[Issue 066] Companies redefining business success
This week I interviewed Jay Coen Gilbert, the co-founder of B Lab. Thanks to B Lab, there is a movement of companies considering the impact of their decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.
It's particularly timely given the political firestorm (pun intended) that ignited after Nike released a commercial in support of ex-NFL player Colin Kaepernick.
I love the ad, and I am grateful for the company's stance on the issue. However, I have been thinking a lot about the ongoing conversation and what's been concerningly absent: Nike's gender discrimination lawsuit and accusations of rampant sexism (among other social justice issues in the company's history).
A recent Fast Company piece reminds us that, despite all of our wishes for companies to speak out on important issues, what's most important is that they start with themselves first:
"Ultimately, political action for brands needs to begin at home–in the small, everyday decisions they make about how to treat their workers and make their products."
Which leaves me hungry to find companies that are transparently centering social responsibility in their business strategy. And there's no better place to start than B Lab's Best for the World list.
Scroll down for my interview with Jay about the list's significance and what impact he hopes this movement will have on Corporate America as a whole.
P.S. All GIFs and emphasis are mine. (SHOCKING, I know.)
Jay Coen Gilbert, Co-Founder of B Lab
What is Best For The World and what excites you most about it? The Best For The World lists redefine success in business. Rather than celebrating just the businesses that are the biggest or the fastest growing, B Lab celebrates the businesses that are the best for their workers, their communities and the environment. These companies are not just best in the world; they are best FOR the world.
Earlier this year, B Lab released the Best For The World lists for greatest positive impact. Last week, B Lab released the Best For The World: Changemakers list, which recognizes the companies that have made the greatest improvement over the last two years.These Best For The World Changemakers are making the biggest measurable improvement through their business operations, treatment of their workers, interactions with their communities, and care for the environment.
This year, we recognize 203 Certified B Corporations who are transparently verifying and proving they “walk the talk” living into our values of continuous improvement. As consumers and talent demand change from the businesses they buy from and work at, these Changemakers are leading the way in setting examples, changing the dialogue, and reframing how we do business.
[As background, we released the additional six Best For The World lists in June, recognizing top performers, and have published the technical methodology used to select honorees.]
What are some of the stand out companies of the 2018 list? All of the honorees have put incredible effort into prioritizing positive changes at their business. Changing the status quo – even within a single organization, much less the entire business ecosystem – is hard work, and every incremental step in a new, better direction is important to celebrate.
Some of the Best For The World: Changemakers in 2018 include well-known brands Patagonia, Elieen Fisher and Fetzer and lesser-known, yet still strong and impactful companies, such as Daproim Africa, GladRags, Elephants Delicatessen and Greyston Bakery.
Several of this year’s honorees, including Eileen Fisher and Fetzer, made the most measurable improvement in governance, not always the sexiest of conversation topics but arguably one of the most important in shifting culture and systems. They adopted the benefit corporation legal structure (or its equivalent, depending upon whether the structure is available in their state), meaning they codified their mission and values into their DNA, their bylaws and operating documents. By adopting this corporate structure, companies legally bind and protect business directors – through transition of leadership or sale – to place the concerns of all stakeholders (community members, employees, the environment, etc.) on a level playing field with shareholder returns.
It challenges the current mainstream business priorities and legal construct, known as shareholder primacy, and represents a new way forward for business to be responsible for all of their impacts, instead of externalizing them.
The model has formed the base of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposed Accountable Capitalism Act, as an example of its wide-reaching potential, and has been signed into law by governors and former governors on all sides of the aisle, including 16 conservative Republicans, including Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Jan Brewer, and Sam Brownback.
One additional highlight is Eco2librium, a private company developing and distributing cookstoves and renewable-energy production with operations in the Kakamega region of Western Kenya, Africa. To date, Eco2 has created more than 400 jobs in an area known for staggering rates of unemployment. Eco2 also offers employees a chance to become owners of the business in a region where that concept is rare.
The company has developed out of a recognition that “it is hard to save the forest on an empty stomach,” meaning Eco2 is focused on climate justice—which for the company means creating profitable, sustainable business and employment opportunities led and performed by Kenyans in order to achieve improved conservation.
And, in terms of shared and more equitable ownership, there’s Amicus Cooperative, which is 100 percent owned by its 50 member-owner solar companies in 34 states across the United States. The members openly share and collaborate on business topics, from operational efficiencies to sales and marketing strategies. The cooperative companies combine purchasing power and band together for project financing, while remaining independently owned and operated. Each member has equal representation in the co-op. And the members have chosen to cross into the public sector and advocate — and provide paid time for employees to advocate — on behalf of clean energy legislation, sharing expertise on written standards and cooperatively submitting statements to best advance renewable energy as a climate change solution across the country.
The categories for the impact assessment that you use vary from customer experience to environmental impact, all of which are important. Are there any that you’ve found companies struggle with the most? No company is perfect; and there is no perfect B Corp. The B Corp community is all about continuous improvement. Some businesses think about people first; some think about climate first. The biggest struggle for all businesss, like for all people, is to look beyond what is familiar and comfortable to begin to see the bigger picture of how it’s all connected.
The most powerful part of the B Corp model is that it creates a process and offers tools like the B Impact Assessment to ask ourselves questions that help us see the bigger picture. Like any practice, the struggle is doing it consistently and finding a community that supports your growth. That's the power of B Corp.
Do companies outside of the U.S. face unique challenges in trying to get certified? Not really. There are now more B Corps outside the US than inside the US. There are B Corps in more than 65 countries. B Lab is a global network of partner organizations that serve the B Corp community and the growing B Economy in Latin America, East Africa, Europe, UK, Asia, and Australia and New Zealand. [Full Directory]
The B Impact Assessment takes into account the country in which each business operates and has been translated into several languages, including Spanish and Portuguese. We’ve got lots of work to do to make the translations better, to include more languages, and better local best practices and case studies, but there is no special challenge to becoming a B Corp—beyond local business environment challenges—no matter where your business is located.
In a recent article you shared compelling quotes from politicians and corporate leaders about the importance of businesses developing a social mission. What lessons do you believe Corporate America as a whole could learn from this year’s Best for the World Honorees?
Systems change requires a viable alternative. B Corps prove that we have a viable alternative to business as usual.
These changemakers, in proving that meaningful change is possible and contributes to business success, offer the entire business community the opportunity to ask and seek answers to deeper questions, the questions consumers and workers and politicians are asking:
Who has ownership, and who deserves ownership?
How equitable is our current compensation structure?
What are we doing to build healthy communities, not just a healthy bottom line?
How are we addressing not just climate risk but climate justice?
And perhaps the biggest questions:
Are we maximizing value for all stakeholders, not just shareholders?
How do we define success?
The 203 Best for the World honorees’ stories offer examples of what change is possible, both in the short term and long term, and the ways to prioritize making it happen.
Levi Strauss CEO: Why Business Leaders Need to Take a Stand on Gun Violence. CEO Chip Bergh, a supporter of gun control, writes about receiving death threats after writing an open letter requesting that people who own guns not bring them into Levi stores or offices. He goes on to say that as a CEO of such a large company, he sees it as a responsibility to speak up on important issues, and that other CEOs and companies should follow suit. Levi Strauss has also established a fund that will direct $1 million in grants for nonprofits and youth activists working to end gun violence and is partnering with Everytown for Gun Safety, a group of business leaders who want to do something about gun violence. // FORTUNE
What It’s Like to Be a Disabled Model in the Fashion Industry. Written about 3 disabled models, Jillian Mercado, Mama Cāx, and Chelsea Werner, this piece highlights their struggles in the fashion industry, which is infamous for its exclusion of models with disabilities (or any models that are not thin, white, able bodied, for that matter). Teen Vogue styled and photographed the models and each has their own Teen Vogue “The New Faces of Fashion” cover. // TEEN VOGUE
Bayer Says More Americans Are Alleging Monsanto Weedkillers Cause Cancer. Recently, a school grounds worker won a case against Monsanto due to the connection between their weedkiller, RoundUp, and the grounds worker’s lethal cancer. Bayer, the parent company of Monsanto, is reporting that there are now about 18,700 plaintiffs alleging that the weedkiller caused their or a loved one’s cancer. // WSJ
Whole Foods Employees Step Up Efforts to Unionize, Cite laundry list of grievances under Amazon ownership. Whole Foods employees have been citing many complaints since Amazon purchased the company last year. Whole Foods workers have been anonymously sharing their concerns about the company and the treatment of the employees. They have experienced layoffs, poor wage growth, and have been asked to do more work without compensation. // CNBC
State Farm Ducks Racketeering Trial With $250 Million Accord. State Farm has recently been charged with $250 million dollars due to a trial with customers who claimed the company tried to rig the justice system in Illinois to remove a $1 billion jury verdict from 2 decades before. Originally, the customers were seeking $8.5 billion, however, State Farm denies any wrongdoing and says they settled simply to end the trial. // BLOOMBERG
At Wells Fargo, Discontent Simmers Among Female Executives. Recently 12 female executives at Wells Fargo met quietly to discuss how women at the company are treated. Some have been told, “Women should be at home taking care of their children,” and others have been turned down for promotions or roles for which that they were qualified for. // WSJ
A brief history of batshit conservative boycotts. Because as we head into U.S. midterm elections, laughter will keep us going. The piece starts: "Although American conservatives are frighteningly competent when it comes to actually winning elections, they cannot stage a public protest for shit." // OUTLINE
**Also, PLEASE tell me you're registered to vote!**