B Corps (the B stands for “Benefit”) are companies that are committed to using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. They have emerged as one of the most important developments in triple bottom line business.
Since Cultivating Capital is going through the process of becoming a Certified B Corporation, I wanted to share with you an overview of the certification process, especially the Impact Assessment.
Becoming a B Corp involves a 4-step process: filling out the Impact Assessment, conducting an assessment review with a staff member, adopting the legal framework, and reviewing the certification fees. The Impact Assessment, along with the resulting Impact Report, make up the B Impact Rating System.
The B Corp Impact Assessment
The B Corp Impact Assessment is a comprehensive survey of your business practices that determines your impact on all stakeholders; it’s updated every two years to ensure continual improvement. Expect to take 60-90 minutes to fill it out, but since it’s an online checklist, you can work on it, save it, and then return to it later to complete it.
It’s divided into 4 different sections:
There’s also a Disclosure Questionnaire, which covers a range of areas in which a company must disclose its activities. These include identifying if a company is involved in activities such as gambling and firearms, whether or not it engages in animal testing and uses child or prison labor, whether people have had to relocate due to construction of a company’s facility, and whether there have been any fines, sanctions, or formal complaints to regulatory agencies against a company’s practices.
Taken together, the Impact Assessment and Disclosure Questionnaire comprise a holistic framework for any company that is seeking to do good through its business operations – which is, of course, what B Corps are doing!
The Impact Assessment and Your Business
The Impact Assessment is useful in a couple of different ways. Of course, if you’re interested in becoming a B Corp, it’s the first step in the process. By filling it out and seeking certification, you’ll be committing your business to the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility.
However, the Impact Assessment is a great tool even if you’re not seeking certification. According to the B Corp website, “[The Impact Assessment] is free and open to all, whether or not you’d like to become a B Corporation. You are welcome to use it as a benchmarking tool and to track your company’s social and environmental performance.” You could register online, access the Impact Assessment, and use it to identify areas where you can make improvements in your own company’s operations. If you’d like to see how your company compares to other sustainable businesses, you can then check out the B Corp Index; it compares the social and environmental performance of more than 1,300 companies (on average, B Corps score 25% higher than other sustainable businesses).
To learn more about B Corps, I invite you to read the post, “What Are B Corps?” If you have any questions about B Corps or the Impact Assessment, please leave them in the comments below.
If you offer a green product or service, it’s important to also incorporate green initiatives into your own business. That’s why I’ve enrolled Cultivating Capital in the Bay Area Green Business Program.
The Bay Area Green Business Program was launched in 1996 and serves to “distinguish small businesses that protect, preserve and sustain our environment.” It operates in all nine Bay Area counties and has certified over 2200 businesses. The program is unique in that it is coordinated by the Association of Bay Area Governments and has partnerships with cities, utilities, and environmental agencies.
Why Should You Get Certified?
Going through the Green Business certification process can help you in different ways. First, you can identify opportunities for reducing expenses through implementing water and energy conservation measures, among other things. Second, you’ll be able to differentiate from your competitors who either may not be green or may not have the third-party certification to support their claims. And of course, there’s the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing your part as a responsible business owner to reduce your environmental impact!
As more businesses go green, it’s becoming increasingly important to be able to verify the claims you make about how your business is sustainable. Indeed, if you market your business as green, you should be aware that the FTC is revising its Green Guides and that there are guidelines regarding the claims that you can and cannot make. As part of this, the FTC is cracking down on rogue certifications that are effectively worthless. Receiving third-party certification can be an asset to your business, but only if it comes from a reputable organization; aside from the Green Business Program, B Corp certification is also worth looking at. [Full disclosure: As a Green Business Consultant with Alameda County, I assist businesses that are going through the certification process.]
The Green Business Certification Process
The process for getting certified is simple. You can enroll online by filling out a short form. After you enroll, you will need to fill out an online checklist. The checklist consists of six sections: Solid Waste, Energy, Water, Pollution Prevention, Wastewater, and General, and in each section you will need to indicate if you are performing both required and additional measures. The final step after you submit your checklist will be to coordinate on-site audits.
For an overview of ways to cut costs and emissions in your office, you might be interested in this previous post about “Going Green in Alameda County,” which features an interview with Alameda County Green Business Program Coordinator Pamela Evans.
The triple bottom line is one of the principles of sustainable business that gives weight not just to making a profit, but also to being responsible for how a business impacts people and the planet. In short, it looks at people, planet, and profit in all business considerations.
The financial component is the one that we are most familiar with, because it has traditionally been the only part that a company has to be concerned about. The concept of natural capital has gained increased attention as we realize that many of the natural resources we take for granted are not going to be around forever. The “people” part is really about human capital – the people who actually carry out the work of the company, as well as the people who are impacted by the company (this is the part that puts the “social responsibility” in CSR, corporate social responsibility).
Putting People First
Many forward-thinking companies look at how to really value their people. Perhaps one of the most important developments has been the emergence of B Corps, which expands the concept of shareholders to consider all stakeholders – basically everyone touched by the business, including employees, customers, suppliers, and community members.
Companies that put people first realize that it’s good for business. Some early research suggests that green businesses may have happier employees – employee productivity may actually increase when people feel good about the sustainability initiatives of the company that they work for.
What Does This Mean for Your Business?
Remember that your business is all about people. Who is touched by your business? Obviously, employees and customers are, but what about others, such as the people who live in the community where your raw materials are originally extracted? Then ask yourself, “How can my business impact them in a positive way?” Some ways to do this are to implement employee engagement programs, partner with a non-profit in your local community, and ensure that, if you outsource any of your work, it is done in compliance with human rights and labor laws.
The more that you can do this, the more that you will build goodwill and loyalty among the people who make your business possible. In turn, this will help your business to be sustainable for the long-term.
The enthusiasm of entrepreneurs and small business owners – combined with the beautiful weather in Oakland – made today’s 6th Annual Ignite New Business Expo another successful event, despite having smaller attendance than last year.
According to the Ignite website, “The Ignite! Expo is a launching point for new local entrepreneurs to showcase their micro-business to the community.” Spearheaded by Boku Kodama of UrbanFire, the event is a great showcase of our small business community in the East Bay.
The Expo featured some creative businesses, along with a variety of support services for small business owners. There was also a variety of tasty foods available from businesses such as Our Cuban Kitchen. Support services ranged from the OBDC Finance for small business loans to the Sustainable Business Alliance and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Why are events like Ignite important?
I believe that events like this are important because they support the development of a strong local economy – an economy of local, independently owned businesses that are part of and give back to the community. If you’re interested in learning more, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies is a great resource that explains why local economies are important.
Your customers are constantly looking for a better value, your competitors don’t let up for a moment, the technology you’re used to becomes obsolete quickly, and you need to run your business while also trying to have some balance with your personal life. No wonder you’re so busy!
However, keeping up with changes becomes especially important in this day and age. In particular, there are two recent developments that have changed the landscape of business and that will affect you now and in the future. All businesses, large and small, will need to incorporate these into their overall strategy in order to be successful in the 21st century. These two changes are the need to become more sustainable and to effectively leverage online and social media marketing.
By now, you probably know that going green and marketing online are important. The question is: are you doing both effectively? Consider that 46% of small businesses don’t have a website (still!) and many businesses are still learning how to integrate sustainability into their overall strategy and operations. If you’re focused on just surviving in the present, you’re missing out on gaining a competitive edge for the future.
If you go green but don’t market, you may not generate enough sales to make your business profitable. Most customers, including older Baby Boomers, are now going online for information. Without an online presence, your business simply can’t be found. Without social media, it’s harder to connect with and educate your customers.
If you market but don’t go green, you will be at a disadvantage in several ways. First, your expenses may be higher than those of competitors who have implemented green practices such as conserving water and energy, which can directly benefit your bottom line. Second, you may be missing out on potential customers who are factoring environmental considerations into their purchases. And finally, you may be unprepared for how changes such as increases in gasoline prices may affect the shipping of your products.
Ultimately, the best way to ensure that your business will survive and thrive for the long-term is to integrate sustainability and the triple-bottom line into your business and market yourself online effectively.