Amy Prosenjak, president of A to Z Wineworks, a wine producer in Oregon's Willamette Valley, remembers her reaction a few years ago when one of the company's founders suggested getting the company certified as a B Corp. “I said, 'We don't need another certification!'" she recalls, adding that the company already had achieved several environmental certifications for its sustainable farming practices.
But the more she looked into B Corps, the more she warmed to the idea of a “seal of approval" that covered every aspect of the business, including its impact on the environment, employees and the communities where it operates. “It sounded so easy to me because we're living this way already as a company," she says. “I just went after it!"
Now, four years after A to Z Wineworks became a certified B Corp in 2014, Prosenjak is a believer. “Becoming a B Corp has made us a better company," she says.
B Corp Basics
B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. To qualify for certification, companies must score a minimum of 80 points out of a possible 200. The assessment is painstaking, as Prosenjak and others attest. But for the growing number of B Corps—there were more than 2,200 worldwide by the end of 2017—the effort is worth it.
For some B Corps, the process of analyzing their operations at a very detailed level can reveal areas of deficiency they never considered, as well as ways to improve their operations and employee morale.
And the B Corp label can help them stand out in a noisy marketplace and appeal to customers who increasingly demand higher standards from the companies they buy from. Half of global consumers are “belief-driven," meaning they buy from companies who share their values, according to a 2017 Edelman Earned Brand study, which surveyed 14,000 people in 14 countries.
For businesses that want to have a positive impact on the world, the B Corp label has become a badge of honor as well as a selling point. “We have the logo on every bottle of wine, every box, every email," says Prosenjak. “We're definitely raising the flag."
Uncovering Areas of Improvement
There's a saying among businesses management experts that you can't manage what you can't measure. For some B Corps, the certification process shines a light on areas of improvement that they otherwise might not have considered.
When West Paw Design, a Bozeman, Montana-based maker of pet products, took the assessment, CEO Spencer Williams thought they'd breeze through. After all, West Paw's products are all-natural and manufactured locally, reflecting the company's broader sustainability ethos. But while it scored fairly well overall—a 95—Williams says he was surprised to receive the only median score for community impact. “We thought, we're super engaged in our community, we volunteer, people love working here—all good stuff. How is it that we get the median score?"
In response, Williams instituted a program to compensate employees for a certain amount of volunteer work each year. “Employees love the idea," he says, adding that it has helped him attract employees. The assessment was a wake up call that “really helped us to do better in our community."
Building Social Capital
Those internal improvements can help business owners run their companies better. But being a B Corp also sends a clear message to the outside world, whether that's to potential customers, partners or hires.
“It brings accountability to the claims a company makes," says West Paw's Williams. “It's sometimes hard for a consumer or retailer to differentiate between good marketing and the truth."
For Tiffany Jana, the founder and president of TMI Consulting, a Richmond, Virginia-based firm that advises organizations on diversity and inclusion, being a B Corp has led to publicity and media opportunities as well as speaking engagements. She credits the B Corp label with helping her business grow: According to Jana, TMI has doubled its revenues and profits yearly since becoming a B Corp., despite not spending on advertising.
It's also built valuable “social capital" with potential employees, customers and the general public, says Jana. “People care about the fact that we care about the world." That's especially true of millennials, she says, who make up a key pool of potential hires. “We don't have to look for talent anymore, it finds us."
Attracting and retaining good employees is a commonly cited benefit among B Corps. “People talk about millennials, but everybody cares," says Dan Mannix, the founder of LeadDog, a New York-based marketing firm that specializes in sports and social cause marketing. He was in the process of recruiting an experienced marketing professional who expressed a desire to work for a company that has a positive impact. The company's B Corp status, along with its client list, he figures, could help tip the scales in his favor.
A Like-Minded Tribe
One of the biggest and most unexpected rewards of being a B Corp, business owners say, is being part of a community of like-minded peers that they can learn from and share their own ideas with.
B Lab, the certifying body, helps to foster the community by holding events that bring B Corps together. That has created relationships and collaboration among B Corps. A to Z Wines, for example, has participated in cross-marketing programs with other B Corps, including a program where customers saved money when they purchased from more than one B Corp.
And B Corps often seek other members out as partners. For example, Mannix says LeadDog was invited to bid for business with a well known company that is also a B Corp. "People want to work with people who have like-minded values," he says. They got the job.
When it comes to socially responsible businesses, many B Corps are pioneers in their industries, which can be lonely. So there's comfort in knowing that they're not alone. “We were a B Corp before the concept of B Corps," says Williams of West Paw. “It seemed like our tribe, a group of businesses that we'd like to learn and grow with. It also felt like a movement, a cause that we wanted to be associated with."
That echoes the sentiments of many a B Corp. “I'm an evangelist in this space. I always talk about the fact that my company is a B Corp," says TMI's Jana, who is a frequent speaker at conferences and industry events. Even if her audience is not aware of B Corps, “by time they're done with me, they're going to be."