The Business of a Better World: Can a New Kind of Corporation Save Us and Our Economy?
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"We've always been fairly progressive and thoughtful in how we run our business -- we're women-owned and green-certified," said Equator founder Russell. They also bought Priuses for service cars, a biodiesel delivery truck, and an energy efficient roaster that uses 80 percent less natural gas. They worked to build direct relationships with coffee growers, aided their efforts with micro-loan programs, and started their own farm in Panama, which is a year away from harvest. Their employees have health insurance, opportunities for professional growth and profit sharing.
This year, they took their commitments to the next level by becoming a B Corp. "We want to be a truly triple bottom line company -- and how do you do that?" asks Russell. "We felt it was a good way to educate our customers and consumers about the work that we've been doing. It is a way for consumers to easily identify what our values are and mission is. It's the same thing that Fair Trade certification did for coffee 15 years ago."
The B Corp process assesses companies on their environmental, community and workforce impact. While Equator scored high enough to qualify for the program, they're already seeing ways in which they can be even better.
"One of our roles as an organization is to educate the consumer," said Maureen McHugh, Equator's vice-president of operations. "We feel strongly that this is a positive role for business." The B Corp label helps them take the conversation with consumers to another level. It becomes not just about ensuring a "green" or socially conscious end product, but about guaranteeing the entire process is sustainable and fair. "Capitalism is changing -- we are moving to more of a stakeholder economy. Equator coffee is such an identifiable chain from the farm to here -- there are so many stakeholders in that chain," said Russell. And the B Corp program helps to make that chain transparent to consumers and investors.
Russell see B Corps as the changing face of business. "There is a shift happening, there is a need for it. It can't just be about shareholder value, it's about everyone in the chain, all boats have to be raised or I don't know where the capitalism model will go if we don't go in this direction."
The model for Russell's company gets to the heart of B Corps. "We have to grow revenue to grow our impact -- the more coffee we can sell, the more we can do for our employees and farming partners. Grow revenue, equals grow impact."
The Business of Saving the World
While the coffee world has set up some of their own product standards through Fair Trade certification, most other industries operate without third-party verification and it can be hard to tell a green and socially conscious business from just clever marketing and a big ad budget. B Corp, however, holds a company accountable for not just its impact, but its mission. In fact B Corps have a Declaration of Interdependence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident:
- That we must be the change we seek in the world.
- That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
- That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
- To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.
Last month B Labs released its list of the top companies that are the "best for the world." In terms of overall impact, they highlighted companies such as Method Products, Better World Books, Global Green Energy Corp, Namaste Solar, Piedmont Biofuels, New Resource Bank, Re:Vision Architecture, to name a few. They also recognized the top performers for environmental impact like Patagonia, Bullfrog Power, Guayakí Sustainable Rainforest Products, IceStone, gDiapers, Larry's Beans. For community impact there was Change.org, Care2, Cap Global, Virginia Community Capital, Ideal Network and for worker impact there was Exponent Partners, Heller Consulting, King Arthur Flour Company, Peaceworks Technology Solutions, Sungevity. The full list of top companies can be found here, along with high-fives for most impactful small companies, too.