Honor Among Business Owners: These B Corps Are Building a New Code for Corporate America
There’s a whole new generation of entrepreneurs who are raising the bar on what it means to be socially conscious.
Wayne, Pa.-based B Lab is a non-profit organization that has created a framework against which companies can measure and track their social responsibility. B Lab ranks companies on their treatment of workers, contribution to the community and impact on the environment.
While B Lab offers companies a free online assessment tool, it also offers verified certification for a fee. Companies that get certified are called benefit corporations, or B Corps. A company that legally registers as a B Corp establishes itself as both a “for profit” and “for good” company. A B Corp cannot be sued by stakeholders for making decisions that put its mission above profit.
In 20 states across the U.S., B Corp status has become a legal entity, akin to C Corp. or S Corp. There are currently almost 1,000 B Corps in 32 countries and across 60 industries. More than 16,000 businesses have used B Lab’s free online assessment tool to measure their progress independently.
Each year, B Lab releases a list of the Certified B Corps that scored in the top 10 percent on its social-impact assessment. In the small business category, which is defined as having between 10 and 49 employees, there were 26 businesses honorees this year.
Here’s our list of favorites. (For the full list of 92 businesses, see B Lab’s website.)
Based in: Santa Barbara, Calif.
What it does: paddle sports outfitter and fitness center.
Highlights: Channel Islands Outfitters (CIO) is an employee owned and operated company and the staff of adventurers lead kayaking trips, sea cave explorations, hiking and backpacking expeditions in the area.
Based in: Spruce Pine, N.C.
What it does: Makes and sells architectural tools for building, design and furniture professional companies and individuals. One of their most well-known products is a home-siding shingle that is made out of a waste product of the logging industry.
Highlights: More than 50 percent of the energy used at corporate facilities comes from renewable sources and more than a third of employees participate in professional development programs. Also, Highland Craftsmen keeps money in the community by ensuring that almost two-thirds of its expenditures are reinvested into local suppliers.
Based in: Santa Rosa, Calif.
What it does: Makes organic and fair trade clothing, thereby supporting artisans in some of the poorest regions of the world.
Highlights: More than half of the employees have some ownership in the company and 75 percent of employees have access to tuition reimbursement. Also, nine out of ten suppliers that Indigenous Designs works with are either women or minority owned.
Based in: Berkeley, Calif.
What it does: Fundraising consultant for nonprofits and political organizations develop relationships with individual donors.
Highlights: More than 75 percent of office supplies are from recycled materials and one office building meets “green” standards. Also, 75 percent of employees have some ownership in the company and 100 percent of the health care premiums are covered.
Based in: Portland, Ore.
What it does: Strategic communication group that serves exclusively socially responsible businesses.
Highlights: All corporate facilities are within a half mile of public transportation allowing employees to forego using a car to get to work. One quarter of employees took time off to volunteer. A total of 2,000 hours of work was donated to charity groups.
Based in: Emeryville, Calif.
What it does: A multi-generational tutoring and mentoring service for underserved students of color. Girls are encouraged to find their confidence and boys are taught how to access their emotions and develop impulse control.
Highlights: Employees get paid time off for community service projects. Almost half of the board of Moving Forward Education comes from traditionally underrepresented populations.
Based in: Philadelphia, Penn.
What it does: Sustainable architecture and design firm.
Highlights: All employees are reimbursed for continuing education expenses, and employee health care premiums are also completely covered. Three-quarters of the companies that Re:Vision works on are LEED certified. Seventy-five percent of employees take time off for community service and staff is incentivized to use public transportation.
Based in: West Tisbury, Mass.
What it does: Employee-owned building and design company on Martha's Vineyard. Develops residential and commercial buildings. Designs and installs solar and wind energy systems and energy efficiency improvements.
Highlights: All employees are reimbursed for continuing education, all employees are paid a living wage and 100 percent of individual and health insurance premiums are covered. Ten percent of profits go to charity.
Based in: Colorado Springs, Colo.
What it does: This low-profit company goes into the developing world in partnership with global relief and development organizations like World Vision, the World Food Program and Food 4 The Hungry to help identify projects that meet a need with an environmentally conscious solution. For example, The Paradigm Project has worked with World Vision to develop large-scale efficient cook stove programs.
Highlights: Employees get both language and skill training. Suppliers that work with The Paradigm Project are assessed for positive and negative impact practices.
Based in: Chapel Hill, N.C.
What it does: Largest teacher exchange sponsor in the U.S. Provides language immersion experiences. Helps schools, from grade kindergarten through high school, develop international education programs.
Highlights: Local suppliers are given preferential consideration. VIF organizes community-service days. More than 80 percent of health-care costs are covered for full-time employees and some part-time employees have access to health benefits, too. Office buildings are located within a half mile of public transportation stops, giving employees an option for getting to work without driving a car.
Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.