B-lab: Using Business as a Force for Good

doinggoodConscious capitalism? Impact investing? Shared Value?  This movement towards business doing good has been increasing — and B Corp has created a certification for a companies that stringently strive to do “good” for more than just the shareholders.

This idea of doing good for others as well as yourself  applies equally to individuals as it does to companies.  For me, I have a long history of trying to do good and help people. In the early 90s I was disillusioned with businesses solely driven by profit so I started working for nonprofits.  I’m certainly not the first to want to “do some good” or find “meaning in my work,”  and the number of people sharing my perspective is growing exponentially.  According to Karl Moore’s article in Forbes,  a “search for meaning and purpose is on the agendas of most Millennials in the Western World and increasingly in the developing economies.”

When I started down this path, armed with my new minted MBA, I found my way to the door of the Homeless Economic Development Fund (HEDF), which financially supported social service agencies running socially-focussed businesses. My first job was helping Ashbury Images — a t-shirt printing company with a supportive work environment. Ashbury Images was trying to transition formerly homeless to the work world and eventual independence. I loved my work. It meant something. And my business skills were in high demand in a social service agency.

Post Script to that era:  HEDF projects were wrapped up (I’m happy to report that Ashbury Images still up and running) and from HEDF, the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) was formed in 1997 (mandate: to launch and grow social enterprises).

Fast forward 20 years from the REDF creation — and now I’ve shifted my focus back onto for profit efforts and I’m writing about companies that care. So what’s better: the not-for-profit or the for-profit model? It doesn’t matter — it’s about doing something that matters and making a difference in the world, no matter the business model.

So, what is B-lab?  It is a non-profit which certifies B (Benefit) corporations (for-profits) that commit to doing good for the world in which they operate.  It’s a certification (not a classification) — like GMO free or Organic — that will help consumers identify these organizations.  Specifically, B Lab aims to do four things:

  1. Build a global community of Certified B CorporationsTM
  2. Recognize benefit corporations which align business and society interests
  3. Help  businesses, investors, and institutions Measure What Matters,
  4. Inspire others to join the movement and tell their stories on bthechange.com

Why is B Lab a good idea?  Because nonprofits alone can’t do all the work — and businesses are a major force that can have a huge positive impact on society while still serving their own companies and shareholders. Jae Coen Gilbert, Founder of B-Lab says it this way:

Governments and nonprofits  are necessary, but insufficient to the task of solving our most pressing problems.

and

The hard reality is that we have no choice but to harness the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Business represents three quarters of U.S. G.D.P. and probably a bigger share of mind and cultural footprint.

B Lab (founded in 2006) and the B Corps that it certifies are inspiring. There is a different way.  Some recognizable B Corps are Patagonia, Warby Parker, Ben & Jerry’s and EILEEN FISHER.  In the food and beverage category there is a long list (227 at the time of writing) that includes:  Stash Tea, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farm, New Belgium Brewing, Clover Sonoma, Hog Island Oyster Co., Bi-Rite Market,  Yogi Tea, Rubicon Bakers, Numi Organic Tea, and Cabot Creamery Coop. But these are only the already certified companies. There’s  a much larger number or organizations working towards their certifications.

I plan to write about some of these over the coming months, in a new “business” category on this blog.  Thanks for reading. I hope you’re as excited about these B Corps as I am.

Want more?

The B Corp anthem: “B the Change” can be found here:

And here’s B Lab founder, Jae Coen Gilbert on the TED stage: