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What it Means to be a B Corp

Published Monday Jul 23, 2018

Author Judi Currie

Consumer trust in big corporations has eroded in recent years and increasingly, consumers are choosing to spend their money locally and with businesses that share their values. But sussing out true social and environmental practices from PR propaganda isn't always easy for consumers, which is why some businesses are investing time and resources to earn B Corp certification.

In fact, eight NH companies have become part of this international movement that promotes doing well in business by doing good in the world. MegaFood in Derry is the most recent NH company to join W.S. Badger, Homefree, Pete and Gerry's Organics, ReVision Energy, Stonyfield Farm, Mascoma Bank and Green Energy Options in achieving “B Corp” certification by the nonprofit B Lab. To achieve the certification, companies must meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. They are part of a larger movement of more than 2,400 certified B Corps from 50 countries across 130 industries.

The goal of B Lab is to highlight those using business as a force for good by building a community of certified B corporations that meet its standards. It also wants to help businesses, investors and institutions to “measure what matters” by “using the B Impact Assessment and B Analytics to manage their impact —and the impact of the businesses with whom they work— with as much rigor as their profits.”

Benefit Confusion
Some people confuse B Corp certification as being interchangeable with being a benefit corporation, which, while related, are not the same designations. Choosing to be a benefit corporation is a legal way for NH companies to say, “we are looking to do more than just create profit, and we want our employees and customers to know,” says Michelle Veasey, executive director of NH Businesses for Social Responsibility .

While corporations in general put profits and shareholders first, a benefit corporation is allowed to put mission on an equal footing with making money. Veasey says a benefit corporation is supposed to provide third-party proof of performance, and some are choosing to do so through B Lab. B Corp certification demonstrates a company meets rigorous standards by scoring at least 80 of a possible 200 points on an assessment covering four impact areas: governance, workers, community and environment. However, any business can pursue B Corp certification. They do not have to be registered benefit corporations.

Currently there are about 40 benefit corporations in NH, but only one, W.S. Badger is also B Corp certified. Veasey says W.S. Badger in Gilsum was the first company in the state to be certified by B Labs and the second to register with the state as a benefit corporation. “Badger has done so well in their scoring they have risen to the top,” Veasey says. “We view certification as a fantastic way for companies to identify areas they want to do more work in.”

At W.S. Badger, Rebecca Hamilton, vice president of R&D and regulatory, says the company has always been mission driven.

As such, the B Lab impact assessment is an “amazing road map” for how to grow as a business without losing their values. “We were starting to ask, ‘what will the business look like when we have 50 employees or when we have 75, or even 100?’ But it really seemed very far away,” Hamilton says. “Now that we have close to 100 full-time equivalents.… How do we continue to scale and build the business and keep the mission as an integral part?”

W.S. Badger played a key role in changing NH law to allow business to change their articles of incorporation to become benefit corporations. At the time W.S. Badger earned its B Corp certification in 2011, NH did not allow companies to rewrite their articles of incorporation. “So your sole purpose had to be to maximize earnings and return profits to shareholders,” Hamilton says.

Badger leadership went to their state senator at that time, Molly Kelly, and asked her to work with them to get the legislation passed so they and other B Corps could include mission in their articles of incorporation. “Not only does it allow us to have articles of incorporation that are more representative of our business, but it also means we are legally protected to put our mission on equal footing with our fiduciary duty,” Hamilton says.   

She says the goal is to create a new sector of the economy where businesses are a force for good, and Badger can be part of a larger movement. “We are not just a business trying to differentiate ourselves, we are trying to find like-minded partners that are also mission-driven, and we are trying to find ways we can support this larger community because we believe that the businesses of the future are more than just profit-driven. We believe that they are community-driven, environment-driven and socially-driven. We can only do so much as an individual company, but as part of the larger community, we can have a much greater impact.”

The Road to Certification
For Valerie Piedmont, co-owner of Green Energy Options, the road to B Corp certification was long. She says she started the impact assessment in 2013, but as a small business owner, her time was limited, and the project languished.

In 2017 she hired a business consultant to work on strategic and succession plans, and the consultant told her that if she was working on B Corp certification it would cover all the things she needed to be a business in good standing.

“You submit your assessment, and you get more questions to narrow down the focus,” Piedmont says. Part of the assessment looks at whether a business serves the local area; and although all but 50 of their client list of 800 were inside the 50-mile radius, their records did not contain enough detail to prove it.

Enter Taryn Fisher, a member of the faculty at Antioch University in Keene and the program director for the MBA in sustainability. Fisher organized a B Corp panel discussion at the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship in Keene.

Piedmont attended, deciding once and for all if B Corp was worth the effort. There were panelists from other NH B Corps who had been through the process, and they commiserated with Piedmont. After the session, Fisher told Piedmont, “You are going to be the 7th B Corp.”

With Fisher’s help and an employee who was enthusiastic about the movement, Green Energy Options finally got its certification in November 2017. Fisher says the assessment is a cumbersome process, and for a small company with limited resources, it is challenging. She says there are more than 70,000 companies using the assessment but only around 2,500 certified. “One of the things I’m trying to understand is why there is such a gap,” Fisher says. “Why is the rate at which people use the assessment growing so much more rapidly than the rate at which companies are certified?”

Fisher is a member of the global B Corp academic community of more than 300 universities around the world looking to accelerate the growth of the B Corp movement. “The B Corp movement is a big part of our curriculum,” Fisher says.

“Increasingly young people want to work for B Corp-certified companies, or they want to help their companies to become certified.”

Fisher has a group of students who will spend six weeks helping Green Energy Options develop an impact improvement plan based on its B impact assessment report.

Despite the challenges, Piedmont is excited to spread the values of B Corp certification. “It’s an honor being in a business that values more than the dollar,” Piedmont says. “This is such a great opportunity for us to promote our values of taking care of the earth and making sure no one is left behind. There are so many great organizations in our community that work hand in hand toward a better future for the [region].” 

Reflecting Values
For the state’s eight B Corps, the values represented in the B Corp movement—“to be the change they seek in the world and conduct business as if people and place mattered”—are closely aligned to their own.

For Pete and Gerry’s Organics, in Monroe, certification is a badge of honor that says they stand for something. CEO Jesse Laflamme says it allows them to demonstrate, through a third party, that they are trying to be progressive and are conscientious about sustainability and their social mission.  “It is a mechanism that validates so many components of our mission,” Laflamme says. “Rather than us just saying we are doing this and we are great, we have a third party behind it, inspecting and auditing.”

Paul Turbeville, vice president of marketing for Pete and Gerry’s, says when the company decided to pursue B Corp certification in 2012, to a large extent it was taking credit for what it was already doing. “We were already taking great care of our farmers, the environment, our employees and the hens who we see as part of our employee network,” Turbeville says.

Lisa Drake, director of sustainability innovation for Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry, agrees that B Corp is about more than just the products they make. “Our products have a lot of certifications—organic, non-GMO—which are all very important and we are very proud of those, but the B Corp approach is bigger than the product. It is about how we do business.”

Drake says certification is a way to formalize and be transparent about their practices and where they fit on the B Corp spectrum. It is also a journey of continuous improvement. “Our mission is framed around our four healthies: make healthy food, support healthy people, a healthy planet, and have a healthy business,” Drake says. “That is our vision of sustainability—those four things have to be in balance for us to be successful—and it aligns fairly well with the B Corp approach.”

The ability to institutionalize mission and values also motivated Mascoma Bank. “We are a mutually-owned bank, with no stockholders, so our commitment to the community has always been very strong. The leap to B certification was a natural one,” says Samantha Pause, chief  marketing officer.

“We wanted to continue to be a mutually-owned bank, didn’t want to change our charter or who we are and have been since 1899. B certification helps protect that charter and helps us continue the community-first mindset. It also gives us one more thing to differentiate us from our competitors.”

Mascoma Bank President and CEO Clay Adams says it was never a question of if, but when, they would become a certified B Corp. “Joining the ranks of more than 2,400 businesses worldwide focused on doing business for the right reasons was a natural progression for us,” he says. “Mutuality has always been the cornerstone of our culture. By joining forces with like-minded businesses, we can make an impact greater than we ever imagined. The vision and values of B Corp is the next chapter for a bank steeped in the tradition of neighbors helping neighbors, doing what we can to participate in making our community an enjoyable, happy, healthy, safe place to live.”

Jill Robbins, founder of Homefree, says her company culture fit the B Corp model, so it made sense to pursue and to support the ideas behind certification. Robbins says Homefree cookies and treats are produced in a baking facility with allergy safety in mind. As a mother of a child with allergies, she appreciates the level of trust the certification implies and hopes people will come to value the effort it takes.

“I wanted to support the movement. I think it is important,” Robbins says. “The more companies that become B Corp certified, the more people will look for it.”

Robbins says she liked that the assessment asked so much of a company, so even if a company was not doing a certain initiative yet, it could consider it for the future.

“In that way, it provides a guide to keep exceeding what you do already,” Robbins says.

ReVision Energy Operations Coordinator Sara Bogue says the firm was already in line with B Corp values well before it earned certification. “It’s worth it, the whole B Corp way of thinking,” Bogue says. “It is amazing what progress can be made with that style, having good people working together with a mission that everyone is passionate about, it changes the game.”

Bogue says the certification process was rigorous but also educational. “It really focused on the HR side of things, and I didn’t think it would right off the bat. We thought, if we put up solar panels and volunteer, we’ll be able to get certified,” Bogue says. “But it looked into our wages, benefits and even how many women we have on staff.”

Robert Craven, CEO of MegaFood in Derry, says in this day and age, a company cannot be successful unless it is weighing social impact alongside its bottom-line.  “For us, this means doing our part to sustain our planet and ensure that we will live in an environment that can still produce food,” Craven says. “Becoming a certified B Corp is important to our company because it allows us to use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.”

Craven says B Corp is an important first step in ensuring that MegaFood’s vision for a world without nutritional poverty becomes a reality. “It gives us clear guidelines and targets to shoot for, allowing us to operationalize and express our passion to solve the nutritional crisis in a number of ways,” Craven says. “We are now primed to become a driver for change in the creation of meaningful jobs, the improvement of lives and the application of best business practices.”

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