How and Why to be More Than a Business
By Shawn Stone
I recently came across this quote, and it's become a bit of a personal mantra:
"It is a commonplace executive observation that businesses exist to make money, and the observation is usually allowed to go unchallenged. It is, however, a very limited statement about the purposes of business."
- Daniel Katz and Robert L. Kahn from their book The Social Psychology of Organizations
What are the purposes (plural) of your business? Of business in general? It seems like a straightforward question, but I spent hours thinking through this, churning ideas over and trying to lay out something concrete. Making money can be one purpose (it is a business, after all), but what else would you hope to achieve? It occurred to me that it's a very subjective question that would vary not only person-to-person, but among cultures and over time.
The beauty in such a malleable concept is that we can mold it into whatever we like. So the real question isn't "What are the purposes of your business?" but rather "What do you want the purposes of your business to be?" We can even take that a step further and break it down into "What do you want the purposes of your business to be in each stage of development as you grow and change?"
Anyone familiar with branding and business creation has seen these general themes in the creation of mission and vision statements. Those are great tools to summarize your purposes and make them easily accessible, but their succinct nature requires broad strokes and allows a lot of room for interpretation. They can be a lot like the evil, wish-granting monkey paw of the business world; your business may accomplish its mission, but you might not like the way it went down...
Damnit, Jones. Tapeworms aren't a health plan.
So how do you ensure your business stays on track with your ethical intentions, even once you're out of the picture via sale or a change in management?
Enter the B Corp Movement
Founded in 2006, B Lab is a non-profit organization that created and maintains the global community of Certified B Corporations. Certified B Corporations redefine success in business:
Individually, 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. With over 1,500 participating businesses in at least 42 countries, it's a snowballing movement for change through ethical business. Members include such notable companies as Etsy, Ben & Jerry's, Warby Parker, King Arthur Flour, and Patagonia.
"The B Corp movement is one of the most important of our lifetime, built on the simple fact that business impacts and serves more than just shareholders—it has an equal responsibility to the community and to the planet."
- Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia
Why You Should Become a B Corp
Just a few reasons taken straight from B Lab's website:
- Lead a Movement
- Differentiate from Pretenders
- Attract Investors
- Generate Press
- Benchmark Performance
- Get Discounts and Access to Services
- Attract and Engage Talent
- Protect Your Mission
Essentially, B Lab has provided companies a way prove they walk the walk. Now we can show our stakeholders that we're built on good business, and not just good marketing.
How to Join In
So you want to B better? You're only five steps away from being a Certified B Corp:
- You need to have been in business for at least a year to qualify.
- Take the B Impact Assessment and score at least 80 out of 200 points. Don't worry if you don't get there right away; B Lab offers great support in helping raise your score.
- Follow the Legal Roadmap to make sure you structure your business to B Corp standards. Requirements vary depending on your type of business (LLC, Sole-Proprietorship, etc.).
- Sign the appropriate Term Sheet for your business structure. Oh, and pay the annual certification fee that goes with it. Fees scale with your company's income level.
- Last but not least, you get to sign the Declaration of Interdependence, which holds the core B Corp philosophy. I think it's fantastic, so you know I'm going to go ahead and post it for you to read:
We envision a global economy that uses business as a force for good. This economy is comprised of a new type of corporation – the B Corporation – Which is purpose-driven and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.
As B Corporations and leaders of this emerging economy, we believe:
That we must be the change we seek in the world.
That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all. To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.
So that about wraps it up. Personally, I'm impatiently counting down the days to Money Earned's one-year anniversary. How about you?
What are your thoughts on B Corps? Do you see the B in your future?
Don't be weird about it. Just tell me.