This year, Comvita is happy to announce that the company has been awarded B Corp certification, recognising Comvita’s decades-long commitment to social sustainability and environmental performance.
In 1974, Claude Stratford and Alan Bougen founded Comvita, New Zealand’s premier natural health and wellness company, on the principle of kaitiakitanga — living in harmony with nature. Decades ahead of their time, Stratford and Bougen wanted to leave the smallest footprint possible while producing the highest quality honey. Almost 50 years later, Comvita is the global leader in scientific and clinical research into the many benefits of Mānuka honey, as well as growing scientific knowledge on bee welfare, Mānuka trees and propolis.
In the next step of its journey, Comvita is proud to be have achieved B Corp certification, a status reserved for companies that meet the highest global standards. Certified by B Lab, B Corp certification helps raise a company’s standards by bringing in world-class structures and processes to help them address society’s critical challenges. Andrew Davies, CEO of B Lab Australia and New Zealand, describes this process as “a willingness to take on a level of performance beyond legal standards”.
Stratford and Bougen’s values form the basis of Comvita’s Harmony Plan, which sets out how Comvita can make a positive difference. The plan encompasses four focus areas: being climate action leaders, being kaitiaki (guardians) for bees, helping communities thrive and restoring balance to nature.
Comvita’s B Corp journey started in 2021 when they recognised the natural alignment between their Harmony Plan and the B Corp movement. As a large employer with a wide reach, the diversity of employees and locations challenged Comvita’s thinking around certification. Comvita has a particularly broad scope, says Davies, as its environmental impact includes “anywhere a bee might pollinate”.
Comvita’s Harmony Plan provides a framework for establishing big plans to make a better impact. Comvita’s ethos of guardianship — to leave the world in a better place — is expressed throughout the company’s operations, from day-to-day processes, like hiring locally, to big decision-making.
One hurdle was changing their constitutional focus from the needs of shareholders to those of stakeholders. Comvita’s stakeholders include investors, iwi, global employees, government, shareholders, customers, consumers, suppliers, and the communities in which they operate. In particular, they sought to assess how they might help their stakeholders thrive across the global business, not just focusing on New Zealand operations. Kirsty Dent, Comvita’s Chief People and Transformation Officer, says this achievement resulted from a company-wide effort. “The global team made it happen.”
Comvita attaining B Corp certification is well-timed as we approach Bee Aware Month in September. They have a goal to rescue 100 million bees annually by 2025. Last year they rescued 12 million bees; this year over 44 million, including rescuing bees that have swarmed and might otherwise be exterminated. This same ambition extends to packaging, with Comvita’s goal that, by 2025, all their packaging will be 100 per cent recyclable, renewable or refillable.
The year 2025, when the company celebrates their 50th anniversary, is also the year they aspire to become carbon neutral. Comvita started measuring their global carbon footprint, and having this footprint audited, in 2022. From their carbon footprint, they can be clear on the areas they need to focus on to reduce their emissions.
A big part of Comvita’s Harmony Plan and B Corp commitments involves regenerating native forest. As the largest native private forest manager in Aotearoa, Comvita has planted over 6.8 million Mānuka trees, regenerating over 5700 hectares of marginal farming land. They partnered with Save the Kiwi in 2021 to create safe habitats for native birds in their Mānuka forests.
It helps that Mānuka honey is such a fabulous product — and more than just a delicious toast-topper. Many people use Mānuka honey for aiding digestive health, daily immune support and overall general wellness. In 2023, Comvita is conducting research into gut health microflora, including a $1.3 million clinical trial involving global leaders in gastroenterology.
These projects culminate in one key message: Comvita aspires to be a world leader in environmental, social and governance impact. At Comvita, they believe that we can only be as healthy as the natural ecosystems that sustain us, as true healing power only comes from working in harmony with nature.
It’s this ambition that makes them a perfect candidate for B Corp certification, although they recognise this is a journey. The combination of the Harmony Plan and the global accreditation of B Corp will continue to challenge Comvita to make a positive difference in the world.
Related Article: Why honey bees are so important to our ecosystems