There is a rising tide of companies taking a profit-with-purpose approach to the next level.
Certified B corporations, commonly referred to as “B Corps,” redefine what success means for business. These for-profit companies are certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
You can think of it like this: B Corp is to business what Fair Trade is to coffee. If you’re less than familiar with the B Corps mission, take a minute to watch this short and inspiring video.
In the span of just 10 years, the community of certified B Corps has grown to include over 1,700 companies from more than 50 countries and 130 industries. And this progressive way of doing business is having a ripple effect.
In a recent interview, B Lab co-founder Jay Cohen Gilbert explained how Greyston Bakery, which hires ex-offenders to make the brownies that go into Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, initiated a cascade of interest in B Corps. “Greyston bakery became a B Corp”, said Gilbert, “which inspired Ben & Jerry’s to become a B Corp, which then got Paul Polman [chairman of Unilever] on board."
In addition to Ben & Jerry’s, the B Corp community also includes other trailblazing companies like Patagonia, Etsy, Warby Parker, and KickStarter.
To B or Not to B
There are many reasons for a company to become a certified B Corp. Potential benefits include everything from networking and trading opportunities with other B Corps to recruiting and retaining top talent to attracting investors. There is also evidence that socially and environmentally responsible companies – the cornerstone of being a B – outperform their counterparts over the long-term.
But make no mistake: becoming a certified B Corp isn’t something that happens overnight. To attain the coveted B Corp status, companies genuinely have to walk the talk. The certification process measures hundreds of data points related to ethical performance, using environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and good governance criteria. Detailed documentation is required to ensure the accuracy and credibility of claims. Depending on how your company operates (e.g., its history, investors, business plan, mission, and culture), as well as the nature of your industry, certification may or may not be feasible for you.
While the majority of certified B Corps are small and medium-sized companies, a growing number of multinational corporations – such as Unilever – have expressed interest in joining the B Corps movement. Earning B Corp certification status can be challenging for larger companies, particularly publicly held ones, due to a number of systemic, institutional, and practical barriers.
In an effort to address this issue and create a certification process that is more meaningful and manageable for companies of all sizes, B Lab recently announced that it is establishing a Multinationals and Public Markets (MPM) Advisory Council. The hope is that this group will help the B Corp movement scale and have a larger impact.
Full Speed Ahead
According to a new report by the Natural Marketing Institute, “Sustainability is not a trend, it is becoming a cultural shift. All organizations, therefore, will need to realize that sustainability is not just a desired activity, but a necessary strategy.”
As consumers become increasingly adept at putting their purchasing dollars where their values are, the community of B Corps will continue to grow.
That said, we have a long way to go on the path of “business as a force for good.” There are still many skeptics who believe profit should remain the guiding force behind any business. But profit versus purpose is a false tradeoff: it’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and.
Fortunately, there are no signs that the B Corp movement is slowing down or turning back. With more and more companies joining, the purpose-driven business model just might one day become the new normal. Here at Sustrana, we are proud to be part of this movement. Let’s keep the momentum going.
What You Can Do
Ready to join the B Corp movement? Fantastic. Even if your company is not willing or able to become a B Corp, you can help support the B Corps movement by purchasing products with the B Corps label, spreading the word through social media, recruiting another company to become a B Corp, or taking the B Impact Assessment to see how you can improve.
Looking to boost your B Corp score? Sustrana’s online sustainability management system is filled with ideas for how to execute a sustainability strategy. Sign up for a free webinar to learn how we can help you on the path to becoming a certified B.