FREDERICTON–Can businesses do good while doing well? Does profit have to come at an environmental or social cost? A growing number of businesses in New Brunswick say no. They’re part of a worldwide “B Corp” movement.
The nonprofit organization B Lab has developed a worldwide certification system, calling certified businesses B Corps. It says that B Corp certification is to businesses what Fair Trade certification is to coffee: an official stamp of approval that allows consumers to feel like they’re making the socially responsible choice.
The certification process is rigorous, requiring businesses to meet performance and legal requirements and be re-certified every two years. But both startups and more established businesses are learning fast that the stamp of approval is worth it both for their success and the benefit of society. B Corp certification publicly legitimizes the social and environmental endeavours of for-profit businesses and proves through practice that it’s possible for a business to both make money and do good.
Karina LeBlanc, Executive Director of the Pond Deshpande Centre at UNB, explains that the centre has been championing the B Corp movement in the region by hosting conversations about B Corps at conferences and making startups they work with aware of the option. She says that becoming a B Corp is an opportunity for businesses to show their commitment to social change.
“We’re a huge advocate for it,” LeBlanc says. “It’s really challenging when you are trying to be a social venture but you make money because people have this sort of skepticism that your motives are pure. We have this issue with money being a bad thing and that profit is greedy, so unfortunately when you’re a company that’s trying to work in that space, you meet a lot of barriers in acceptance.”
B Corp certification makes businesses accountable for their practices and transparent in the way they operate. This transparency is becoming more and more important to consumers who don’t want to support companies that are seen to be harming society or the environment.
“People are tired of fraudulent behaviours and greedy decision-making that’s all about wealth creation at all cost,” LeBlanc explains. “Although it’s still a small movement, consumers are starting to vote for responsible companies, companies that are responsible socially, environmentally. It’s just good for business.”
LeBlanc and the Pond Deshpande Centre encourage B Corp certification at the startup level since it’s much easier for a company just starting to become certified than one that is already large and established. LeBlanc believes these startups are the middle ground between corporations with the wealth creation at all cost attitude and struggling nonprofits that are unable to be innovative but are still held responsible for solving complex social problems.
“We try to bring those two polarized kind of models into a more moderate medium where corporations can function both as wealth creators but also have a mandate for social change and the ability to tackle some of these issues,” LeBlanc says.
She is working with Lisa Hrabluk of Wicked Ideas to begin a B Lab initiative in Atlantic Canada called “Best for Atlantic Canada” to help established companies become B Corp certified. This would give businesses in the area who have taken steps toward becoming B Corps the certification seal: Best for Atlantic Canada.
Owen Green co-owns the Saint John-based accounting firm Adams Green, which became a B Corp in March of this year. Green explains that they decided to become a B Corp because many of their existing practices were already in line with the B Corp mandate.
“Going through the process itself really helped us focus on what we wanted to be as a company and what things are important to us,” Green says. “It provides a good filter for making decisions as we go forward.”
Green explains that the certification allows them to bring on employees who have the same values as he does. He believes that people want to do work they feel good about, and a seal of approval from an organization with high social responsibility standards is assurance they’re making the right choice.
Green says that they’ve always set high standards for themselves at Adams Green. They try to work with other purpose-driven organizations such as other B Corps, social enterprises, not-for-profits, or companies with business models that emphasize doing something good for the world. The accounting firm also gives at least 1 per cent of its revenues to nonprofits and provides paid time off for employees to do volunteer work.
“We didn’t radically change anything about our business in order to become a B Corp,”says Green. “It just felt like the right thing to do. My wife is my business partner and it’s probably been the only decision we’ve made in three years where there’s no debate. It just makes sense for us.”
Green believes that the average business owner in New Brunswick would feel the same way as he does, that working towards this certification just makes sense. He thinks New Brunswick is the perfect place to make a name for itself in the socially responsible business world.
“I’d really like to see us as a province embrace this business model and show the world we’re receptive to those types of businesses,” he says. “It’s still a movement that’s in its infancy and I say why couldn’t we be the Silicon Valley of purpose-driven business?”