One driving force for companies that choose to become benefit corporations is a recognition that they need to do more than sell a product or behave well. But leaders also say that being a B makes them better-run businesses.
Bigelow Tea: The B Pathway
Six years ago, when Cindi Bigelow first read about B Corps, she wasn't all that interested in taking her family's 75-year-old company, Bigelow Tea, through the certification process. But she did want to get her hands on the criteria that the nonprofit B Lab uses to evaluate firms and their business practices. "I thought that scorecard could be a blueprint for how to be a good corporate citizen," says Bigelow, the third-generation Bigelow Tea boss. "That's when the journey started."
In fact, Bigelow was already on the right path. Cindi's grandmother, Ruth Campbell Bigelow, started the company out of her New York City kitchen in 1945, when she whipped up the first batch of Constant Comment tea, her signature spiced orange blend. By the '60s, the company had a profit-sharing plan, and its 401(k) match has been around for about 20 years. In 2012, it achieved zero-waste-to-landfill status and joined the Ethical Tea Partnership, whose members commit to auditing and maintaining sustainable and ethical supply chains. By then, Bigelow Tea had 880 solar panels to help power its Fairfield, Connecticut, headquarters and was using compostable packaging for its tea.
Still, Cindi Bigelow saw value in having a third party measure and validate Bigelow Tea's efforts to become a better company. Certification took about two years, much of which was spent on creating extensive documentation of the company's governance and supply chain. Bigelow Tea booked $200 million in revenue in 2018, up 5 percent from 2017, but, says Cindi Bigelow, "we didn't become a B Corp to increase sales," noting that she doesn't know--or really care--if getting certified has helped the company's bottom line.
This point of view explains why she wasn't terribly impressed by news of the Business Roundtable's public avowal that profits can't be a company's sole priority. "Only now you should think about your impact on the community?" she asks with not a little impatience. "Do the right thing--and do it for the right reasons." --Lindsay Blakely
Patagonia: King of the B's
Yvon Chouinard created the alpha B Corporation. Today, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario is the flag-bearer of Chouinard's vision. At the Champions Retreat, she drew cheers as she discussed Patagonia's decision to sue the Trump administration to protect natural habitats. "It's not enough to have purpose," she said. "We need to serve one." Patagonia is the future of the B brand, explains Latia Curry, a principal with Rally, an issues-focused communications firm specializing in social and political change. Except for Ben & Jerry's, also considered exemplary, she says the strategic challenge of all B Corps, and companies that aspire to demonstrate authentic social responsibility, is to learn from Patagonia. In particular, she cites the company's strengths in issue fluency (particularly climate change) and real-world activism. --Keith Mestrich and Mark A. Pinsky
Sylvain Labs: Brand by B
Sylvain Labs, a brand design and innovation consultancy, brings a B Corp mentality to its A-list clients, including GM, Google, and Nike. Being a B, declares founder Alain Sylvain on the firm's website, "is ultimately about reconciling our work with who we are as people. We are a company founded on and governed by empathy." Moving the merch is not inconsistent with being a B. To Sylvain, the difference comes from creating products people need, as opposed to what they can be sold. He's been harshly critical of brands that "weaponize purpose" as a marketing strategy. Consumers, and increasingly investors, will sort out the posers from the true believers, he says. --Bill Saporito