Benefit Corporations and B Corps: The Latest Buzz #9

Benefit Corporations (a legal designation) and Certified B Corporations (a third-party certification) are changing the landscape of sustainable business. Here’s the latest from around the web about this important movement:

Finally, watch B Lab co-founder Andrew Kassoy get recognized at Clinton Global Initiative!

What are your thoughts on the latest B Corp news?

Alameda County Recycling Rules Go Into Effect

Photo by Brittany Murlas

As of July 1st, 2012 California state law (AB341) makes mandatory commercial recycling a legal requirement throughout the state.

In preparation for the new state law, Alameda County’s Waste Management Authority created an ordinance specifying which materials must be recycled, the recycling services required by East Bay cities, and how the law will be enforced in Alameda County. Beginning January 1st, 2013 if business or property owners who are not in compliance with this new law, they may be subject to warnings and possible fines.

Until now business and residential properties were not required to recycle. The new county and state laws target the two groups that recycle the least. Alameda County’s ordinance was designed to help the county reach its long-term goal to ensure recyclables and compostables make up less than 10 percent of landfill by 2020.

Recycling Costs and Requirements

As a business owner, you might have a common question: Will this cost more money? Recycling could cost more money, but the good news is that it is more likely businesses and landlords will be breaking even or possibly even saving money. Most recycling services cost half as much as garbage rates. According to OaklandLocal.com, if high waste generating businesses are appropriately distributing their recycling and garbage, the total cost for both recycling and garbage may be less than one would pay for just garbage collection.

All businesses, commercial property owners, property managers and institutions such as hospitals and nonprofit organizations that generate four or more cubic yards of garbage per week are required to:

  1. Arrange for recycling collection,
  2. Provide containers for recyclables
  3. Mark recycling containers with information on how to separate, and
  4. Provide employees/tenants with information on recycling.

It is possible for businesses to receive a waiver of exemption for reasons such as financial hardship, limited space, and lack of service. Some East Bay cities have opted out of the county-wide ordinance for a period of time or indefinitely, in which case Alameda County Waste Management is working provide the city’s recycling options. For information on recycling collection services available in your city, see the county’s City by City information page.

Resources to Help You

Do you need help setting up or improving your business’s recycling program? Help is available! You can:

10 Resources to Help Your Business Go Green in Alameda County

I recently wrote about the sustainability progression for East Bay businesses and how we have so many resources available here to help businesses to go green. Below, I’ve listed just 10 resources to get you started.

green business

© Marincas_andrei | Dreamstime.com

  1. Stopwaste: Stopwaste is focused on reducing the waste stream in Alameda County. How do they do this? By offering technical assistance, funding assistance, and a wealth of resources to help businesses reduce what they send to the landfill.
  2. Recology: An employee-owned business that provides recycling, composting, and disposal services for businesses, Recology is a great resource. They’ll even do a free waste consultation for you to help you determine how you can save money by implementing recycling and composting services while reducing your waste pick-up.
  3. Smart Lights: Would your business benefit from a free energy audit that would help you identify how you can be more energy efficient, saving both money and natural resources, while also identifying available rebate opportunities for the retrofit? If so, Smart Lights can do just that and help you if you’re in Oakland, Berkeley, Albany or parts of Contra Costa County.
  4. B.E.S.T. Program: Is your business in an area not covered by Smart Lights but still interested in a free energy audit and assistance with rebates? The Business Energy Solutions Team offers a similar service to businesses in other parts of the East Bay, including San Leandro, Hayward, San Ramon, and Walnut Creek.
  5. Smart Solar: Have you ever wondered if installing solar panels would be possible for your business? Smart Solar can help you answer that question. They offer free solar assessments and project assistance to businesses that are PG&E customers throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
  6. Food Service Technology Center: If you’re in the restaurant industry, the Food Service Technology Center is an amazing resource for you. They specialize in promoting energy efficiency in food service and can help you with site surveys (free to PG&E customers), finding rebates for kitchen equipment (did you know you could get a $500 rebate for an energy efficient fryer?), and more.
  7. Bay-Friendly Landscaping: Stopwaste is one of the sponsors of the Bay-Friendly Landscaping and Gardening Coalition, which promotes sustainable landscaping that conserves water and reduce pollution. If your business has landscaping, consider using a Bay-Friendly Qualified Professional (and be sure to use drought-tolerant, California native plants!).
  8. Sustainable Business Alliance: The SBA is a business association committed to building a vibrant community of locally-owned, sustainably-minded businesses in the East Bay. SBA offers networking and business development for members, educates the public about the benefits of local economies and spending money locally, and supports public policy changes that promote sustainable economic development.
  9. Green Chamber of Commerce: The Green Chamber is a growing and diverse business network dedicated to promoting the success of its members, supporting the development of sustainable business practices, and advocating for  green public policy.
  10. Green Business Program: Last but most certainly not least is the Alameda County Green Business Program, which can provide your business with resources and support to receive Green Business Certification. The Green Business Program sets standards in areas such as energy efficiency and water conservation and partners with cities and utilities to help businesses to reduce their environmental impacts.

I know there are more resources out there! What would you add to this list?

The Sustainability Progression for East Bay Businesses

Green earth

© Mopic | Dreamstime.com

As a business owner in the East Bay, you are in a unique position with the sustainability options available to you.

There’s a sustainability progression that is available to East Bay businesses, and each step along the way provides an opportunity for you to establish a solid sustainability foundation for your business:

  1. Get started on going green – everyone has to start somewhere, and making sure that you cover the basics is a good first step.
  2. Work on Green Business Certification – meet the third-party standards of the Alameda County Green Business Program, which addresses energy efficiency, water conservation, pollution prevention, and waste reduction.
  3. Work on B Corp Certification – build upon your environmental efforts through B Corp Certification, a national certification for companies that harness the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
  4. Go beyond and blaze a trail for other triple-bottom line businesses – this is the new territory in which you join other companies that are breaking new ground in reimagining business for the 21st century.

It could be argued that business owners everywhere have access to this same sustainability progression. However, there are a few features that make the East Bay unique:

  1. Getting started – an abundance of resources exist here that facilitate the process of getting started in the greening process. Looking for free energy audits? Both Smart Lights and the BEST program serve Alameda County. Interested in recycling options? Stopwaste.org can assist with everything from setting up recycling programs to figuring out how to properly dispose of almost anything you can imagine. Would you like to network with other green business owners? Both the Sustainable Business Alliance and the Green Chamber of Commerce can facilitate that. The list of resources to help you go green that we have available here is quite extensive!
  2. Green Business Certification – the Alameda County Green Business Program is a robust program with over 500 certified businesses. The program sets clear standards for certification and has developed strong partnerships with utilities and municipalities throughout the county that support the program. In addition, certified businesses go through an audit process that ensures that their practices meet the program standards, which strengthens the credibility for this program over others that forgo confirmation of a company’s practices.
  3. B Corp Certification – while B Corps exist throughout the US and Canada, the East Bay is home to many B Corps, including Give Something Back, Green Retirement Plans, Numi Tea, Free Range Studios, Cutting Edge Capital, Sungevity, Wendel Rosen, and Scientific Certification Systems, to name just a few. Plus, the West Coast B Corp staff office is just across the Bay in San Francisco. The combination of a local office and numerous certified businesses results in an active community that can provide support to new B Corps.
  4. Go beyond the Bay Area is a hub of activity right now around sustainable business, social entrepreneurship, impact investing, clean tech, green building, progressive legislation, and numerous other factors that are paving the way towards new models for the socially and environmentally responsible businesses of the future. If any company is interested in pushing the boundaries of old business models and trying something new and innovative, this is the time and place to do it.

Do you own a business in the East Bay? Where are you in this progression?

 

California Passes Benefit Corporation and Green Business Legislation!

Over the weekend, Governor Brown signed two important pieces of legislation that will help to advance socially and environmentally responsible businesses in the state: AB 361 and AB 913.

AB 361: Benefit Corporations

With AB 361, California joins a growing list of states that now recognize Benefit Corporations. The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Jared Huffman and creates a “new, entirely voluntary type of corporate entity to let California businesses balance the pursuit of corporate profits with environmental and social goals.” Under current state law, corporations are required to prioritize profit and financial interests. Benefit corporations are different in that they allow corporations to give equal consideration to social and environmental interests instead of just to financial profit. This is a significant step that gives triple bottom line businesses legal recognition in California.

AB 913: California Green Business Program

AB 913 requires the Depart of Toxic Substances Control to establish a California Green Business Program. Under the Hazardous Waste Source Reduction and Management Review Act of 1989, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is already required to establish a program for hazardous waste reduction. AB 913 requires that, as part of implementing its source reduction program, the DTSC develop:

“A California Green Business Program that provides for the voluntary certification of businesses that adopt environmentally preferable business practices, including but not limited to, increased energy efficiency, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, promotion of water conservation, and reduced waste generation.”

Green and Sustainable Businesses: Onward and Upward!

Taken together, these two pieces of legislation can have a significant impact on businesses that want to incorporate the triple bottom line into their business practices. AB 913 will provide additional resources to the many small businesses in the state that want to go green but may need guidance and support in order to do so. AB 361 will give corporations that are ready to adopt a new corporate form that better reflects their social and environmental mission an option for legally doing so. Both the creation of a statewide Green Business Program and the new Benefit Corporation entity will also help consumers to distinguish between businesses that make green claims versus those that either meet green business certification standards and/or incorporate social and environmental interests into their legal framework. It should also be noted that both Benefit Corporation status and Green Business Certification are entirely voluntary.

Additional information about AB 361: Benefit Corporation legislation and the Green Business Program is available on the blog.

 

Green Chamber of Commerce Interview with Cultivating Capital

Green Chamber of Commerce

One of the organizations that is leading the way in advancing the green economy is the Green Chamber of Commerce. The Green Chamber of Commerce is a growing and diverse business network dedicated to:

  • Promoting the success of its members,
  • Supporting the development of sustainable business practices, and
  • Advocating for  green public policy

As a member of the Green Chamber, I was recently interviewed and invited to share my thoughts about Cultivating Capital, working with women entrepreneurs, and sustainability. The full interview is available on the Green Chamber website and is reposted below.

GCC: Tell me about the founding vision of Cultivating Capital and how the company was started?

CM: The vision for Cultivating Capital emerged while I was getting an MBA in Sustainable Enterprise from Dominican University. I was interested in sustainability consulting and was thinking about working with women business owners. As I did some market research, I came upon compelling statistics about the expected growth in women-owned businesses in the next few years. I realized that if that entrepreneurial activity could be harnessed and steered in a sustainable direction, it could prove to be a critical leverage point for transformation in business. Cultivating Capital was started in order to bring attention to and accelerate that process.

GCC: How did you come to Cultivating Capital and what is your background?

CM: My background is in non-profit and small business management. As Health & Safety Director for the American Red Cross, I managed all First Aid and CPR classes and related programs for the Palo Alto chapter. As the Sustainability & Marketing Manager for Greenerprinter, I developed and implemented the company’s first social media marketing strategy, worked on SEO, and restructured the Adwords account, ensuring that all would coordinate with our overall marketing strategy. On the sustainability side, I handled two certifications for the company, B Corp and the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership. After completing my MBA, I decided to start my own company, Cultivating Capital. At about the same time, I also began working with the Alameda County Green Business Program as a Green Business Consultant and shortly thereafter joined the Board of the Sustainable Business Alliance, where I chair the Marketing Committee.

GCC: What kind of consulting services does Cultivating Capital offer?

CM: Cultivating Capital helps small business owners in the two areas that are shaping business in the 21st century: going green and marketing themselves online. Specifically, an audit of the business can serve as a starting point for evaluating its current sustainability and online marketing practices and then serve as a foundation on which to develop the overall strategy in both of those areas. I also work with business owners in business plan development and overall business strategy.

GCC: Can you describe examples of women’s businesses with whom you have worked and describe how you have helped them develop more sustainable businesses?

CM: Some current projects include working on an online marketing strategy for a firm that helps social enterprises to raise capital; working with a sustainability-minded bookkeeping business on green business certification, marketing and operational improvements; providing business planning and development support for a sustainable business incubator; and developing a business plan for a boutique offering sustainably-produced clothing.

GCC: What advice do you have for others in your industry who are trying to be more green?

CM: I think that consultants and business service professionals can do quite a bit to go green, beyond just using recycled paper or minimizing paper use. Are we using a big business bank for business checking services, or are we putting our money into local banks that are more likely to benefit the local community? Are we constantly driving to meetings, or are we using public transit and virtual meetings to reduce driving? Are we evaluating our own supply chain? For example, purchasing office supplies from a large chain store versus a local, independently owned business makes a difference. These are just some of the things that even service professionals can consider when trying to go green themselves.

GCC: Have you faced any obstacles in the process of trying to be a sustainable business?  If so, how did you or how do you continue to overcome them?

CM: I wouldn’t call them obstacles, but I have had to do more research and in some cases pay more money in order to work with companies that share my sustainability values. It took me a while to find the right green-certified insurance agent and locally owned bank to work with. I also wanted to use a locally owned, green web hosting service but for practical purposes, it was easier to use the hosting service that my web designer used. This is one area that I’m hoping to change at some point in the future.

GCC: Can you describe specifically your sustainable business practices?

CM: I’ve tried to make Cultivating Capital a sustainable business in several ways. First, I started my company with the intention of having it become a Certified B Corporation, so I worked with an attorney who was familiar with B Corps. We specified in the LLC operating agreement that due consideration would be given to the company’s effects on stakeholders and the environment, among other things. This ensured that the triple bottom line of “people, planet, and profit” is in the DNA of Cultivating Capital. Second, I chose a LEED-certified workspace (the Hub at the Brower Center; the Brower Center is itself also a Certified Green Business). Finally, I’ve also made it a point to green my own supply chain as much as possible by working with other companies that are either Certified Green Businesses or B Corps (or both), such as the Katovitch Law Group, Avail Insurance Services, and Greenerprinter.

I’m also going through the auditing process to become a Certified Green Business in Alameda County and have started my own B Corp certification process; both of these are reputable certifications that have established clear and transparent standards for green and sustainable businesses (and in an era of greenwashing, the need for standards is becoming increasingly important). There’s a post on my blog that explains more about my own sustainable business practices: Sustainability for One Small Business.

GCC: What does sustainability mean to you?

CM: Sustainability is a framework through which we can create a world that is socially just and operates within natural environmental limits. Although in modern western society, we tend to act as if we can separate ourselves from nature, the reality is that we can’t – every single item that we use in our daily lives is provided by nature, if we trace it back to the original raw materials from which it was created, so working within natural limits is necessary. We also need to ensure that all people have at least their basic human needs met and that they can live with dignity. I don’t believe that this is an idealistic notion; rather, I see it as an imperative based upon basic human compassion and a necessity for stability in an inter-connected world. When a business takes responsibility for its social and environmental impact, it moves us closer towards this better world. Sustainability helps to make this possible.

GCC: Why did you decide to join with the Green Chamber and how has it impacted your business?

CM: A lot of work needs to be done to move us closer to a just and sustainable world, and we each have a role to play. I respect the Green Chamber’s national advocacy efforts and want to support its work and also to be part of the green business community.

Green Business Certification for Cultivating Capital

I’m happy to announce that Cultivating Capital is now a Certified Green Business in Alameda County! Bay Area Green Business Program

Certification through the Bay Area Green Business Program involves a three-step process:

  1. Fill out an online application on the Green Business Program website.
  2. Complete an online checklist that will cover measures related to your practices in the areas of energy and water conservation, solid waste, pollution prevention, wastewater, and purchasing and employee engagement.
  3. Complete on-site audits.

The on-site audits are conducted to ensure compliance with the program standards. The auditors may vary depending upon the city, but for Cultivating Capital they included:

  • Solid waste: Audit conducted by the City of Berkeley.
  • Water conservation: Audit conducted by EBMUD (East Bay Municipal Utilities District).
  • Energy conservation, pollution prevention, wastewater: Audit conducted by a Green Business Consultant (as a Green Business Consultant with the Green Business Program, I also conduct audits of businesses going through the certification process but obviously another auditor handled my own certification).

And, as it turns out, Cultivating Capital is the 500th business to receive Green Business Certification in Alameda County!

 

Sustainability for One Small Business

When I started Cultivating Capital, I wanted to create a company that would not just help others to become more sustainable, but would also incorporate the best sustainable business practices. After all, if we are to reimagine business for the 21st century, we can’t just set up and operate our companies in the traditional way.

Supporting Companies with Shared Values Small business sustainability on main street

Most of the companies that I’ve worked with are B Corps or Certified Green Businesses. When it comes to defining what it means to actually be a green or sustainable business, there are few agreed-upon standards, which makes it easy for a business to call itself green even if it isn’t. However, Certified Green Businesses have met local standards in the Bay Area for environmental responsibility, and B Corps have met national standards for social and environmental responsibility. I know that these companies share my social and environmental values and have been vetted by reputable, third-party organizations. If we are to transition to an economy that supports local, sustainable businesses that minimize their environmental impact and give back to local communities, we need to support those businesses financially. This means making conscious choices about how we spend our business dollars and remembering that every dollar spent is a vote in favor of a company’s practices.

With that in mind, below is a list of some of the things that I’ve done and suppliers I’ve used to help Cultivating Capital be more sustainable:

  • LLC Filing & Legal Services: Katovitch Law Group, a local Certified Green Business and B Corp in Oakland. We specified in the LLC operating agreement that due consideration would be given to the company’s effects on stakeholders and the environment. This ensures that the triple bottom line of “people, planet, and profit” is in the DNA of Cultivating Capital (it’s also the legal framework for B Corps).
  • Business Banking: Mechanics Bank, a local community bank. One of the most important decisions that any of us can make around sustainability is deciding where we put our money. We may want to create jobs in our local community and support local, green businesses, but if we then give our hard-earned money to big banks that do not act in the best interests of that community, we actually undermine our best efforts.
  • Business Cards: Greenerprinter, a local Certified Green Business and B Corp. Beyond using recycled paper, Greenerprinter has implemented progressive practices within the printing industry, and offers high-quality printing at competitive prices. [Full disclosure: I was a Greenerprinter employee for two years.]
  • Business Insurance: Avail Insurance, a local Certified Green Business based in Berkeley.
  • Office Space: Cultivating Capital is based at the Hub, a progressive co-working space that attracts people working on “solutions for a better world.” The Hub is located in the David Brower Center, a LEED certified building in Berkeley and itself a Certified Green Business in Alameda County.
  • Office Purchases: Most of my office supplies come from Alko Office Supply, a local, independent business in Berkeley just around the corner from the Brower Center.
  • Transportation: With the excellent public transit system that we have in the Bay Area, I rarely drive anymore. BART can usually get me anywhere I need to go. In addition to reducing emissions and avoiding the traffic congestion on Bay Area freeways, there’s the added benefit of being able to use the time in transit productively to get work done.

Of course, this isn’t to say that I’ve done everything that I can to make Cultivating Capital the kind of company that I want it to be! These are simply the first steps that I took when I started the business; I just didn’t feel that I could honestly say that I wanted to create a triple bottom line, sustainable business if I created a traditional LLC, banked at Bank of America, printed my business cards at Vistaprint, and purchased my office supplies at Staples. But there’s still a lot more that I’d like to do. Here are some projects that are on deck:

  • Green Business and B Corp Certification: I would be remiss if I didn’t adhere to the very standards that I most respect for sustainable businesses! As a result, Cultivating Capital is currently going through the auditing process for Green Business Certification in Alameda County, and I’ve begun the process to become a Certified B Corporation (the first step of which is to take the Impact Assessment). [I'm also a Green Business Consultant with the Alameda County Green Business Program, but my business is, of course, subject to the same standards and auditing process as any other business.]
  • Giving back to the community: Currently I volunteer on the Board of the Sustainable Business Alliance, but I would like to identify other ways in which Cultivating Capital can give back to the community, including perhaps donating a percentage of profits to a local non-profit or making a micro-loan to an entrepreneur through Kiva.
  • Local, green web hosting: This was a tough one. I had wanted to use a locally owned, green web hosting service but for practical purposes, it was easier to use the hosting service that my web designer used; fortunately, his choice (Servint) has implemented some green initiatives, but I would still prefer to use a local service. This is one area that I’m hoping to change at some point in the future.

It’s important to remember that what it means to be a sustainable business is still being defined: “Make my business sustainable” is not something that can just be checked off a list! Rather, it’s an ongoing, evolving process of continual improvement. Nevertheless, that’s a rundown about what I’ve done so far to make Cultivating Capital a sustainable small business. I’d love to hear about what you’ve done in the comments.

Green Business Certification in Alameda County

 

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.

Human Capital: The “People” Part of the Triple Bottom Line

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.

Other examples of companies that are putting people first include: Human Capital: People Part of the Triple Bottom Line

  • Zappos, which CEO Tony Hsieh has famously built around employee happiness.
  • Semco, a Brazilian company that has implemented innovative workplace practices, including allowing workers to set their own salaries, as the “Caring Capitalist” video explains.
  • Clif Bar, the food company with 5 aspirations, one of which is to “create a workplace where people can live life to its fullest, even from 9-5.”

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.