ensure the shortest supply chain possible, achieve grass-fed beef farmed with rotational farming (a system which helps sequestered carbon in the soil), and promise a top-quality product for their diners. 

Paradoxically, Hawksmoor’s rigorous meat sourcing program, which is also at the center of their carbon neutrality goals, was a segment of the B Corp process where Besley-Gould wishes there had been more in the assessment to dive into greater detail. “You basically declare that you sell animal products during the Disclosure stage of certification. I’d love to introduce a question about regenerative farming or methods.” The environmental section of the assessment requires detailed data on energy management systems, energy use, water use, waste, and how businesses offset carbon emissions—and work to reduce emissions in the first place, but leaves little room for restaurant-specific data like the story behind certain ingredient sourcing. 

Restaurants, though, have a notoriously challenging business model to maintain, and that's become more difficult in recent years. There’s no restaurant-specific B Corp certification, and despite unique vulnerabilities, they are judged with the same assessment as any other business. There are few restaurants like Hawksmoor that have the tenure, infrastructure, know-how, staffing, and economic backing to take on a project like B Corp certification. When it comes to purchasing offsets for carbon emissions, making important yet often expensive sustainability decisions, and building in more holistic staffing, most restaurants don’t have the capital backing and flexibility to take the plunge. Some restaurants charge an emissions fee on each bill for every cover, but Besley-Gould explained how that was a divergence from their mission. “For me it’s not the responsibility of the individual to make up for the offset when we’re making choices about how we run our business,” she says. 

Hawksmoor is partially owned by London-based private equity company, Graphite Capital, which shares the same sustainable aspirations as the owners. This business model helps fuel projects like B Corp certification, but at the end of the day Hawkmoor’s projects come out of profits. “Some days it's just a shit fight,” says Besley-Gould. “We have to be realistic that we are running a restaurant. I know that I can't be at the pass asking chefs about energy use and food waste when they're in the middle of service.” 

Though B Corp certification helps solidify, and codify Hawksmoor’s goals and holds the restaurant accountable to maintain and improve on them, does the significance of the status translate to the general public? While Besley-Gould admits that their new B Corp certification hasn’t necessarily brought people in, it might be something they come back for. “You see B Corp and can trust it without thinking too much.” 

As more restaurants seek B Corp certification, and the general public increasingly understand what that means, it may become easier to dine out and help shape the environment and economy for the better — leading with their dollars, forks and knives toward their values. 

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