I pay attention to the little details that companies I’m doing business with project in any number of ways, from what’s printed on business cards and brochures and other marketing collateral to links embedded in the website. One of the reasons I’m so passionate about small and mid-sized businesses is that when I’m purchasing a product or service from one, I feel like I have the opportunity to know the people behind the brand, which is important to me. And often, the details are where a company’s story lives.
Not long ago, I noticed this detail on a couple of websites: Certified B Corporation. At first I thought that it was perhaps a tax designation, but then I was puzzled as to why that sort of information would appear on a company’s front web page, so I did a bit of searching and discovered that it’s a certification. The B stands for benefit, and in order to obtain certification companies must demonstrate that they meet standards in the area of comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance, legal accountability and active support of sustainable business policies.
To learn more, I spoke with Kimberly Merenz, owner of Fabled Frog Soap, and Brad Struss, who founded Bigger Boat Consulting to partner with nonprofit organizations on data management. Merenz runs her sole proprietorship out of her home in the Catskill Mountains in New York state, while Strauss works with a team of four in Seattle to help nonprofits achieve the same measure of IT muscle as their for-profit counterparts. Starkly different businesses and individuals, certainly, but both say the strenuous audit process and the annual fee (assessed based on the organization’s financials) are well worth what both consider the certification’s number one draw: the validation.
Merenz is a biologist by training, and she started making soap for herself long before she went into the business because she couldn’t find products that weren’t laden with chemicals. Since one recipe makes 40 bars, she started giving it away. Then she started selling it, not strictly to turn a profit but to teach people the impact a single bar of soap can have on the environment. “It’s more about the frog than the soap,” she says. “I’m trying to make soap using ingredients with the least environmental impact. I don’t use palm oil, for example, because it damages rain forests.”
According to Merenz, attaining B Corporation certification offers third-party validation that she takes seriously her commitment to healthier business practices. “When a business claims it’s environmentally responsible, who is validating that?” she says. “This is what you need to be legitimate.” She also cites webinars and the opportunity to network with other like-minded entrepreneurs as benefits of the certification.
The business Brad Struss is in couldn’t be more different. “We do one thing – we help social change organizations take ownership of their data,” he tells me. To do that, he and three others launched 907 Pine Consulting at the beginning of this year. Today they’re working with about a dozen clients, most of which are in the western U.S. “By having ownership of their data, our clients can be more efficient, improve communication with clients and donors and ultimately improve outcomes and have a greater impact.”
A big part of why nonprofit organizations come to his group, Struss says, is the good work. But another part of it is that rather than apply the technical expertise across a variety of industries, the focus at Bigger Boat Consulting is strictly on social change.
And that focus, he says, is a big part of why he pursued certification as a B Corporation, which he achieved this summer. He reports that he was impressed that the people conducting the audit took the time to delve into the organization’s commitment to harnessing the power of business to solve social problems. If there was confusion on any of the answers from the extensive survey, Stuss says he was asked to clarify. The strenuous certification process, in fact, confirmed that it’s not just another logo for the website. “I think the fact that we’re a B Corporation will be noticed when people are evaluating,” he says. “Profit is not our sole goal. Our goal is to create a solid, sustainable business that does good work in the community.”
Has your business achieved certifications? If so, please share the benefits and the drawbacks you experienced.