Ion Beam Applications (IBA), a world leader in particle accelerator technology, is active in4 domains: proton therapy, radiopharmaceuticals, sterilisation and dosimetry. In 2021 it was awarded B corp certification, becoming part of a global movement to transform businesses and contribute to a more sustainable and inclusive economy and society.
A passion for ecosystem regeneration
It’s an open secret: every year in early June, at his home in Grez-Doiceau, Olivier Legrain opens his garden to the public. His passion is to showcase the power of nature. He and his wife have planted 5,000 trees based on the Miyawaki technique to restore forests, and have created a permaculture orchard. Legrain aspires to build a community, from farmers to scientists; there is even a dedicated artists’ retreat in the making.
IBA was created in 1986 in Louvain-la-Neuve, where its founder, Yves Jongen, had studied. He wanted to give back to his region the support he had received during his studies and at the beginning of his career. IBA’s core business was in the medical field, and it was looking to offer great careers to its engineers. And because it was locally based, employee health and welfare were part of IBA’s genetic makeup.
When Olivier Legrain became CEO in 2000, he pursued IBA’s values. In 2018, he heard about B Corporation certification, a benchmarking framework to measure companies’ performance in 5 dimensions other than financial, i.e., involving stakeholders other than investors, such as clients and employees, and concern for the environment, the community and society at large.
The first step in the process involves answering more than 200 questions on the company’s performance in those 5 dimensions. The certification threshold is 80 points. “IBA’s estimated score was 90. We therefore thought it was worth pursuing”, Legrain remembers. It took IBA a year to complete the certification process through documentation and interviews.
A constant process
IBA is the first company in Europe to be B Corp certified after being listed. Its statutes now include a sustainability goal, a condition required by B Corp certification: “a significant positive impact on all of its stakeholders, in particular patients, shareholders, employees, customers, society and the planet.”
It’s a constant process, since certification has to be reviewed every 3 years. Legrain’s goal is to go well beyond the score of 90 in 3 years’ time. “It’s realistic but nevertheless ambitious.”
A competition with yourself
Thanks to the audit process, he is clear where he needs to act. IBA will implement no fewer than 75 initiatives across all its activities. “We’ll start with monitoring our energy consumption across the board to become low-carbon, low-water, low-waste, and also at product level. Our supply chain has great potential: our suppliers will evolve with us”, Legrain says.
However, the 3-year journey has a global cost of around 1 million euro for a company the size of IBA, which is active worldwide. Is it worth it, financially? Legrain, backed by his board and the shareholders’ assembly, has no doubts: “We know that we have to pursue the path to sustainability. It allows for better risk anticipation and it’s clearly a growing trend in the financial sector that also attracts talented people. There’s a momentum. You just can’t ignore it.”
“We realise that the score of 90 is well below our potential. It’s more a competition with yourself than with others”, Legrain concludes.
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Copyright photo O Legrain: © courtesy of IBA