Anyone who is in business, or who cares about the business world, has heard of S corporations and C corporations, but now there is a new and different kind of classification. This is the B (the B stands for "benefit") corporation, and rather than being a business structure like the others, it is a quite rigorous certification process designed to show both investors in and clients of the business that the B corporation business practices adhere to minimum social and ethical standards such as environmental responsibility, fair labor practices, and similar standards.
Once your business passes certification, the B corporation certification logo can be displayed on your business materials and labels.
Why Care about a B-Corp?
If you are a socially-conscious person, as an ever-increasing number of young people are, you might want to investigate investing or dealing with certified B corporations, and if you are a business owner, you may want to learn if your business might be eligible for B corporation status. After all, your clients may be socially conscious and choosing to do business with companies of whose practices they approve.
What is a B-Corp?
A B corp is a company just like any other company. It can have any type of structure, from a simple sole proprietorship to the most complex forms, and be in almost any industry. But a B corp has another purpose in addition, which is to be a benefit to society. A B corporation does not have to be a nonprofit organization; these are simply otherwise regular businesses which have taken on the extra responsibility of making a positive change in the world, whether their focus is on environmental or social good.
B corps, once passing certification, undergo a semi-annual, fairly rigorous process to make sure that they are continuing to follow their mission statements and ethical practices. The certification process itself involves a lengthy and comprehensive online questionnaire, and an interview with an employee of B Labs, the nonprofit corporation that certifies the company as being run under principles that provide a larger benefit to the world.
Why do B corps matter? If you think they don't, you may change your mind after watching this!
Should You Become a B-Corp?
There's really no downside to taking the online assessment, since it is free and without obligation, but should you pursue the process further?
Increasingly, your answer should be yes. Consumers are beginning to pay attention to companies, such as Costco, that provide livable wages for their workers, or Patagonia, or any of a number of other companies that are working in their own ways to make conditions around the world better. But your company doesn't have to be global to take advantage of this new consumer awareness.
By using the assessment to see where your company falls, you can raise your company's standards, and assure your clients that you are paying attention to social and environmental good. Some things are relatively easy, such as putting up a page or two on your website; others may be harder, such as establishing grievance procedures, but once done, are complete; and even others you may choose to make an ongoing process, such as instituting company-wide recycling and composting, or even using houseplants to filter the air in your offices.
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Socially Conscious Consumers
An Emerging Market
Daily, more consumers are looking for ways to "vote with their dollars." While your own business may not yet be affected, business magazines are filled with stories about companies with both good behavior (like Costco and Ben and Jerry's, which treats its employees well) and bad behavior (companies, who shall remain nameless, who exploit low-wage and child workers in other countries, foster poor working conditions, dump pollutants into the environment, practice discrimination, or otherwise behave in unethical ways). And consumers and clients, and even governments, are beginning to pay attention to those stories. If you don't want your company to end up on the front page of the business magazines as a bad example, B-corp certification will keep your business on track to prevent that.
You have only to look at the increasing number of labels stating that a product is "organic," "sustainable," "GMO-free" or "fair trade" to see which way the tide is turning. In my opinion, it's a better business decision to be ahead of the wave and not underneath it. And you certainly don't want to wait to be forced by new legislation to make a change in a hurry, as has happened with many companies in the past. So take your B Corp online assessment today, and you may get to watch your bottom line improve!
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Major Companies that Have Attained B-Corp Certification
- King Arthur Flour
- Ben & Jerrys
- Calvert Funds
- The Body Shop
- Stonyfield Farm
and over a thousand others! Why not join them?
Company Recycling Bin
But My Business is So Small!
Even the smallest companies (think one person in a home office) can become certified as a B corp. Here are things even one person can do:
- Put pages on your web site for environmental policies
- Use renewable energy (you don't have to install solar panels; renewable energy is available from your local utility)
- Conserve energy (use timers on lights and appliances, for example)
- Buy supplies that are sustainably sourced
With a few of these practices in place already, your path to becoming a certified B corp might be a lot smoother!