B Corps: Going Above & Beyond

Using business as a force for good

There are some things you know are there, making your life—your world, even—a better place. You don’t see them. But you feel them. B Corporations are kind of like that, and we’re shining a spotlight on all their goodness.

As retailers of all things good for people and the planet, you are likely aware of B Corps—businesses that do everything possible to generate benevolence among employees, their communities and those who consume their products and services.

Specifically, B Corps are for-profit businesses that are certified by B Lab, an independent, non-profit entity that has crafted specific standards for transparency, accountability and social and environmental protocols and performance. Founded in 2006, B Lab has certified in excess of 2,500 B Corps in 50 countries spanning more than 130 industries. Candidate companies achieve certification through a rigorous “B Impact Assessment” that assesses governance, customer relations, community practices, worker treatment and environmental practices. Once certified, the business then pay a membership fee that helps fund B Lab’s work.

The rise of the B Corp comes as society shifts away from self-gratification to empathetic consumerism. In December, Accenture Strategy released the results of its poll of approximately 30,000 consumers worldwide. The feel-good findings: 62% of respondents said they want companies to take stands on social, environmental, cultural and political issues important to them, and 63% said they buy products and services from companies that reflect their personal beliefs and values. The poll also gives more evidence that transparency is key: 74% of those surveyed said they crave transparency in how companies source their products and ensure safe working conditions; consumers also want clear information on where companies stand on important issues (1).

“The B Corps movement expresses a legitimate desire to run an ethical business that not only seeks to be profitable, but as importantly works to incorporate valuable labor and environmental practices and community support into the mission of the business,” says Michael Kanter, chief visionary officer, Cambridge Naturals (Cambridge and Boston, MA), which went through B Labs’ assessment process to gain B Corp certification in 2014. “Many types of businesses are B Corps and have different motivations for joining it. Underlying all of it, we find, is the assumption that business can be a force for good.”

At Cambridge Naturals, brands that have achieved B Corp status are set apart in a special display. Dr. Bronner’s, MegaFood and W.S. Badger Company are seen here.

The natural products industry has an increasing number of companies focused on attaining B Corp certification, and many say they were more than halfway there for years.
At Brattleboro, VT-based New Chapter, “The concern for people and planet has always been expressed through every act of our business,” says Amerigo Pennoni, assistant director of QA compliance/risk and sustainability. In a way, he adds, New Chapter already was a B Corp. “We realized that becoming a B Corp would simply reinforce our commitment to our 30-plus year mission with our consumers and retail partners, so the decision just made sense.” The company “simply took a stab at the B Impact Assessment” and was certified in 2014 with a score of 96. In 2018, which was a re-certification year for New Chapter, that score increased 11 points. “As a result,” Pennoni reports, “we were named one of B Lab’s Best for the World: Changemakers honorees.”

Inspiring stories of the road to becoming a B Corp abound. One shining example comes from Meg Barnhart, founder/co-creator of The Zen of Slow Cooking, Lake Forest, IL. She describes the company as a social impact business providing employment for adults with developmental disabilities. That part of her company was driven by her personal desire to create a business for her son. In addition, her employees go into underserved communities to teach people how to create a healthy, economical home-cooked meals. “It took us about five months to go through the [certification] process,” she relates. ”It’s a difficult process, as each part of your business is assessed from your supply chain, environmental impact, corporate governance, etc. In my opinion, it’s the highest certification/third-party endorsement a business can receive, so we feel honored to be part of such a consciously inspired community!”

For businesses­­ that are already focused on being the good in the world, B Corp certification helps bring that mission into clearer focus. Take it from the folks at Traditional Medicinals, Rohnert Park, CA. Since its inception, says Ben Couch, sustainability manager, the company embedded its mission of social justice, environmental activism and economic development into its business model, and sought independent verification of its best practices throughout its entire supply chain, seed to sip. “The B Corp assessment allowed us to measure not only our supply chain practices,” he comments, “but also to track and prioritize best practices in accountability, community, and the environment.”

Certification also helped Herbalist & Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ, raise their game. In 2009, Beth Lambert, CEO, says she became intrigued by B Lab’s mission and its standards of measuring the impact of its products on the earth, what the company means to its community, and how employees are treated.

B Lab’s standards were “more than what we expected,” she says. “When we found B Lab, we plunged right in, and became certified for the first time in 2010.

For its most recent recertification, Herbalist & Alchemist focused on its company policies and procedures: how it embeds its core values into the company. Lambert says the company updated its Quality Policy to reflect its commitment to source from local suppliers, as well as to hire local employees. “As an herbal company with a wide range of products and an insistence on very high-quality ingredients, we cannot always source from our bio-region but as much as possible, we strive to do so,” she says. “Now, when considering a new supplier, along with all of our quality standards, we must also take location into consideration.”

It’s not just an upward spiral of good within each company—it’s an upward spiral within the industry. One botanical ingredient supplier, HP Ingredients of Bradenton, FL, is not yet a certified B Corp, but noticed more of its brand partners attaining B Corp certification, reports Annie Eng, CEO. “We are now supplying two and working with three major certified B Corps marketers/brand partners and we fully believe that in due course, more and more companies in our industry will be B Corps. It’s a natural evolution.” HP Ingredients itself supports indigenous communities that wildcraft its botanical sources around the world, such as the Orang Asli in Malaysia.

Similarly, at New Chapter, says Pennoni, “We see being a B Corp as our obligation to increase the resiliency of the communities from which we source our ingredients and those in which our employees live.” Further, at New Chapter, employee well-being is priority. The company offers a 12-week fully-paid maternity leave policy and has made improvements to its 401K program.

One significant advantage of becoming a certified B Corp for Traditional Medicinals, says Couch, is that it helped the company become a California Benefit Corporation—a legal designation that he explains “helps our business consider not just the financial return of our shareholders, but also the benefit of all our stakeholders from farmers and employees to the families who use our trusted products. This helped us instill our mission into our bylaws and governance.”

Networking, collaborating and sharing ideas with other B Corps across other industries is also an advantage, Couch adds. For example, in regional gatherings, “we learn about local circular economy from upcycled textile company Sonoma USA, or discuss supply chain best practices with peers like Guayaki or Dr. Bronner’s.”

B Corp certification also allowed Traditional Medicinals to find an impact investing group, Builders Fund, also a B Corp, which became a financial partner for the company to grow its business while preserving its mission. This investment partnership, Couch reports, was recognized by B Lab with the ‘Built To Last’ Award in 2017.

As Cambridge Natural demonstrates, retailers can become B Corps in much the same way, as they espouse the ethical and empathetic practices to begin with. Many of Herbalist & Alchemist’s customers are independent retailers who, describes Lambert, make it part of their mission to carry ethically made products and represent an evolutionary step to the saying “Think Global, Act Local.” Becoming a certified B Corporation, she emphasizes, would give retailers an updated platform to renew their commitment to their customers, employees and community. “So many of our retailers have been in this business for a long time,” she says. “This is who they are.”

Will a B Corp certification bring more customers to the store? Possibly, because the next generation values being part of a community. Pursuing certification will deliver the message that the store is building not just it’s own community, but the network of it’s communities. “And that,” Lambert states, “is worth supporting.”

Kanter agrees, noting, “The deepest hunger in society is for community. Our store does a good job make people feel good when they come in, like we and they are part of the same community. B Corp is another community.” He adds that although not many customers are aware of what a B Corp is, Cambridge Naturals attracts employees who want to be part of their mission when they learn about B Corps on the retailer’s website. “They like it and it attracts people who want to be a part of an ethically run business.”

Many business owners and executives at certified B Corps say the beauty of becoming a B Corp is that it is all about marshalling forces for greater good. And, clarifies Pennoni, “This movement isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being transparent and committed to positive change.”

“Imagine,” muses Barnhart, “what the corporate world could accomplish if every company used their business as a vehicle for positive change.” WF

Are You Ready to Succeed in 2019? By: Mike Rowlands
Insights on how to thrive, courtesy of the CEO of  Junxion, a B Corp and international consultancy.

There’s nothing like the spacious renewal of a brand new year to inspire our optimism. It’s like a giant, cosmic reset button, specially designed to help us renew our perspective, refresh our capacity, and reshape our approach. Are you ready to make the best of 2019?

As we navigate the start of the new year, we’re noticing a number of our clients are deep in consideration of their potential. Are they doing all they can for their customers? Are they distinguishing themselves effectively from a crowded marketplace? Are they aligning their sense of purpose with their work, and making a real impact?

Are you looking for new opportunities? Building on success? Fighting for your life?
For some, this season is about honing and refining—building on their current successes to perform even better. For others, it’s about seizing new approaches and new ways of working together, and stepping into new opportunities. For still others, this is it; their last chance. The window of their opportunity is closing, and they need to be sure their next steps are precisely the right ones.

Honed over dozens of strategic planning engagements, our Turning Point™ planning methodology—a scalable framework that’s been used by NGOs, responsible corporations and social ventures to establish plans that are helping them break through to new levels of impact—is well-proven and reliable. Whether you find yourself with the space to explore possibilities, or up against a wall of existential worry, here are five features of our approach that you can apply as you plan ahead to 2019:

Include diverse perspectives. You can never guess where the next great idea will emerge. So include as broad a diversity of perspectives as possible. Talk to your team. Interview your customers, your suppliers, even your peers. Or—sharp intake of breath!—your competitors! The more perspectives you can engage, the better you’ll understand the full picture of your current situation, and the better positioned you’ll be to develop a strong plan.

Maintain Appreciative Inquiry. Rather than “solving problems,” plan by building on your strengths. By understanding the best of your today, you’ll be more effective as a group in your work to design a better, brighter future. This can be incredibly difficult for organizations that are in trouble, but finding the bright light of hope is precisely what they need to move forward. And for organizations that are thriving, this approach will help you to choose the best from among the myriad opportunities that are presenting themselves.

Look for consilience. Consilience is the agreement of two distinct academic disciplines—typically across science and the humanities. Granted, your planning process isn’t academic, but when your marketing team comes to a conclusion about, say, market size, and your finance group comes to the same conclusion, each drawing on different professional perspectives, you should listen. They’re probably right, regardless of how counterintuitive their insights might be.

Think big. Act precisely. Every planning cycle should include some ‘blue sky’ thinking. Let your people dream! Zoom out. Go to 30,000 feet. See the forest, not the trees. See the whole chess board…. You get the picture. Whatever your metaphor, it’s imperative you take some time to consider the breadth of your market and your potential, so that you can see all the opportunities—and the challenges. But it’s also tempting to get lost in that big, blue sky. So limit the time you’ll spend there. We like to spend half our group time “diverging,” exploring possibilities and potential, and then the other half “converging,” choosing between those possibilities to decide precisely where actions are likely to be most successful.

Anticipate change. “The best laid plans’” are bound to be out of date as soon as you write them down. We all know this is true, so why deny it?! However, the problem isn’t that planning doesn’t work; it’s that we don’t anticipate change or embed protocols to manage change in our plans. No strategic plan is complete without a design for periodic review. Just anticipate that change is inevitable, and decide how, as a group, you’re going to handle it.
Gone are the days of the detailed, step-by-step, multi-year action plan. The pace of demographic, technological and business model change is simply too fast for any planner to prognosticate that far into the future. Let yourself off the hook by reframing strategic planning. So “out with the old, and in with the new.” Effective strategy today is a management discipline. It’s no longer a biannual intervention; it must be embedded in the day-to-day rhythm of organizational life.

Mike Rowlands is President & CEO of Junxion. He has been described as a “peace warrior” and thought leader on issues of social importance with offices in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, and London. Junxion Strategy is an international consultancy that serves as peers and partners to those who already occupy the next economy, and as dedicated allies to the many who are striving to be part of it. Visit them at www.Junxion.com.

1. “From me to we: The rise of the purpose-led brand,” https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/strategy/Brand-purpose