Com­pa­nies with B Corp des­ig­na­tion con­sider how they can ben­e­fit so­ci­ety and the en­vi­ron­ment

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Lu­cas High

For many busi­nesses, there’s a sin­gle bot­tom line: max­i­miz­ing prof­its.

But for oth­ers — a siz­able clus­ter of which are based in Boul­der County — other val­ues such as en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity are given the same con­sid­er­a­tion as rev­enues.

Lo­cally, nearly four dozen com­pa­nies have sought and ob­tained one of the world’s fore­most seals of ap­proval for mis­sion­driven firms: B Cor­po­ra­tion cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

B Corp cer­ti­fi­ca­tions are ad­min­is­tered by Penn­syl­va­nia­based non­profit group B Lab, which “serves a global move­ment of peo­ple us­ing busi­ness as a force for good,” B Lab spokes­woman Cal­lie Ro­jew­ski said.

B Corp cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is to busi­ness what Fair Trade cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is to cof­fee or what the USDA Or­ganic des­ig­na­tion is to food prod­ucts, she said.

In or­der to be cer­ti­fied, com­pa­nies must meet cer­tain min­i­mum re­quire­ments as mea­sured by the rig­or­ous B Im­pact Assess­ment process.

That process “eval­u­ates how your com­

pany’s op­er­a­tions and busi­ness model im­pact your work­ers, com­mu­nity, en­vi­ron­ment and cus­tomers,” ac­cord­ing to B Lab’s web­site. “From your sup­ply chain and in­put ma­te­ri­als to your char­i­ta­ble giv­ing and em­ployee ben­e­fits, B Corp Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion proves your busi­ness is meet­ing the high­est stan­dards of ver­i­fied per­for­mance.”

Com­pa­nies, which must be re­cer­ti­fied ev­ery three years, also are re­quired to adopt cor­po­rate by­laws and gov­ern­ing doc­u­ments that set in stone an eth­i­cal com­mit­ment to all of a firm’s stake­hold­ers — from em­ploy­ees to sup­pli­ers to the en­vi­ron­ment — that em­pha­sizes ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency.

For some com­pa­nies, it can take years to make the in­ter­nal changes nec­es­sary to earn cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

B Corp hot­bed

Since B Labs was founded in 2006, more than 2,500 com­pa­nies in about 60 coun­tries have been cer­ti­fied as B Cor­po­ra­tions.

While these com­pa­nies rep­re­sent a vast ar­ray of in­dus­tries, “the thing they all have in com­mon is the way they ap­proach busi­ness through the lens of ben­e­fit­ing so­ci­ety and the en­vi­ron­ment,” Ro­jew­ski said.

An anal­y­sis by the Boul­der Eco­nomic Coun­cil, the eco­nomic vi­tal­ity arm of the Boul­der Cham­ber, found that as of last Novem­ber, Boul­der — with 44 — ranked third in the coun­try for cities with the most cer­ti­fied B Corps., ranked only be­hind Port­land, Ore., and San Fran­cisco.

But be­cause Boul­der’s pop­u­la­tion is dwarfed by those two cities, the per capita con­cen­tra­tion of cer­ti­fied com­pa­nies in Boul­der is about four times higher.

“For decades there has been a value sys­tem here that em­pha­siz- es do­ing good, be­ing healthy, be­ing conscious of the en­vi­ron­ment,” Boul­der Eco­nomic Coun­cil Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Clif Har­ald said. “It’s about stew­ard­ship, it’s about qual­ity of place, it’s about health, it’s about all of these things.”

A head start?

B Corps can be found in all cor­ners of the coun­try and around the world, but lo­cal Boul­der County com­pa­nies were some of the first to em­brace the move­ment and seek cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to busi­ness lead­ers and B Corp of­fi­cials.

That makes sense, they say, given that Boul­der County com­pa­nies long have con­sid­ered them­selves lead­ers in cor­po­rate re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Com­pared to peer cities, Boul­der’s high num­ber of cer­ti­fied B Corp com­pa­nies sug­gests a clus­ter­ing of busi­ness own­ers whose pro­gres­sive man­age­ment val­ues align with the un­con­ven­tional lead­er­ship of­ten as­so­ci­ated with cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion,” ac­cord­ing to a find­ing in the Boul­der Eco­nomic Coun­cil’s re­cent In­no­va­tion Ven­ture re­port.

Liz Swan­son man­ages B Lab’s Best for Colorado pro­gram, which helps firms that are not yet cer­ti­fied B Cor­po­ra­tions em­brace B Lab val­ues and best prac­tices.

“We have a lot of early adopters of these con­cepts here in Colorado, a lot of com­pa­nies that just get it. They’re al­ready think­ing a cer­tain way, op­er­at­ing a cer­tain way,” she said.

“There are a lot of fac­tors that go into why I think this might be, but one of the most ob­vi­ous one is our con­nec­tion to the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment,” Swan­son said. “We want to en­joy the moun­tains, we want to en­joy ev­ery­thing our ecosys­tem has to of­fer. So there’s a lot of em­pha­sis placed on how busi­nesses can con­trib­ute to main­tain­ing that rather than de­grad­ing it.”

The Boul­der area’s high con­cen­tra­tion of in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy firms likely fac­tors into the high con­cen­tra­tion of lo­cal B Cor­po­ra­tions, she said.

“We’re pretty in­no­va­tive here in terms of busi­ness, and Colorado is home to some of the big­gest hubs for star­tups in the coun­try,” Swan­son said. “So when you get a lot of in­no­va­tive thinkers in a room, they nat­u­rally start talk­ing about im­pacts.”

Steve Sav­age, CEO of Boul­der­based nat­u­ral food and home prod­ucts com­pany 1908 Brands, said “it just made sense for the com­pany” to seek cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“We have a unique ad­van­tage of sell­ing prod­ucts that are in­her­ently en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly,” he said.

Blake Jones, a co­founder of Boul­der’s Na­maste So­lar, made a sim­i­lar point about his firm.

“We are a so­lar com­pany, so of course we are re­ally into en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship,” he said. B Lab’s val­ues are “re­ally well aligned with the kind of com­pany we al­ways wanted to be when we started.”

“I feel like we’ve been a B Corp­type of com­pany the whole time,” said Matt Cut­ter, founder of Up­s­lope Brew­ing Com­pany, which earned cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ear­lier this year.

“Sure, the bot­tom line is im­por­tant — it’s what keeps the lights on and keeps the busi­ness alive,” he said. “But, be­yond that, you have to ask your­self why you’re do­ing this. Are you strictly out to make a buck or do you want to have an im­pact on peo­ple’s lives?”

Cut­ter added: “The planet is not bet­ter off be­cause I de­cided to start Up­s­lope here in Boul­der. In fact, it’s ac­tu­ally quite the con­trary. Com­pa­nies — all of us, not just Up­s­lope — are con­sum­ing and cre­at­ing waste and us­ing en­ergy. It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­duce that im­pact.”

Com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages

While be­ing a B Corp means uphold­ing a com­mit­ment to so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship, it doesn’t mean a com­pany can’t make money.

In fact, some lo­cal busi­ness lead­ers say earn­ing B Corp cer­ti­fi­ca­tion helps boost rev­enues.

“We do feel like to­day’s gen­er­a­tion is look­ing for prod­ucts from brands that are do­ing good things,” said Sav­age, of 1908 Brands.

“Hav­ing the B Corp logo on your pack­ag­ing is way to show cus­tomers you’re a com­pany that’s do­ing things the right way.”

It’s not just cus­tomers who are grav­i­tat­ing to­ward B Corps, but cer­tain types of in­vestors as well.

“One of the big­gest ben­e­fits (of earn­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion) has been at­tract­ing our first in­vestors,” said Nova Cov­ing­ton, co­founder of Long­mont-based nat­u­ral skin care prod­uct maker Goddess Gar­den.

Lewis Geyer, Long­mont Times­call

Lour­des Luna seals pack­ages of vanilla al­mond pa­leo bites at 1908 Brands in Long­mont on Wed­nes­day. 1908 Brands is one of more than 40 com­pa­nies in Boul­der County cer­ti­fied as B Cor­po­ra­tions.

Jeremy Pa­passo, Daily Cam­era

Andy Sanchez at­taches a hose to a fer­ment­ing ves­sel at Up­s­lope Brew­ing in Boul­der on Wed­nes­day. Up­s­lope is cer­ti­fied as a B Cor­po­ra­tion.

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