Being a B in Good Company

Posted by | October 04, 2012 | General | No Comments

I am privileged to “B” amongst the 150 companies represented by approximately 400 individual B Corp Champions who convened in Half Moon Bay, California this morning to exchange ideas about growing and improving the B Corp Community. What community is that, you wonder?

B Corps – short for B Corporations – are companies that use the power of business to solve environmental and/or social problems. B Lab – the non-profit responsible for shepherding the B Corp Community – created a 200 question Impact Assessment Survey that has been utilized by over 6,000 businesses to establish a baseline and/or set benchmarks for their organization’s environmental and social performance. Companies that score an 80 or higher on the ratings assessment tool can become Certified B Corps with the payment of annual dues (between $500 and $25,000 annually, depending on annual revenues of the business). So far, there are around 600 Certified B Corporations, including some very well-known brands, like Dansko, Method Products, Cabot Creamery and Patagonia. The biggest benefit of “being a B” is the truly awesome community, but it’s also a clear and concise way to convey your organization’s commitment to the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit. That highly regarded responsible businesses like Patagonia and Cabot have recently elected to become Certified B’s is a testament to the power of the B community and the brand.

The folks at B Lab refer to B Corps as part of “a new sector of the economy,” but elsewhere I have heard responsible businesses referred to as “the New Economy.” Having been a Bvangelist now since the beginning in 2007, I sure would like to think that I am part of the new economy, though I suppose that remains to be seen.

Matt Mayer from Conscious Brands (whose mission it is to support 1,000 companies in making the transition from old [profit driven] economy to the new [purpose driven] economy by 2020) ran a powerful World Café session this morning. The session was aimed at encouraging B Corps to support each other and grow our collective voice and community by catalyzing wisdom into action. Matt opened the session by reminding us that we all got here on purpose. He then asked us to share “ripples” – the things that we each do to help the B Corp community grow.

First, Matt explained the World Café process: 3 questions will be posed over the period of 2 hours. Each table has a host who remains at the table throughout the three questions, while everyone else changes tables between each question. The host welcomes each new group to the table and shares with them the wisdom from the prior group(s). The following guidelines govern the experience:

Contribute your thinking and experience
Listen to understand
Connect ideas
Listen for patterns and identify the themes that emerge from the commonalities
Focus on what matters
Play, doodle & draw!

 The last guideline is my favorite. Clearly. The first assignment was to discuss “What inspires you about the B Corp Community?” Our table came up with these:

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Unafraid to look in the closet, change old, bad habits

Transparency

Going against what’s considered normal

Inspires creativity

Good people/good vibe

Community

Diverse industries and businesses with a common goal

Role models

Supportive — mutually supportive

Connectivity to purpose

Resources — place to do business and get needs met

Leverage

Language — verbal and body language

Network — power of the community

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From these, the following themes emerged: community, resources & change. The next assignment (after switching tables) was to review the themes from the prior group:

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Diversity

Community

Bigger than selves

Express service and leadership

Commitment of others

Sense of purpose

Framework for using business to solve social problems

Evolution in how we work together

Expansion

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We then answered this question: “Where have you acted or seen others act to support & grow the B Corp community?” Our group engaged in a roundtable discussion that touched on education, community building, legislative initiatives, capital structures that support long-term growth, supply-chain integration and the fact that our values are irrelevant when it comes to dealing with our customers, who want the best product/service for the best price. We all agreed that doing business together and bringing new business into the fold to increase the breadth of the marketplace were key challenges we face. Ultimately, we agreed that the top 3 ways in which we can collectively continue to grow the B Corp community are: education, legislation and capitalization.

The third and final assignment was to discuss “What action could a single B Corp take to strengthen and grow the whole?” The following suggestions were made during our table discussion:

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Select vendors from the network

Tell a little bit of the story every day

Support legislation – sign on in writing and get others to do so

Incorporate in a benefit corporation state — no need to wait for your state

B TV — YouTube channel etc. videos about B Corps

Educate others in trade organizations, schools, etc.

Use the B Corp brand as often as possible

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We then were asked to distill these items down to two points:

Bvangelize – through branding, education and legislation

Apply market pressures — support the network, help connect people within the community and bring new people into the community

After the third table exercise, each table host shared with the entire group the two best actions chosen by them. Here’s the big list of everyone’s suggestions:

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Support B Corp legislation, especially through formal written support

Share your B Corp story

Share the vision within our own companies

Bathroom graffiti

Storytelling about B experience

Localize the movement, e.g., replicate the retreat experience on a local level

Help employees become B people

Create B day to celebrate B Corp’s birthday each year

Refer business to other B’s

Leverage the network

Propose an idea that involves many B’s working together to solve problems

Become a publicly traded B Corp (in any country)

Youth outreach

Create symposium to share thoughts and ideas with non B’s

B an ambassador — spread the word, accountability internally and externally

B Commerce — support the network by spending your money in the B Community

Use milestones to share about your B Corp status and the substance of your actions

Look externally and show leadership to your community as a whole

Shepard new people and business into the B Corp family

Educate consumers and local governments (B Commerce)

B students — educate future B Corps through the existing educational systems (colleges, etc.)

B kick — continually support B’s with consistent messaging & help them ramp into the community

Live & grow B Corp culture internally

Educate others about what it means to be a B and why we are a B

Each B Corp recruits 5 new B Corps

Ask everyone you meet (at least once a day) “are you a B Corp?”

Bvangelize — use logo, share info with consumers

Support B Corps — B Commerce (vendors, networking, etc.)

Incorporate B in branding materials — make it a requirement of B’s

Put your money where your mouth is – shop B

Refer to B’s — lots of talent in the room, everyone in the room deserves to do business with each other

B procurement — write purchasing policies that give preference to B Corps

Internal engagement — get people thinking about ways to improve B score

Incorporate B Corp language/logo in your e-mail signature line

B a friend — do business with B Corps

B viable — prove that the economic model works

Ask suppliers to take surveys — give preferential treatment to those who company survey

Serve as a case study at business schools, etc.

B day — common community event celebrating B Corp founding anniversary

B TV site — collect stories and share them on single media platform

Keep improving your B Score & involve multiple people on our teams in the process

Increase supplier awareness of B Corps with the goal of getting them surveyed

Educating others about benefits of being a successful B Corp & using in network services

Mentoring other B’s and potential B’s — increase and improve storytelling

Bvangelize — support legislation, speak in your community, organize events, encourage others to use and become B Corps

Apply market pressures — buy from other B’s and encourage others to do so, use the survey as a screening tool

Education — challenge other companies to take the assessment

Build & connect social capital around B Corps

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Not surprisingly, numerous commonalities emerged from this exercise as well. Among the most common suggestions were doing business together, educating others about what it means to be a “B” and supporting benefit corporation legislation (more on that and how benefit corporations differ from B Corps in a post next week titled B is for Brand).

My former law firm (the Law Office of Me) was one of the original B Corps and Brand Geek now proudly maintains the tradition (and of course, I am working on Exemplar!). I became and remain a B primarily for the credibility. After all, I want the world to know that Brand Geek is environmentally and socially conscious, not just because I say it is, but because someone actually took the time to evaluate me on my practices (thanks, Rebecca Asher!).

You are what you do, not what you say you do. Being a Certified B Corporation holds us to task and helps us improve. Plus, most – if not all – of these organizations are run by the most creative, generous and fun people on the planet. And who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?!

 

About Lara

Lara Pearson is a trademark attorney with Exemplar, where she also serves as the firm's Sustainability Steward. Lara's legal practice focuses on trademark and copyright law, including: intellectual property audits; trademark search & clearance; trademark and copyright registration & maintenance; intellectual property transfers; transactional work; and dispute resolution, including litigation when necessary. Lara primarily represents other social enterprises -- those leveraging their businesses and brands as catalysts for positive social and environmental change. Such businesses engage in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) to have a positive "triple bottom line" of people, planet and profit. As Exemplar's Sustainability Steward, Lara works with others in her law firm to measure and reduce the firm's carbon emissions and encourage engagement in social responsibility initiatives, including pro bono legal work and volunteering. Lara is a proud member of the Social Venture Network. Brand Geek is a member of 1% for the Planet and a Certified B Corporation, whose Incline Village office is certified under the regional Keep the Sierra Green program. Exemplar Companies is the most innovative professional services firm in the New Economy. Our unique, diversified expertise spans the disciplines of corporate law, business advisory, and capital/investment banking to better meet the needs of our high-potential customers. We have assembled a comprehensive suite of service to meet the complex issues facing companies in today’s challenging business environment. Our unique, holistic approach ensures the growth and success – and greatly increases the competitive advantage - of our customers. The Exemplar team is comprised of knowledgeable, highly skilled experts in a wide range of industries and disciplines. They work closely with our customers to provide trusted advice, incomparable support, expert guidance and the ultimate competitive advantage as they accelerate their businesses and position themselves to transform industries.

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