What We Learned About B Corps

Green Building Alliance recently gathered some friends at the super cool Beauty Shoppe in East Liberty for a panel discussion on certified B Corporations. It was a low-key evening of food, drinks, and informed discussion about this special type of business certification. What does it mean? Why should companies consider it? What can it do for employee and client satisfaction? How does it fit in the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit? Here is what we learned:

Our session opened with a virtual presentation by Kara Peck of B Labs (the organization overseeing the B Corps certification). While B Labs is located in Wayne, PA, Kara lives and works in Colorado. She explained that in the 20th century, the main goal of a company was almost always to maximize stakeholder value. These days, companies and organizations are often interested in social value as well, but until now there hasn’t been a good way to measure that.

B Labs found that while 90% of people want companies to prove their products are good, 73% of people also want to know that the companies themselves are good and that they’re making responsible decisions. However, only 1% of people actually trust what a company says about itself. Third party verification closes that gap. This brought to mind things like LEED and the Living Building Challenge, which prove that a building (i.e. a product) is designed and built in a responsible, sustainable way. The B Corps certification would balance a green building certification with a verification that the design firm, construction company, consulting firm, or otherwise was a responsible company at its core. Kara described the certification as the equivalent of LEED (or Organic or Fair Trade labels) for an entire company, not just a building (or a carton of milk or bag of coffee beans, respectively).

B corpsAccording to Kara’s presentation, B Corporations use their business as a force for good. The certification is achieved through achieving a minimum score on an Impact Assessment, a legal commitment (Kara described the legal commitment as a way to “bake the values of a company into its DNA”), and maintaining a level of transparency. The Impact Assessment measures a company’s practices around Governance, Workers, Community, and Environment. In turn, the certification provides companies a way to measure and benchmark performance, demonstrate leadership, attract and engage talent and investors, and more.

More than 1,200 companies in 34 countries have achieved the label so far, including big names like New Belgium Brewing (yum!), Ben & Jerry’s (double yum!), Patagonia, Method, Seventh Generation, Etsy, Cabot, Plum Organics, and Warby Parker. In Pittsburgh, there are four certified B Corps and we invited each of them to describe their experiences with the certification: Dan Klein from evolveEA, Jeff Shaw from SEEDS Green Printing, JoAnn Rizzo from AE Works, and Lee Kimball from Thread.

Each panelist explained why they decided to pursue the certification, what they’ve gained from it, and how it fits in with their corporate culture. Each company found that the certification was definitely worth the certification fee and the significant time and resources necessary to achieve it (in fact, they all plan on re-certifying, which is required every two years). A handful of audience members were interested in pursuing a B Corps certification for their own companies, so the information shared was incredibly useful in terms of setting expectations for the process and benefits.

All the panelists agreed that a B Corps certification just fit in with their company goals and values. This just made sense to them and made sense to their employees and clients. Looking at the list of B Corps around the world, it appears that notion is on trend. So this certification may not change the world by making corporations across the globe consider their impacts on things like employees and environment, but it certainly helps those that do gain recognition and publicity for doing so. And we think that’s a B-eautiful thing!

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