What started as a way to formalise social enterprise in the United States has become a global movement. It’s a model where business is used a vehicle to “Be the Change.” I’m referring to the B Corp model. B Corps hold profit and mission as equals and measure their impact based on community, governance, workers and environmental impact. Around 26 US states have passed legislation which allows this new entity to overcome the concept of ‘shareholder primacy’ with a financial mission as sacrosanct.
During my MBA an adviser told me I was taking a risk by narrowly branding my business around an emerging model of business, but I had total confidence in that decision. I believed in the impact and success of the B Corp movement.
B Corps – also referred as benefit corporations in their legal structure (or as Certified B Corps in states or countries who have not yet adopted the legal business entity) have formalised the meaning of social enterprise. They have done away with green-washing and arbitrary metrics and operate by achievable and measurable impact goals.
For some companies, like Afghanistan, telecom company Roshan, becoming a B Corp was an easy way to build credibility around the values by which they already live. For others, like Vermont’s public utility company and monopoly, Green Mountain Power, the B Lab Assessment pushes them to be more, do more and give more. It’s a model of accountability which surpasses business structure, size and market share. It invites ‘solopreneurs’ like Ryan Honeyman at Honeyman Consulting to sit next to Ben and Jerry’s and work together to improve global supply chains.
The power of kinship
Most B Corps will tell you that they were once working alone in using their business to create positive change in their communities and environment. But today, they work side by side with over a thousand other companies who have made the same commitment. Shared values, goals, strategy and a shared vocabulary unite companies together as a tribe. They reach out to one another with questions about internal governance and employee ownership. They have regional meet-ups to map out ways in which to make a bigger impact in their local communities. They collaborate online via the B Hive, a social media tool managed by B Lab. Camaraderie and tribal kinship are the essence of the B Corp community.
When companies join the B Corp movement their silo existence evaporates and verisimilitude grows. I’ve been told by many B Corps (including, SunCommon, Exygy, WorkSquare, and Arcadia Power) that joining the B Corp tribe has built their credibility with clients, suppliers, customers and the media. It has provided validity to the change they were already making and accountability to the change for which they strive.
The power of the story
As a storyteller, I have also witnessed the power of the B Corp narrative. It’s a story which easily creates meaning for customers, turning a product or service from a commodity into an exciting brand they can relate to. When B Corps measure their environmental, community, governance and internal impact, stories are discovered. Companies come face to face with the intricacies of their activities and operations. Powerful brands emerge and customers are engaged. As a more authentic and transparent brand emerges, the invitation to celebrate and participate is evident for customers. They know workers are cared for and they can track the environmental footprint of their purchases. The B Corp story humanises business and creates connection for consumers. Potentially, through their B Corp stories, companies can access an entirely new customer segment, the conscious consumer and give a business meaning, purpose and connection.
It would have been a risk not to intentionally align my company with the B Corp movement. It’s where profit and mission are equals and million dollar companies and startups are friends. It’s the tribe I want to join and the story I want to tell.