Putting the ‘B’ in B Corps

December 16, 2016

Kimberly Kinchen, business network writer

Bryan Papé, founder and CEO of the startup Miir, was skeptical when he was approached to apply for Benefits Corporation (B Corp) certification. The company was already directing five percent of revenue to clean water projects in developing countries. Plus, they had gone a step further and associated a code with each product that allowed customers to track projects through their purchases. “Giving back was already baked into the company model,” Papé says. It was B Corp's promise to help with transparency and add credibility that intrigued Papé enough to put his company through the rigorous assessment process.

A relatively new phenomenon, B Corps position themselves as “people using business as a force for good,” by establishing a triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits. New Belgium Brewing Company and Patagonia are among the best-known B Corps. For customers and investors, B Corp certification reflects a company’s seriousness about doing good.

The certifying assessment scores firms on social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency, and then publishes their results. In contrast, typical corporate social responsibility programs often offer no means for independently verifying how effective their giving programs or sustainability efforts may be.

Papé put any doubts he may have had about the value of certification behind him when Patagonia approached him about carrying Miir’s growlers. "They asked, are you a B Corp? So, instantly they knew we were cut from the same cloth,” he says.

B Corp certification doesn’t mean giving up traditional corporate philanthropy. Davidson Lewis, CEO of Green Guru, producer of upcycled bicycle gear, sees both as essential. “B Corp status pushes us to be mindful of how we do business, while being members of PeopleForBikes and IMBA keeps us supporting our roots and direct markets,” Lewis says. “One is more a macro operational focus and the other is more a micro market supported focus."

Although the recreation category is well represented, there are still relatively few bicycle companies that have achieved B Corp status. But for Green Guru, going B Corp is a bet that the path to longevity and prosperity will be profitable long-term. “The B Corp structures our business in a way that makes a more sustainable and holistic approach part of our business DNA. For the bike industry this is important because we're aware of the negative impacts certain production aspects can have on the environment,” Lewis says. “It also shows other companies that it is possible to have an alternative business model. For customers, it helps guide their purchase decisions into something that aligns with their values.”

The greatest disadvantage of running as a B Corp—time-consuming and expensive reporting and monitoring requirements—can be turned into an advantage. “How you use the data can be rewarding to stakeholders. B Corp implementation can also shift the business into a more efficient and positively productive organization,” Lewis says. Papé concurs. “The lengthy assessment upfront is a barrier, but it also becomes an asset. If it was really short it would not be very credible. But from marketing standpoint, certification provides a third-party standard that helps us differentiate from many competitors. It signals we're doing business differently.” B Corp pushes firms to both make great products and deliver on the triple bottom line.

“Ultimately, the product has to speak for itself,” Papé says. “We can’t give back if we don’t sell a great product.”

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