Burlington Free Press: Rating business for the common good, BCorp gathering coming to Burlington in the fall
By Duane Peterson
There’s a new way for Vermont’s values-led businesses to show their stripes while improving their impact at the same time. It’s a certification program called BCorp which now does for businesses what organic does for food, Fair Trade for materials or LEED for buildings. And it’s taking off.
Vermont entrepreneurs are well-known for pioneering in values-led business. Well-regarded brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, King Arthur Flour and many others designed new ways of doing business that did right by their employees, the communities in which they operate and the very habitats that sustain life. It’s taken hold here like no where else.
Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility boasts an amazing 1,500 members in a state with the population of a medium-sized city. Not only did the examples set by those pioneers guide other entrepreneurs, but also the hundreds of employees who developed those innovative business practices at these iconic businesses fanned out to launch and lead other ventures —spreading their passion, expertise and hard lessons learned.
This movement of socially responsible business now benefits from a new rigor through a certification process called BCorp, with B standing for Benefit. It requires an exacting assessment of a company’s proven positive impact on workers, suppliers, community and the environment. The scores are published publicly, so businesses can both celebrate success and strive to improve.
Unlike traditional corporations, Certified B Corporations are required to consider the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders, but also on all those who interact with their businesses. This accountability and transparency is a welcome departure from the selfish practices that have tarnished the practice of commerce.
The assessment is thorough, combing through a business’ governance, disclosures, compensation and benefits, community engagement, environmental remediation and restoration. At our business, SunCommon, we welcomed the opportunity to prove to ourselves and to others that our commitment to running a responsible business goes beyond platitudes to actual benefits. I was surprised by the depths of the assessment and pleased by its resulting specific recommendations on how we could increase our positive impacts.
It’s common to compete to be the best in the world. BCorps aspire to be the best for the world. We do so in public view, exposing our shortcomings for others to learn from while celebrating our successes. We’re a better company for having gone through this effort.
Now we can benchmark our performance against other ventures that are also committed to using the power of business to bring about positive social and environmental change. This certification differentiates us from the pretenders. And it’s proved an attractive draw in gathering customers, employees, partners and investors alike.
Among the 1,000 Certified BCorps across 27 countries, our little state boasts 18 so far. As evidence of the Vermont’s leadership in the values-led business movement, Vermont will host the global gathering of Certified BCorps this fall when more than 300 of them are expected at the BCorp Champions Retreat in Burlington. We’ll all share what we’ve learned along the way while reveling in our fall foliage.
Duane Peterson is co-founder of SunCommon, Vermont’s largest residential solar business. BCorp recently named SunCommon as one of the world’s 22 small businesses Best for Environmental Impact.