I first learned about B Corporations (B Corps) in June 2007 as a delegate at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) international conference in Berkeley, CA. Up on stage stood the founding B Corp members including some of the grandparents of green business. Guys like Jeffrey Hollender of Seventh Generation, Jeff Mendelsohn of New Leaf Paper, Jason Salfi of Comet Skateboards and Peter Strugatz of Icestone, people there from the beginning figuring what it means and how what how to run sustainable businesses. So why did all these deep green businesses commit to joining, and creating for that matter, the B Corp community? I argue that it’s a way to support fundamental changes in how business is run. Beyond the financial bottom line, successful businesses also add value in the communities in which they operate, empower their employees and constantly find ways to be innovative with materials and processes, making them more efficient while also limiting their impact on the environment. That’s why I became interested in business and see how it can be competitive advantage.
What makes a business green?
Green claims are easy to make. All a company needs to do is source some organic baby clothing and a BPA free sippy cup to claim they’re a green gift basket business. How are consumers able to know who to trust? 3rd party certifications are a solid start as they put the onus on professionals to follow up and audit companies to verify their claims and hold them to a meaningful set of standards. B Corporations are evaluated on 5 key areas including accountability, employees, consumers, community and environment. Certified B Corps need to meet minimum standards in multiple categories, thus if a company only sources eco friendly promotional products they’re not eligible for certification. An advisory committee of the leading sustainable business minds, the leaders of the most successful green businesses, continually revise what it means to be green and raise the bar as we continue to improve. Although the survey is self administered, B Corp staff review and go over the survey with applicants to ensure that questions were answered properly. In addition, companies are required to submit documents and data that substantiate their claims. Click here to see how we did!
Audited sustainability claims
Every year B Corp audits 20% of their certified companies to verify the claims they’ve submitted in their surveys. This assurance is important as it creates meaning to the certification. It means something to be a B Corp and sets us apart from greenwashers in the marketplace. B Corps are audited every year to ensure that standard remains meaningful and also give us the opportunity to review our policies and processes to find ways to improve.
All businesses are different
Depending on the type and size of your business, you complete a different B Corp Assessment Survey. This better allows one to see how they actually compare to other similar businesses and give consumers the ability to compare apples to apples. It also doesn’t overwhelm small business owners with factors not relevant to them. As we’re developing LoCo BC, a business network in Vancouver that promotes the benefits of local purchasing and sustainable business to local SMEs, we’ve been finding it valuable to look at the B Corp model for how we define our membership criteria. The goal is to engage businesses where they’re at and help them move toward sustainability, not exclude and sit pretty while we sit back and congratulate each other on how great we are.
Corporate DNA, culture and capitalization
B Corp requires one to make changes to the corporate charter that imbed social, community and environmental responsibility. This means that directors of the corporation must consider these factors when making decisions and acting for the company. A corporate charter is a document that binds Directors to the Shareholders, and ensures that the Directors will act with the shareholders best interest in mind. It may seem minor but it’s a big change in the game and affects how businesses grow and capitalize. Most businesses need to grow to succeed and reach the size they need to be to be optimally profitable. Although its yet to be proven, as B Corps raise money to grow their businesses they should attract investors that view sustainability as a competitive advantage. We found that becoming a B Corp gave us the opportunity to document not only the work we’re doing but the mission, vision, and values in what we do and how we do it. By creating an office manual that includes this we’re taking steps to building sustainability into our corporate culture.
What do you think?
What makes a business socially and environmentally responsible? Do you believe a businesses green claims? In what ways do you want to learn about what businesses are doing in the sustainability space? What do you think about our business? Is there anything we could do better? Do you find anything we do misleading? Let us know what you think, we’re always looking for ways to improve.