Jay Coen Gilbert and the Search for the Beneficial Corporation (Part One)

Jay Coen Gilbert photo

Good business or just good marketing? Green business or greenwashing? Even the most hawk-eyed, label-scouring consumer can't always know. B Corporation's mission is to replace the guessing game with rigorous standards to judge what makes a truly "beneficial" company. To date, 179 companies representing almost a billion dollars have become certified B Corps. Jay Coen Gilbert, one of three veteran entrepreneurs behind B Corporation, tells TreeHugger how it all works.

Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download.

Music comes from Amadou & Miriam.

Full text after the jumpTreeHugger: First off, what is a B Corporation?

Jay: A B Corporation is a new type of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.

TreeHugger: There is obviously a vetting process, and that is where you guys come in. You are creating a set of standards, a certification in essence. Tell me what this process looks like.

Jay: To become a certified B Corporation, companies have to do two things. First , they have to meet a set of comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards. And second, they have to meet a set of legal standards.

On the performance side, companies have to achieve a score of 80 out of 200 available points on the B rating system, which is a tool that assesses a company's impact on its employees, its community, its suppliers, the environment, and the consumers who buy the company's products.

On the legal side, B Corporations have to amend their articles of incorporation to expand the responsibilities of the corporation to include consideration, not only of the interest of their shareholders, but also the interest of their employees, community, suppliers, and environment.

If a company can do those two things, then they are eligible to be certified as a B Corp.

TreeHugger: One of the fascinating things about B Corps is that they are all different kinds of companies. You've got apparel companies, financial advisors, food companies. Can you give us a couple examples of businesses that are now certified B Corps?

Jay: It is a great point. It is a really diverse community. I think that's part of the strength of the movement toward sustainable business and for-profit social enterprise. One of the values of a B Corporation is it amplifies the voice of a diverse and fragmented community behind one unifying brand for good business, which is backed up by a set of standards.

There are now about 175 certified B Corporations across the US. They are in 20 or 25 different states over 30 different industries, from small sole proprietors to large commercial banks. From companies that are just getting going in the early stage, to folks who have been around for 30 plus years, or in one case, over 200 years.

The 200-year-old company is a baking flour company called King Arthur Flour. If anybody has a baker in the family, there's a good chance that their pantry is filled with King Arthur Flour. They are a 200-year-old, 100% employee owned company, and one of the founding B Corporations.

Another one, the 30 year old company I was referencing, is a commercial bank; the first commercial bank to become a certified B corp. This is ShoreBank. ShoreBank is the oldest and largest community development bank in the United States. They are based out of the Southside of Chicago, but also have subsidiaries out West in ShoreBank Pacific and across Eastern Europe as well.

Then there are other consumer products companies that folks might know of as well, like Method or Seventh Generation, and even law firms like Hanson Bridgett, out there in the bay.

So as you said, there are business services firms, telecom companies, energy companies, pharmaceutical companies, etc., both doing business here in the US as well as a growing number of them serving communities at the bottom of the pyramid overseas.

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