If we must have the corporation, let it be “B”

Few people are yet aware of it, but there is a new form of organization that seeks to transform the behavior of the corporation to make business a force for change that servers the common good. The B Corporation is “a new type of corporation that meets rigorous and independent standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” 

Here’s a letter from the B Lab team that recounts the recent history and announces the upcoming retreat.—t.h.g.

It was twenty years ago today . . .

Actually, it was five years ago this week that the curtain rose on the B Corp movement.
At the invitation of then BALLE executive director and current RSF Social Finance CEO Don Shaffer, we were given an opportunity to share the vision of B Corp in a plenary setting before we had any business being given the stage.  As if sensing the moment, 13 leaders of the sustainable business community with whom we had been gestating the concept for more than a year, said that if the curtain was rising on B Corp, then they wanted to be on stage for the first performance.

Our memory is (other than Jay being uncharacteristically brief in his introductory remarks) mostly of being humbled that these leaders, already recognized as such by their peers, were willing to stand up and lend their credibility to something so unlikely and audacious.  But, then, that is what leaders do.

We remember (perhaps correctly) Jeff Mendelsohn characteristically bounding to take the mic first to explain why New Leaf Paper was becoming a Founding B Corporation.  Or maybe it was Mike Hannigan (Give Something Back) who led off as our unofficial local host?  Or maybe everyone appropriately deferred to Judy Wicks (White Dog Café) as BALLE’s co-founder?  They were joined by Matthew Bauer (Better World Telecom), Ben Bingham (now 3 Sisters Sustainable Investments), Jason Salfi (Comet Skateboards), Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds (Indigenous Designs), Elizabeth Guman (now Strategy Arts), Mal Warwick (Mal Warwick Associates), and competitors cum collaborators Adam Lowry (Method), Gregor Barnum and Jeffrey Hollender (Seventh Generation).  We are sure (and sorry) that we are forgetting some who were leading that day.

It is wonderful to be here.  It’s certainly a thrill.

It’s hard to believe this all began from a standing start five years ago.  Although, it wasn’t a standing start was it.  The sustainable business movement, the local living economies movement, socially responsible business and investing movements, microfinance, clean tech, organics, green building et al were all long-standing and vibrant.  Myriad thought and action leaders too numerous to mention have inspired and influenced each of those on stage and the now more than 500 Certified B Corps in countless ways.  The community of B Corps will hopefully inspire and influence the next generation of leaders whose names we don’t yet know and whose ideas we can’t yet imagine.

With the 5th anniversary of the B Corp on our minds and our October Champions Retreat approaching, we are feeling the need to reflect and to hear your reflections on where we’ve been and where we may be headed.  Whether you’d like to share a memory, a vision, or a concern, a hope, an idea, or a suggestion, please share it with us or post it on our internal B Corp community listserve – which you can access here.

In five short years, together we have built a vibrant and diverse community of more than 500 leading businesses across 60 industries, 40 states, and now 8 countries.  More than 2,000 other sustainable businesses are using the standards we’ve developed together to measure what matters most and to help them benchmark their performance and increase their impact.  Together, we have passed legislation — that a former president of the American Bar Association calls ‘the first, real, original, constructive thought in the corporate governance world in 25 years’ – in 7, no, now 8 states, as today benefit corporation legislation was enacted in Louisiana by Republican Governor Bobby Jindahl.  Much more has been accomplished (the launch of GIIRS and a national ad campaign to name a few) and, of course, since much more remains yet to be done.

I don’t really want to stop the show.

So stay tuned, enjoy the summer, share your reflections and visions and make sure you put October 3rd-5th on your calendar to join your fellow leaders in Half Moon Bay for our Champions Retreat as we focus our collective energy on the power of collective action and create plans for what we can do together that we can’t do alone.

Thanks to all who have led the way and given this community an opportunity to serve.  Thank you to the 13 who taught the band to play.  And thank you all for making playing so well together.

Be the change,

Jay, Bart, Andrew and the B Lab team

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