The current norm of doing business is loyalty to shareholders, or people who own financial shares of a company. Their wants hold primacy over the needs of stakeholders: employees, consumers, and members of the community and planet. In other words, people with stake in the consequences of production.
And even when businesses set out to do the right thing, it’s hard to prove their impact. How do we make sure companies commit to contributing to lasting change?
Enter B Lab.
What is B Lab?
B Lab creates standards, policies, and tools to help people build ethical businesses. And they run B Corporation Certification: the only official certification that measures a company’s impact on governance, workers, customers, community, and the environment. This process begins with the B Impact Assessment (BIA), a free online platform that gives companies a snapshot of their social and environmental performance.
But B Corp is more than a designation. It’s a community ranging from solopreneurs to large companies around the world.
Whether they’re Ben & Jerry’s or a publishing house, all Certified B Corporations share a spirit of continuous improvement. Members may even find their BIA score can decrease down without anything changing in their business practices because standards are always being revised and raised. In this way, Certification is a living thing, an ongoing relationship between a company, its peers, and the communities they serve.
How did B Lab get started?
B Lab started in 2006 as an idea between three friends: Jay Coen Gilbert, Andrew Kassoy, and Bart Houlahan.
Jay and Bart founded and grew AND 1, an influential streetwear brand of the nineties. But when it came time to sell to a private buyer, they saw a lot of the practices they were proud of stripped from the business model. And Andrew’s background in capital markets keyed him into the incentives of capitalism that weren’t working. The three set out to use what they had learned to redefine the role of business in society.
They identified two levers: 1) social and environmental performance, and 2) legal accountability, or how your governance structure allows for stakeholder capitalism. This model would make business something inclusive and regenerative, with public benefit being a company’s main ambition (hence the term Benefit Corporation).
What are some of B Lab’s partnerships and initiatives?
True to their values of collaboration and inclusion, B Lab takes a broad partnership strategy, joining up with other key players like Fair Trade Certified and One Percent for the Planet. As Marketing Director Veena Harbaugh tells us: “We always ask ourselves, ‘who can we be partnering with?’ It doesn’t need to be our room; it can be a shared room.”
1. SDG Action Manager
Developed in partnership with the UN, the SDG Action Manager is a free tool to measure the progress of sustainable development goals. It helps companies locate themselves within huge problems and track their impact collectively with other companies. It also makes the process accessible to those who can’t do the full Impact Assessment. (And applicants will be glad to know that it transfers your answers automatically!)
Imperative21 is a coalition of 20 million employees at 70,000 companies who are calling for a shift to a more just form of capitalism. As a steward of Imperative21, B Lab’s heritage of questioning the status quo and offering positive alternatives is evident in their RESET campaign.
3. Climate Justice Playbook for Business
B Lab also creates resources for businesses to help them adopt best practices. In collaboration with partners, they released the Climate Justice Playbook for Business in February 2021. It’s a practical guide to the intersection of climate action and social justice. Noting that those most impacted by climate change are often the least responsible for carbon output, it calls on businesses to center these voices in their sustainability efforts.
4. TAKE YOUR SEAT
TAKE YOUR SEAT was founded in July 2020 when David Baldwin and Steven Sandstrom resigned their seats at their nonprofit and requested they be filled by Black board members. Today it’s one of the nation’s leading hubs for board leaders and Black professionals to meet and build relationships. Beginning March 1, TAKE YOUR SEAT is offering a complimentary annual membership for B Corps who are accelerating a more inclusive business environment.
WeTheChange is a group of women CEOs of B Corps, brought together by a passion for purpose-driven business. Their membership includes cisgender, transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming leaders in their respective fields.
Impact and Future Plans
Today, the B Corp community includes 3,821 companies across 150 industries in 74 countries—all united by the common goal of using business as a force for good.
Considering its cultural impact, it’s easy to forget that B Corps is actually a young concept. The B Lab team also takes pride in knowing an idea borne of an American business context has gained such global relevance. On their growth as a movement, Harbaugh says, “We’re at the point where there are more B Corps outside the US and Canada than in.”
There was initially a fear that progress would slow due to the pandemic, as interest in sustainability tends to fall off when the economy’s down. But B Lab has seen lots of growth even during this time, with B Corp marketplaces like Grove getting certified last year.
As a Certified B Corporation, we can speak to B Lab’s impact directly here at Giving Assistant.
On the consumer side, we make it easy for online shoppers to give back. We’re a microdonation platform where everyone’s generosity adds up to make a bigger impact. On the brand side, we’re encouraging companies to be more philanthropic by providing them a platform to offer cash back to shoppers who want to make a difference. And we know from experience that working for a B Corp is its own kind of reward.
In the coming years, B Lab wants to see more companies that shift the mindset around what companies can be. And as these values become the norm, B Corps will remain industry leaders and examples of what’s possible:
“Our ultimate vision is that prioritizing people and the planet — what makes B Corps unique today — will become common practice and norm for all businesses, and that B Corps of the future will continue to be pioneers of positive change through business.”
Learn more about B Corporations
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