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5 things we learned from fellow B Corps at BLD

Thinkshift | July 5, 2019

B Corp Leadership Development Day—the annual teach-in where Bay Area B’s learn from each other how to be even better businesses—is always good for a dose of inspiration. This year Thinkshifter Anya Khalamayzer served on the programming committee, which spurred all of us to go get our booster shots at the David Brower Center in Berkeley. Here are our top five shares.

1. Mission-friendly money is out there—you just have to know where to look

We know from our work with RSF Social Finance and involvement with the benefit corporation movement that mission-aligned capital is crucial for businesses that want to grow while achieving their social and environmental goals. We also know that finding funding can be a challenge, so we tuned into Jenny Kassan’s “Raise Capital on Your Own Terms” session.

  • Many social enterprises and sustainable businesses are not a match for venture capital—they’re not likely to deliver a quick, profitable exit. “Don’t waste your time if it’s not a good fit,” Kassan said. And even if it is, she advises caution against the possibility of being pressured to grow fast at all costs and then sell.
  • “Put aside your beliefs and assumptions,” Kassan advised. People who want to invest because of your mission could be your customers, suppliers or people in your community. She ticked off five companies that raised substantial funds by selling nonvoting equity shares.
  • Consider all your options—including revenue-based financing, equity that you slowly buy back, and equity that pays a dividend: “If a lawyer hands you an off-the-shelf document to raise money, I would fire that lawyer.”

2. Weave B Corp-iness into your brand for maximum benefit

B Corp status can inspire customer loyalty and attract talent—but only if people know about it. Athleta went big: B Corp messaging and logos are on hangtags, walls and windows, and clothing labels.

“We get customers asking about it constantly,” said Emily Allbritten, manager of strategic initiative, during “Leveraging B Corp to Build Your Brand.”

Past research has shown sustainability didn’t make people buy Athleta clothing, but “we’re seeing that shift more into being a purchase driver, with younger customers especially,” she said.

Connecting sustainability to the core of your brand is key, and “sustainability messages should shine through every touchpoint with the customer.”

3. Creating an inclusive culture is not just about checking off some boxes

Reflecting the B Corp community’s commitment to building an inclusive economy, “Inclusion: The Common Thread” provided practical advice on putting it into practice.

Start with why you’re focusing on inclusion, said Viva Asmelash, associate director of people operations for Galileo Camps. “Is it diversifying your team? Your customers? Fully living your values? Or all of the above?”

And know that creating an inclusive culture can’t be rushed. The executive team must champion inclusion, and employee engagement is essential, said Heather Ramsey, senior consultant and director of people and operations at Varsity Technologies. “Grassroots discussions work,” she said, so set up regular check-ins—and listen closely.

Communicating early and often encourages honesty and challenges a company’s (often inaccurate) assumptions that they have an inclusive environment. “Candor resonates and has a powerful ripple effect with our team, potential candidates, customers, and partners in the equity space,” Asmelash said.

4. Water offsets are an option when you can’t squeeze out more savings

Businesses often look first to their carbon footprint in striving for sustainability. That’s important, but so is your water footprint, and that is often hidden, said Heather Schrock, director of environmental partnerships at Bonneville Environmental Foundation, in her “Carbon & Water Footprinting 101” workshop.

Companies should be aware of the water used to make their products as well as downstream water impact, she said, noting that it takes 37 gallons of water to produce one cup of coffee and nearly 3,000 gallons to make a pair of jeans.

When you’ve squeezed out every drop of savings, offsets are available for the rest. As with carbon offsets, look for “additionality”—what the offset purchase makes possible. For instance, the BEF worked with Reformation to offset 100 percent of the production water footprint of every pair of jeans; the company bought credits to support clean water projects in California.

Businesses can publicize the projects their offset enabled and make their offsets easy to visualize by using the EPA’s GHG Equivalency calculator.

5. New B Corp Handbook provides a DEI lens

Ryan Honeyman, longtime Bay Area B Corp champion and organizer, introduced the second edition of his book, The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good. At the time of the first edition, which B Corp Berrett Koehler published in 2014, there were something like 1,000 B Corps; today there are almost 2,800. For this edition, Ryan and his co-author, Tiffany Jana, formally interviewed 200 of them and talked with more.

The new edition is about 60 percent new material. One new section is about what investors think about B Corps, an indication of how far B Corps have come in the past five years. Perhaps most important, the new handbook weaves advice on diversity, equity and inclusion throughout. We can’t have sustainable business without it.

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