B Corps: new advancements in a community advancing our communities

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B Lab, the organization behind the growing community of B Corporations (companies using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems) or B Corps for short, recently released its 2011 annual report.

The report highlights some interesting progress over the last year, including a 75% increase in the number of certified B Corps, with larger businesses also joining the growing movement.

But the theme within the report I found particularly compelling is that the community of B Corps is now becoming large enough to exert a gravitational force of its own with the power to impact public policy while also creating opportunities for member corporations to help each other.

A few examples:

In 2010, with the encouragement of B Lab and the community of B Corps, legislation passed in both Maryland and Vermont creating a new type of “benefit corporation” with a legal responsibility to work for the good of the communities they serve, not just for the profit of their shareholders. Nine additional states in the US are set to move forward with similar legislation in 2011.

This new designation helps protect for-profit, for-benefit companies from dangers like the ruling by a Delaware judge in September of last year indicating that wealth maximization should be the only goal of corporations (opening up a window through which socially-conscious companies might be sued by their investors).

Philadelphia became the first American city to pass a law that offers tax breaks to certified sustainable businesses, and recognized the B Corp certification as the only one so far to meet the city's definition of a sustainable business. The program in Philadelphia will go into effect in 2012 and twenty-five sustainable businesses will be eligible each year.

Many B Corps have also seen direct financial benefits from being members of the B Corp community. For example, Better World Books raised capital with the help of a lead investor that was also a B Corp. Email marketing firm iContact was able to close a round of venture capital funding through an investor who saw their focus on social and environmental responsibility as a key differentiator in a competitive market.

I’ve been following the B Corp movement for a couple of years now, and am excited by the growing momentum and progress of a community of companies that don’t just manage themselves by their financial bottom line, but also by the social benefits they create for the communities around them.

Right now, there are just under 400 B Corps in the United States. But as this community continues to grow in size, not only will these for-profit, for-benefit business have more leverage when it comes to public policy, they will be able to help support each other better as well. As they grow bigger and stronger together, they'll be able to do even more collective good for society.

My hope is that eventually we'll all feel the positive impact. If you think your company might be a candidate to become a B Corp, consider checking out what it takes.

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Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)tidelift.com


Thanks for this great posting, Chris. Benefit Corps are growing as a movement, as you point out and are supporting both communities and one another in very powerful, positive ways. By way of an update, Benefit Corporation legislation passed the North Carolina Senate last week by a vote of 50-0. Both parties recognize good ideas when they see them!

Interesting post. It's the first time that I've heard about B Corp. B companies sound very much like NGOs? Could you perhaps explain a bit more about the philosophy of B corp and whether it is relevant for companies outside of the US?

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