Believe it or not, the holidays are already upon us. Have you made your shopping list yet? If this is the year your gifts were going to reflect your values, may we suggest checking out Certified B Corporations? These businesses believe that companies can be a force for good in the world, and each is willing to put their money and business practices where their mouth is.
B Corporations voluntarily commit to independent, verifiable standards of social and environmental practices, performance, transparency and legal accountability while balancing the dual objectives of profit and purpose. This philosophy affects every aspect of a B Corp's business model, from how their product or service is made or delivered, to how employees are treated and compensated, to how the community in which the company is located is affected. Even the amount of corporate charitable giving is scrutinized.
B Corporations are certified by B Lab, a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 by three friends who set up the B Corp framework and certification to make it easier for mission-driven companies to protect and measure their impact, and make improvements over time. Currently, there are more than 4,000 B Corporations in 70 countries and 150 industries.
A Corporate Example
We talked to Vincent Stanley, director of philosophy at Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company known for being socially responsible. Stanley was one of Patagonia's first employees; he's worked for the company on and off since 1973 and wrote "The Responsible Company" with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.
And although Patagonia is known as an eco-friendly company (giving away 1 percent of its sales to environmental causes as early as the mid-1980s), Stanley says they never really set out to be a responsible or sustainable company.
"We just didn't want to do bad things," he says. "And we kept discovering things in the supply chain that were being done in our name that were harmful, and there was a lot we didn't know we could do anything about."
So, they set out to change that. For example, nylon and polyester came from oil wells, so the company started working with a supplier to try to create as much recycled content as possible. When they realized cotton wasn't a benign material due to chemicals used in processing, they switched to organic cotton. As they learned more about the working conditions in the factories where their products were manufactured, they helped co-found an organization that audited labor and fair pay conditions. When B Lab came knocking in 2007 to ask Patagonia to become a B Corp, they wondered what was in it for them. It took some time, but in 2012 the state of California made it worth their while.
"We were persuaded when California made a legal category for Benefit Corporations because that told us we could write six core values into our business charter and have that protected," Stanley says. "It's a family-owned business, but in the event anyone ever sells stock, anybody who buys into the company has to abide by these values."
Benefits of B Corp Status
There were other serendipitous benefits to becoming a B Corp, such as providing a holistic glimpse into the effects of their business practices.
"We had all these different aspects of our business and that was important but the [B Lab] impact assessment looked at everything — from the ratio of CEO pay to the lowest paid worker to using permeable concrete in our parking lots. And the score was interesting because that enabled us to look at where we fall short and make improvements. It also gives us company and friends because we can talk to other businesses that are dealing with the same set of values and challenges we have."
These days, Stanley calls himself an "evangelist for B Corps."
"(B Corps are) coalescing all of the impulses in business to do the right thing to treat stakeholders, employees, customers, communities and the environment, fairly," he says.
This begs the question: Aside from getting a great product, what happens when a consumer buys a product from Patagonia?
"A couple of things," says Stanley. "We still give 1 percent to environmental causes, grassroots organizations. But we've got a platform now called Action Works so if you lived in Atlanta and you're interested in water issues you can go on the Action Works site and link up with organizations that are active in water issues in the region. What we're trying to do is be a convener of community in some way, both for the environmental community and for the sport communities. You get that but you also get a product that is made with a lot of attention to environmental quality, and the quality of life of the person who produces it."
I think the two things that are essential for business in the world now and that we're facing for the next 50 years or so," he says, "is does the product justify the social-environmental cost? Is it useful? And second, is it made in the right way? So, a jacket will be useful however it's made but it's important in our time to say, how was this made? How were the workers treated? How were the communities affected where these fabrics were created and the garments sewn?"
6 That Make a Difference
B Corporations come in all sizes and cover a range of industries. But here's a short list of six B Corps you might want to support this holiday season:
For every item purchased from 4Ocean, a Florida-based certified B Corp, 1 pound (0.45 kilograms) of plastic is pulled out of the ocean. Check out their bracelets made from recycled plastic and pieces of recovered tires.
If you're moving toward more sustainable kitchen supplies and are looking for a great stocking stuffer, check out Abeego — an all-natural food wrap made from beeswax. It comes in different-sized sets from small to extra-large, including a variety pack.
3. Eileen Fisher
This Oregon-based dairy is actually a farmer-owned cooperative committed to sustainable dairy farming. When you purchase Tillamook dairy products for your holiday meals, you're supporting about 80 farming families in Tillamook County, Oregon. And you can even buy their cheese online!
Toys designed with your child's brain development in mind, these beautiful playthings from Lovevery — solid wood blocks, an organic cotton play tunnel, a wooden pull toy — are made with natural materials to stimulate learning, curiosity and fun.
Yes, Patagonia sells jackets, fleeces and T-shirts, but did you know that they also sell worn Patagonia clothing and gear? It's a great way to get more out of the stuff that's already out there. Another unique idea for holiday gift-giving — Patagonia Provisions, which includes everything from sustainable venison sausages to wine, cider and sake.