What the heck is a Certified B Corp™?
By Derek Sabori, Kozm Co-Founder
In a Former Life
I’m not sure exactly when I first caught on to them – perhaps at an Opportunity Green conference, or at Sustainable Brands, but years ago, while I was at Volcom, I had my first formal introductions to B Corp. I believe it was somewhere in the 2011-2012 range while we were building the sustainability program there and were looking for ways to really cement it into corporate culture, and for a way to better tell the story – in a meaningful way.
The sustainability program at Volcom had organically developed, from the ground up, and after 4-5 years of progress, it was getting attention at all levels of the company, and amongst industry peers. If my memory serves me well, it was Dermot Hikisch, their former Head of Community Development, who first reached out to see if we’d be interested in joining. I loved the idea.
Here’s why. Back in 2009-2010, B Corp was selling themselves as “A New Kind of Company for a New Sector of the Economy.” A non-profit founded by, entrepreneurs, operators and investors, B Corp was intriguing because they came from business, but were interested in pursuing something other than just profit and that very much resonated with me when I met them because that was the very path I was on in my own career. I had by then, realized that this is where my career was headed – no matter what role I had, I committed to myself that I would be an advocate for better business and accountability. B Corp was offering a way to measure that, verify your company’s actions and advocate for you as a member of a new type of business community. One where everyone was pushing for, as they say, business to be used as a force for good.
Volcom was acquired by Kering in 2011, and while there were some discussions around the B Corp adoption, it didn’t get the chance to manifest because, well they had plans of their own – and good ones at that. Passing on the B Corp opportunity at the time wasn’t all bad, because their sustainability commitment is one of the strongest in the lifestyle (luxury and sport) products class that I know of and I can tell you, I learned so much from my time working with them. From the opportunity to develop a natural capital accounting program with their EP&L (Environmental Profit & Loss), chances to travel the world for Textile Exchange conferences, and networking with the sustainability leads at their world-class brands, it was nothing short of another degree for me.
So, fast forward to 2015 when Troy Eckert, Kozm co-founder, our company’s visionary and my business partner, said he wanted to not only legally form Kozm as a Benefit Corporation, but also be assessed as a certified B Corp, I was nothing shy of elated.
So What’s the Difference?
Jonathan Storper at Conscious Media Company, put it nicely:
“Many people use the terms “B Corp” and “Benefit Corporation” interchangeably. While similar in concept, there are important differences. B Corp is the term used for any for-profit entity that is certified by the nonprofit B Lab as voluntarily meeting higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance. Think of it as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for businesses voluntarily trying to do well by doing good. By contrast, a Benefit Corporation is a type of corporation currently recognized in 27 states with legally protected requirements of higher purpose, accountability, and transparency.”
When we started Kozm we wanted to literally take every best practice (in regards to sustainability & responsibility) we could and match it. So, following the lead of Patagonia, Method, Kickstarter and many others, we incorporated Kozm as legal Benefit Corporation. This means that we are tapping into a legal structure that will create a solid foundation for long term mission alignment and value creation. It protects our mission through potential capital raises and leadership changes, creates more flexibility when evaluating potential sale and liquidity options, and prepares our business to lead a mission-driven life the entire way through. In short, this means that we are required to consider impacts on all our stakeholders and we must publish a public report of overall social and environmental performance assessed against a third party standard (we use B Corp). That’s the legal component.
Now, on to the B Corp Certification assessment. This is available to every business regardless of corporate structure, state, or country of incorporation. B Corp is a certifying body and a supporting 501c3, offering access to their Certified B Corporation logo, a portfolio of services, and a vibrant B Corps community; you can learn more about B Corp certification by visiting www.bcorporation.net.
Now it’s time for us to continue building our business in a meaningful manner. As a brand new company there’s quite a bit to do – across all manners of the brand. Having a Benefit Corporation backbone, however, and the B Corp team in our corner, reminds us that we’re not alone in balancing the realities of surviving and thriving as a business and accounting for our impacts on people and our planet at every touch and decision point along the way. Our internal motto is “we got this,” and it seems apropos to use that phrase here when referring to the collective movement that is the B Corp community. It’s a proud time for us.