People Using Business as a Force for Good

People Using Business as a Force for Good
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You must be the change you want to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi

On September 8, the Center for Responsible Business, with the Haas School for Business at University of California Berkeley, hosted the inaugural Best for the World gathering. Celebrating the positive impact business can have in the world, this event spotlights people and companies within the growing network of corporations operating under the relatively new B Corp designation.

For those just now becoming aware of B Corporations – in addition to your typical S and C corporations, there are now corporations beholden to a bottom line that includes the planet, and people, along with profit. They’re analogous to Britain’s Community Interest Corporations (CIC’s). B Labs, the entity in charge of certification, puts it this way: “B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk.” Actually, The Huffington Post launched a series of blogs last month, The B Corp Life. Thus far, 1,800-plus businesses around the world have undergone the B Impact Assessment and been certified. Those who scored in the top 10 percent of all Certified B Corporations were honored at a three-hour awards gala. In the name for the event, “Best for the World,” you can hear the same subtle but vital twist that makes a B Corporation unique.

The evening awards were preceded by a full-day conference adhering to the theme of mentorship. The five-hour gathering drew an eclectic mix of over 850 people from around the world, and provided an opportunity for students and business leaders to interact with honorees. The keynotes and panels were hosted by Bryan Welch, CEO of newly launched multi-platform B the Change Media, who premiered the second issue of B Magazine at the event.

Bryan handled the ceremonies with finesse and aplomb, beginning by telling a little story about ourselves as a species. Unlike other species, he noted, we can conceptualize our own impact on our habitat. Unlike other species, we've been able to expand our population to every continent. And now, at this greatest of inflection points in history, humans are aware of the need to take responsibility for what kind of environment we leave for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. From such perspective, it became clear as a bell why more and more businesspeople are daring to imagine a new kind of collective prosperity created by companies whose systems and products uplift each other and protect nature. And this deft introduction set the bar for a feeling tone, beneath all the words that followed — a shared attitude pervading the event and its attendees, which could be summed up by this motto by beloved farmer-author Wendell Berry: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

Keynote speakers included Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben and Jerry’s; Rose Marcario, President and CEO of Patagonia; Judy Wicks, pioneer of local living economy; and Deval Patrick, Managing Director in Impact Investment at Bain Capital, and former Governor of Massachusetts. Panels covered “What I’ve Learned about Leadership: Leading for Growth” and “Leading Towards Legacy”; “Reimagining Growth as a Measurement of Success; and “Investment for Change.” Each segment of the conference merits a blog of its own. By way of highlights, here’s a medley of some outstanding quotes:

  • If you believe in long-term value, I don’t think it’s possible to manage to the financial bottom line alone. Deval Patrick
  • There's no such thing as one sustainable business. We can only be part of a sustainable system. —Judy Wicks
  • Do you know where your money is tonight? Would you be pleased to know it might be engaged in strip mining in Virginia, or deforestation in Brazil? Money is a store of your value and is your agent of interest as a medium of exchange. — Vince Siciliano, CEO, New Resource Bank
  • You spend a hell of a lot of time at work. If it doesn’t have a big purpose, one has to ask why you’re there. – Kim Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewing Co.
  • We didn't grow our business to flip it; we grew it because we loved it. — Mandy Cabot, CEO, Dansko
  • Don’t use the pursuit of perfection as an excuse for not taking action. — Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s.
  • If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution. — Emma Goldman
  • Best practices become core values. — Michael Elsas, President, Cooperative Home Care Associates
  • I think you prove that things are possible by actually doing them. — Rose Marcario, CEO, Patagonia

45 years ago, I established a nonprofit corporation, which, ultimately, failed. (But if you don’t fail, what are you doing? Anything creative is going to experience ups and downs.) Had I tried it today, instead of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corp, I’d have aspired for it to be a BCorp. For one thing, that would have provided a community of support, and role models, keeping me from falling into our culture’s mindset of the rugged individual, going it alone in an isolated, remote desert. And it would have freed me from our culture’s myopia, a short-term vision looking only to the next quarter, or the next news cycle, or the next election cycle, rather than from generation to generation; B Corps give the future a seat at the table.

The B Corp Movement can be summed up by Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of the parent entity behind B Corporations, B Labs. For him, it’s the image of David facing Goliath, scaled out into a community of Davids. And they showed up at Best for the World, confirming Jay’s adage: “Social change is a team sport.” We look forward to their return in greater force, in coming years.

Serendipitously, the week after Best for the World is CoCap; the annual Community Capital symposium in Oakland — which is, in turn, a lead-in to SoCap (Social Capital Markets), an annual gathering of impact investors, social entrepreneurs, foundations, corporations, global nonprofits, and other change makers in San Francisco. Best for the World reflected how big and needful is the tent for stakeholders and students of the social and environmental impact of business all across our mother earth.

The future looks good, so long as we continue to help make it so. Let us do so, at all costs.

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