sustainable business

Looking ahead for B Corps: 2015 is going to be a big year

Carolyn McMaster | October 22, 2014

It looks like 2015 is going to be a big year for B Corporations. The movement is getting noticed, with articles in the New York Times, the New Yorker and other national publications. And few organizations can claim that the U.S. secretary of labor invited himself over to talk to them, but that’s exactly what happened at this year’s B Corp Champions Retreat.

“I wanted to crash your party because I share your values,” Secretary Thomas Perez said to about 350 B Corp leaders gathered Oct. 13–15 in Burlington, Vermont. His speech was long on inspiration and short on political rhetoric. He encouraged us to keep doing what we’re doing, and to make the business case that B Corps are better.

Need to reach the wider world
There is a growing mass of data showing that values-led businesses often perform better than conventional counterparts and that millennials want to work for these companies, but we have yet to convince the broader business world that the B approach is better. Perez recalled a Fortune 100 CEO who said his biggest challenge is to overcome short-term pressures; one shareholder even told him, “I’d rather be rich than right.”

Perez said B Corps can prove doubters wrong by building successful businesses. “We can do good and do well,” he said. “And you have to do well to be able to do good.”

What will it take for the B Corp movement make a significant difference? Will we be able to grow from a small community to a big player? Those questions were at the top of my mind when I left for the retreat. Most of the more than 1,100 Certified B Corps are small; we have just a few marquee names, like Ben and Jerry’s, Etsy, Method and Patagonia. As I noted in my pre-retreat post, we need more B Corps—there are 7 million businesses in the U.S. alone, so right now we’re just a blip in the business community—and more well-known and large companies.

Getting where we need to go
The need to grow in size and influence is also top of mind for the team at B Lab, the organization that certifies B Corps and is the force behind laws enabling benefit corporations and developing the GIIRS rating investment tool, both of which are gaining traction.

B Lab co-founder Bart Houlahan put it plainly: “What got us here will not get us where we need to go.”

To get the movement to the next level, B Corp is rolling out a number of initiatives in coming months. They include:

  • A PR council that will harness B Corps’ expertise to tell the B Corp story better and get it out to more people and influencers.
  • Programs that introduce businesses to the B Corp approach using The B Corp Handbook, a new book by Bay Area business consultant Ryan Honeyman. The book not only walks companies through the certification process, but also guides any company in how to do business responsibly and sustainably.
  • A formal outreach program aimed at college campuses and business programs.
  • A custom publishing platform in print and web that will tell the stories that aren’t being covered in other media.

These are not short-term, quick-hit ventures. But if they are powered by even half the enthusiasm and smarts of the B Corp people who attended the retreat, they will succeed. We’re looking forward to doing our part—Thinkshift became a B Corp because we believe business can and should be a force for good in the world.

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