In today’s society, it’s not only about what you purchase but who you purchase from that makes a difference in our world. Social enterprises and B-Corporations believe in the social responsibility of business.
We have many, many choices for how we spend our money. In a lot of cases, we have multiple choices when it comes to the brand of cereal we buy for breakfast, the shoes we wear, and even the plumber we call to fix that pesky leaky pipe. The good news for all of us is there are a growing number of companies that are committed to doing good on top of the goods and services they provide.
Enter the social enterprise and the B-Corporation. What do these terms mean, and how can you understand how their work benefits society and the environment?
What is a social enterprise?
The term social enterprise is hard to define; basically, a social enterprise is an organization that has specific social objectives that serve its primary purpose, which looks to address a basic unmet need or address an underlying social or environmental problem. It can be in the public or private sector and can address these issues in a variety of ways.
First, a social enterprise often employs people with significant barriers to finding traditional employment. A well-known example of this is Goodwill. Though many think of thrift stores when they think of Goodwill, the company’s mission is actually to help give job skills to those who might not otherwise have access to them — such as veterans, the disabled, and people with criminal backgrounds — who can then go on to find more traditional employment.
Next, a social enterprise can create transformative products and services. One example is Benetech — a software company that creates software for social good — with projects including the Route 66 Literacy Project, Martus, a human rights abuse reporting system, and Miradi, an environmental project management software. Terracycle is another example that collects and repurposes hard-to-recycle items, from personal care packaging to complex laboratory waste, with the mission of sending nothing to landfills.
Finally, many social enterprises donate a portion of their profits back to non-profit organizations that directly address unmet needs. Eyewear company Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses for every pair sold. Skincare brand Tatcha donates a portion of every purchase to Room to Read, which helps keep young girls around the world in school, leading to healthier and more prosperous lives.
There are several different networks for social enterprises to join such as the Social Enterprise Alliance, which helps like-minded companies stay connected.
Companies and organizations looking to take things a step further can register as a B-Corporation through B-Labs.
What is a B-Corporation?
Founded in 2006 with the first group of B-Corps certified in 2007, the goal of B-Labs is to create a new kind of economy, a “B Economy” in which businesses compete to be the best for the world, for people, and the environment. To achieve this, they created a new type of business that balances purpose and profit, a B-Corporation. Data gathered by the Harvard Business Review suggests that verified firms believe “the major crises of our time are a result of the way we conduct business,” and they certify as a B-Corporation to “join the movement of creating a new economy with a new set of rules” and “redefine the way people perceive success in the business world.”
Those interested in becoming a B-Corp must go through a rigorous certification process, starting with the B-Impact Assessment, which evaluates how a company interacts with its workers, community, and environment. Sample questions include how much paid time off employees get, which underserved populations the business targets, and if the business has taken any steps to make their facilities more environmentally friendly.
Once the assessment is complete, the company then goes through a review process with the B-Labs team. If awarded a score of 80 or higher, it can complete the B-Corporation certification process. This includes updating its legal framework to ensure that its commitment to doing good is baked into the fabric of the company while also protecting the company as it grows as well as retaking the assessment every three years to make sure they are still meeting the standards.
Today, there are more than 3,600 registered B-Corporations around the world, a directory of which can be found on the B-Labs website (bcorporation.net), spanning all sectors, from services to manufacturing, wholesale, and agriculture. Each directory listing includes the date of certification and the B-Impact Assessment score, which is further divided into the impact area scores: governance, workers, community, customers, and environment.
Some of your favorite companies might already be registered B-Corps. Take Ben and Jerry’s for example, clocking in with a total score of 110, 30 points over the required minimum! The delicious ice-cream company ranks particularly well in Community, with a high score in supply chain poverty alleviation and Workers, scoring well in compensation and wages. Other familiar names include Patagonia, Allbirds, Bombas, Eileen Fisher, and Stonyfield Organic. A couple of our favorites are Simply Straws, etee, Ecoenclose, Ecobags, and Greenfield Paper Company.
Imagine that you need a new pair of shoes. Instead of buying from a big-box store, you could find a social enterprise or Certified B-Corporation that sells shoes and supports a company that you know treats its workers fairly, serves its community, and those in need, and helps the planet.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved, so be sure to consider a social enterprise or B-Corp on your next shopping trip, and feel a lot better about the pint of Ben and Jerry’s stashed in your freezer!