Beyond Sustainability: What Every Business Needs to Know About B Corporations

Sustainability. It may just seem like a buzzword, but it’s having real a bottom line impact. As a recent article in the Harvard Business Review noted, in commenting on a major study, “Global consumers say they will pay more for sustainable consumer brands, and sales of consumer goods with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability have grown more than 4% globally, while those without grew less than 1%.

But … there’s a very big catch: Consumers no longer simply accept claims of social and environmental responsibility. As the report said, they demand “demonstrated commitment.” They look beyond the end product to sourcing and supply chain practices, manufacturing methods, and overall impact (including comprehensive commitment to employees, customers, and the broader community).

A new “seal of approval” emerges

While some companies enjoy the kind of history and exposure that helps their commitment to sustainability become self-evident, a group of business people also saw a role for certification, a sign to consumers that a company actually is oriented toward the greater good. In 2007, they launched what is now the premiere mark for holistically responsible organizations ¬– the B Corporation.

Sustainability is just the start

The rigorous qualifying process to become a B Corp certainly includes how companies handle issues of environmental sustainability, but the vision is much larger and more inclusive. As the organization’s website states, “B Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems.”

It is that last part, about using the power of markets to solve problems and not simply deliver profits, that truly sets apart the 2100 Certified B Corps in 50 countries. As the B Corp website also says, it’s mission is to take business beyond the bottom line: “Collectively, B Corps lead a growing global movement of people using business as a force for good.”

It’s about profits, the planet and, most importantly, people

To be clear, B Corp companies are for-profit organizations – but they are built on the belief that a company with a purpose larger than profit alone “creates benefits for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.” They are judged (and certified) based on how well they treat, nurture and respect all stakeholders, from shareholders and employees to customers, their community and people in society at large.

Cleaning up as a B Corp: Method soap

Method soap and cleaning products was a founding B Corporation “way” back in 2007. Since then, this success story has been thriving precisely because of its “B Corp to the core” operation. That includes:

Sustainability: Method products are created to be as good for the environment as they are for end users. They are formulated by “green chefs” (in-house chemists), who ensure their soaps and cleaners are non-toxic, biodegradable and non-bioaccumulative. “Greenskeepers” (sustainability guardians) are a central part of the effort to ensure sustainable standards and practices from sourcing through shipping. Method even pursues a “closed loop” approach to packaging, which is created, collected, recycled and reused for the same purpose.

Community: Method opened a soap factory on Chicago’s under-employed South Side.
Few locals had manufacturing experience, so Method invested in training, equipping area residents to succeed as part of the Method team. Beyond the factory floor, Method also provides local access to jobs and healthy foods through the large greenhouse they operate – on the roof of their building. The investment in that community continues, as it does in communities far and wide.

Humanity: Diversity and gender equality is a core, and growing, reality at Method, where more than half of employees are women, as are a quarter of the leadership.

These are just a few of the hallmarks of Method’s success as a B Corp, and they only begin to illustrate the core truth of B Corporations – that they are not business as usual, but people using business as a force for good.

Sustainability 2017: Hartman Group research report
About B Corporations
B-Corps basics: Method
It Pays to Become a B Corporation: Harvard Business Review