B Corps: A Quiet Revolution That Is Changing the World

As I biked along the dirt roads of a small Cambodian town called Battamang, the locals eagerly waved and shouted “hello” with huge smiles on their faces. They were excited by the Western tourist who was exploring their community.

I spent the afternoon in and out of quaint, family-owned shops. I remember finding myself in a small convenient store, perusing the shelves, and thinking, “Wow. I am so happy with what I studied in college.”

This may sound like an unlikely thought to have in the middle of Cambodia. But, studying business management, entrepreneurship, and ethics and social responsibility at Bentley University changed how I saw the world.

After graduating in December 2015, I left the safety and familiarity of the US and embarked on a solo five-month backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. I experienced the beach towns of Thailand, fishing villages of Cambodia, crowded cities like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as the hill tribes of Northern Vietnam.

Local Hmong woman who I stayed with in Sa Pa, Vietnam

I met many incredible people, explored amazing sites, and immersed myself in historically and culturally rich societies. I was also exposed to the dark side of life in these regions.

I witnessed first hand what extreme poverty looks like. I saw the ugly product of classism on a society. I toured areas in developing countries that have preserved the raw evidence of damage done by genocide and war. It was evident that a lack of environmental protection laws has damaging effects on a community. I was constantly asking myself, “What can I do to help?” What could any American on the other side of the world do to help?

My Bentley education pointed me toward the answer. It was right in front of my face. On the shelves of that little convenient store in Cambodia were Western brands like Pringles, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Dove, Neutrogena and Panasonic.

Picture a world where these companies made a conscientious investment in the communities that their products are sold in. Imagine if Coca-Cola bottles were biodegradable. Imagine if Nestlé hired locals and put in place employee education programs. The possibilities are endless.

You might be thinking, “But these aren’t nonprofits! How would that work? Why should a for-profit company have to worry about better business practices and improving their margins? Even if they wanted to, where would they begin?”

Enter B Corps. This is the macro-movement that I predict every business development team and every CEO will be talking about within the next 10 years (if they aren’t already). For many of you, this might be the first time you’re hearing about B Corps… so listen up! B Corps are the next business revolution.

Benefit Corporations (B Corps) are pro-business, pro-environment, pro-market, and pro-community. B Corps are companies that have been certified by the nonprofit B Lab after meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency (1).

Think of it like this… what B Corp certifications are to for-profit businesses, Fair Trade certifications are to coffee companies.

The B Corp legal structure ensures stakeholders and shareholders that the company’s values will remain equally as important to turning a profit, no matter the circumstances.

Consumers no longer want a ‘green’ product from a ‘brown’ company (2). When you support a B Corp, you are supporting a company that has been evaluated and held to the standard of being good for their employees, the community, the environment, all of which have been proven to have long term benefits to communities and the world.

Ryan Honeyman, author of The B Corp Handbook and partner at Lift Economy, likens the movement to an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.” B Corps are a community of forward-thinking businesses who are working towards redefining the meaning of success in business.

The movement is gaining traction. Thirty-one states have passed laws allowing companies to incorporate as B Corps (3). There are more than 1,600 Certified B Corps from 42 countries and over 120 industries working to better business (1).

While traveling, I was inspired by B Corps because I know this movement can enable for-profit companies to positively affect third-world and developing communities, a rarity in the for-profit world.

Every company should learn about this concept and adopt it. The B Corp model is all-inclusive and can be applied to any field. This is possible because it is simple, logical, and necessary. Bankers and bakers alike can expand their business models to care about the impact they have on communities and be driven to use their influence for the greater good.

Many well-known brands hold a B Corps designation. Some include Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Eileen Fisher, Nutiva, Klean Kanteen, King Arthur Flour, Method, Etsy, Warby Parker and The Honest Company.

Whether it is Patagonia using sustainable materials in their products and being the first company to offer day-care services or Greyston Bakery, a bakery in NY that has an open-hiring policy, B Corps have proven to be leaders in ethical business practices.

B Corp certifications provide the business world with an opportunity to be accountable and structured in their efforts to make a worthwhile impact, without losing profits.

The B Corp standard needs to become the standard for business in America and abroad. If not, we will be looking at more FIFA RICO problems, Volkswagen emissions scandals, and Martin Shkrelis.

I challenge all business students, professors, entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses — small and large — to get involved in this movement. The business world has everything to gain by making a B Corp certification the gold standard, and the rest of the world has everything to lose if we don’t.

Works Cited

  1. “B Corporation.” B Lab, 2016. Web. Oct. 2016. <https://www.bcorporation.net/>.
  2. Honeyman, Ryan. The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good. 2016.
  3. Bain, Mick. “Should Your Startup Take the B Corp Route?” TechCrunch. N.p., 02 Oct. 2016. Web. Oct. 2016.

Original publication: Bentley CareerEdge, October 6, 2016