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Join the good work club: B Corps and social impact

A person shouldn't wait for extraordinary opportunities, said the author Orison Swett Marden. "Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them."

But making opportunities, the right opportunities, can be a challenge. Sometimes it’s easier to do awesome things with guidelines provided by others. And sometimes it’s easier to get better traction for an idea when you’re surrounded by other people doing other awesome things.

Enter the B Corps

Certified B Corps are companies who want to solve some of society’s most challenging problems—a membership club of social change—by doing good work and positively impacting the world, while making a living and growing a business. The best explanation comes from B Lab themselves: “B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA certification is to milk. B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.”

This is like taking all your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility programs, making a fort out of them, and living in it year-round. Which is to say, it is a fun, significant process, that is often constructed from the ground up within the company.

This [B Corp] is like taking all your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility programs, making a fort out of them, and living in it year-round.

A B Corp in action

When Sydney design agency Future Friendly (from Mentally Friendly) rebranded following an acquisition, Senior Service Designer Andrew Sedlak notes that the company had to reapply for their B Corp certification. “We looked at our infrastructure within Future Friendly and Mentally Friendly, down to our waste management, and where we get our energy from. We now do our own composting, and we put a bin in a nearby park, allowing others in our local community to use it. These are procedures we built into our new environment, like developing habits.”

When applying for B Corp certifications (whether initially, or under re-certification), many companies encourage their staff to volunteer and do pro-bono projects that align with social or environmental missions. While it increases their points in the B Corp assessment, it simultaneously (and perhaps more importantly) creates a flow-on effect of employees doing good work and creating positive change. And customers like it too, as it shows a good company, with good people,

Create your own opportunity

As reported in the Telegraph by James Rutter, the Cabinet Office in the UK has recently launched a Mission-Led Business Review. This distinguishes between companies participating in CSR initiatives from those with a genuine mission and ability to impact social change as part of their business model. According to Rutter, “the potential for business to deliver social and environmental gains, as well as financial ones, is huge. The opportunity to deliver all three at once, in a virtuous circle, is real.”

B Corp certification has no legal status, while benefit corporation is a legal status conferred by law in applicable American states. But B Corp provides a benchmark of a company’s environmental and social impact.

In their 2014 annual review, under the heading of “Benchmark performance,” B Lab notes that over 16,000 businesses now use the B Impact Assessment to measure and improve performance. What does this mean? They’re saying: if you aren’t eligible for the certification,

To rephrase Marden’s sentiments to applicable concision: Don’t wait for opportunities. Create them.

Don’t wait for opportunities. Create them.

You can leverage B Lab to make impact as an individual, or a business. As an individual, you can act as an ambassador, spread the word, recruit other companies who are interested in becoming B Corps, and join a global neighborhood. As B Labs says: “A movement is simply a community in action.”

If you’re still getting started on the journey to social impact, check out our article on the new social responsibility to find your company’s unique point of leverage.

Emma Sedlak is a Scottish-American poet, writer, editor, and singer: qualities that make her well-suited for a career as a medieval minstrel. She works in corporate strategy and as a freelance writer, invested in helping people create deep, intuitive content and narratives. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her partner Andrew Sedlak, who contributed quotes to this article. She spouts poetry on Twitter, and snaps cat-pics on Instagram.