Business as a tool for good

Representatives of local B Corps relay experiences

Will Shoemaker

Times Editor

 

Imagine a world in which companies — rather than simply competing to be most profitable — work to improve their communities, the lives of workers and the environment. In other words, using business as a force for good.

This is the mission of nonprofit B Lab, which began in the United States 10 years ago but since then has expanded globally, recognizing and assisting business leaders that have taken the full step of certification as a “B Corp.”

B Corps are for-profit companies that adhere to rigorous holistic standards of social and environmental performance — striving for what has been termed the “triple bottom line.” Today, there are more than 2,300 B Corps throughout the world. While that includes about 100 in Colorado, only four exist on Colorado’s Western Slope — three of which are based in Gunnison County.

Representatives from those three businesses comprised a panel discussion Tuesday at the ICELab on the Western State Colorado University campus. They relayed their own experiences and motivations as part of B Lab’s promotion of its new “Best for Colorado” initiative.

Best for Colorado aims to reach as many companies as possible in promoting the B Corp model — by teaching businesses how to measure their impact, create strong jobs and improve communities.

“What we really believe is businesses can be a key player in helping to tackle some of our state’s biggest social and environmental issues,” said Liz Swanson, program manager of Best for Colorado.

Certified B Corps go through a rigorous assessment — gauging employee treatment, environmental impact and community contributions — a portion of which is used by Best for Colorado to score businesses in the state, introducing companies to the concept without required certification.

Travis Underwood, owner of retail store Chopwood Mercantile in Crested Butte, said the decision on the part of he and his wife to seek B Corp certification was aimed at giving back to the community and creating jobs that pay more than just an hourly wage. For Chopwood, that means, for example, donating a certain percentage of profit to local organizations and providing health benefits for employees.

“If you’re just looking at a profit-loss statement, then your bottom line is one thing,” said Gunnison’s Lisa Holland. “If you’re spending tons of money on your employees or disposing of waste properly, your expenses might be higher and your bottom line lower, but you’re doing the right thing.”

Holland was introduced to the idea of B Corps five years ago and began thinking about how she could evolve her Zen Business Consulting company to have more purpose.

“I was completely blown away — companies using their businesses as a force for good, this is brilliant,” she recalled. “Every company should be a B Corp.”

Holland acheived B Corp certification last November and since then has worked to introduce the concept to others on the Western Slope.

Still, panelists noted that becoming B Corp certified in the Gunnison Valley wasn’t easy — as a result of limited renewable energy and recycling options and the availability of other services. Environmental impact and location of suppliers from which companies receive products, for instance, are factored into the score B Corps are required to meet or exceed in order to achieve certification.

Jay Whitacre, of Crested Butte-based design lab ReThink, said that achieving B Corp certification also meant adopting an approach to business that includes open dialogue between company leaders, employees and customers alike — in effect, accounting for the perspective of all “stakeholders.”

“We want to make sure that what we’re doing as a business is actually in line with what the community wants,” he said. “We do communicate every single day. If we’re not happy about something we certainly say that. But it is having a formal time every year where we sit down. … It’s allowing for every voice to be heard no matter what position those individuals hold within the company.”

To learn more about Best for Colorado, visit best-for-colorado.bimpactassessment.net.

 

(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or editor@gunnisontimes.com.)

 

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