At age 9, I was a fish, and it had a profound impact on me. My parents had sent me to an Audubon Society camp, where one evening activity was group skits. My group enacted the DDT cycle, with each of us playing one part of the ecosystem. The DDT insecticide was sprayed by a person, and then moved around our circle from creature to creature, harming each, ending with me, the fish, being consumed by a person. The EPA was created and DDT banned in the US two years later, but DDT still remains in the soil, and in fish, and the acute awareness of the world’s interconnection still remains in me.
When I was 11 my parents took me to Haiti for vacation. They wanted us all to experience the beauty, food, culture, and fun, and they also wanted to expose me to the reality that despite the plenty I had, much of the world struggles with poverty and disease. I wrote a poem there about my grappling with whether to give a coin to a begging child. Would it make a difference? Would other kids take it from him? What could and should I do to help?
I had already had many lessons on our responsibility to do what we can to help others and to take action for what is right. My mom likes telling the story of coming home one night to find a woman she didn’t know babysitting for us. Apparently my dad, as the volunteer Legal Redress Chairman for an NAACP branch (for 30 years!), was at an apartment complex that had denied rental to an African American man (a graduate of Harvard Business school). My dad successfully convinced the person in charge to change her mind. The man’s wife was our babysitter while my dad was doing so. My family is white and has not directly suffered from discrimination. Yet my Dad understood that we are all one, that everyone matters and should be welcomed into our communities regardless of differences, and that it is up to all of us to reach beyond ourselves to help make the wider community strong and good and fair.
These experiences shaped my becoming a clinical psychologist, designing a dissertation on attitudes toward the environment, and ultimately leaving my profession to make cookies! Yes, odd as it may sound, I make cookies to make a difference. I am now the parent, moved by my own child, to take a direction that reaches beyond my family, and that has me out even at night taking care of other people’s families. My son is one of the 1 in 13 children and 1 in 25 people in the US with food allergies. Most social events include the shared enjoyment of baked treats - treats made with eggs, dairy, and wheat, and typically made in facilities with nuts or peanuts. Because even a trace of an allergen can be life threatening, many people are repeatedly left on the periphery when treats are served. Yet the experience of inclusion is an important part of healthy child development, and a desired experience for adults as well. It was for inclusion that I created Homefree. We make delicious, healthful cookies that easily can be enjoyed by everyone together, including people with most special dietary needs. We donate safe treats in times of natural disasters, offer flexible work hours, use cookie boxes made with wind power, use some organically grown ingredients, and although all of our products have always been non-GMO, additionally took the step to support the non-GMO movement by having all our products non-GMO Verified.
So when I learned about B-Corporations, companies committed to doing wider good with a particularly strong commitment to social and environmental responsibility, it seemed that we already were one. Then why take the significant time to go through an extensive, detailed, certification process, and to repeat this every year? For the same reason we became non-GMO Verified. That is, the movement is worth supporting. I believe that each company that becomes a B Corporation is one coin in the pocket toward moving this country beyond the angry “Occupy Wall Street” protests against problematic companies, to the active, positive impact of “shop your conscience.” That is, through wider awareness of B Corps companies and products, consumers can be empowered to use their pocketbooks to encourage corporate responsibility. For companies that want to be good corporate citizens, whether from the heart or for good business, the B Corporation process offers clear standardized steps and parameters, clear measurable policies and aspirational goals. The more companies that join, the more pressure there will be for others to do so. Eventually, perhaps, it will be normative and expected for corporations to act as responsible citizens of our local and wider communities.
In short, B Corporations matter because each effort we make, no matter how small, has an impact on our culture and on the expectations of who we will be as Americans and world citizens.
And if you are wondering if I tossed a coin to the begging child, I did.
The B Corp Life is a new blog series geared towards exploring what it’s like to work at a benefit corporation. Why do b corps matter, and what does the future hold for them? Let us know at PurposePlusProfit@huffingtonpost.com or by tweeting with #TheBCorpLife.