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Taking the B Corp Journey

Why did NOW Magazine become a B Corp in 2012?
“To be part of the vanguard” – Alice Klein, founder of NOW,  speaking at B Corps: The Toronto Story.

The B Corps: The Toronto Story panel discussion on May 13th was an opportunity for people to learn more about Benefit Corporations, because, as Ms. Klein noted with a laugh, “there’s not a lot of knowledge or understanding out there about B Corps and we are saying ‘look, we’re great because we’re this thing (but) you don’t know what it is.’ “

The event began with an introduction by Joyce Sou, Manager of B Corps and social impact metrics at the MaRS Center for Impact Investing. She provided some background on this new company certification defining it as ‘a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.’ Refuting Milton Friedman’s notorious claim that the only responsibility of business is to increase its profits, she explained that B Corps are redefining success to include benefits to the environment, community, workers and good governance. The B Corp movement is growing rapidly, with B corps now in over 60 sectors and 33 countries, with Canada being home to more than 110.

Next up were three entrepreneurs, each telling the story of their business, and their experience of becoming a Certified B Corp.  Alice Klein explained that NOW has been a social enterprise since its inception 32 years ago, although that term wasn’t in use back then. She spoke to the benefits of third party certification by explaining that, “recognized certifications are the touchstone for a lot of shopping decisions.” They provide the research and due diligence so you, the consumer or investor, don’t have to.  B Corps are certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. This is similar to other certifications such as Fair Trade or USDA Organic.

Ran Goel, a food activist, founded Fresh City Farms. Fresh City currently has 6 acres of farmland and a greenhouse in Downsview Park, as well a number of smaller city farms. “It used to be that 1 in 30 people lived on farms, and now it’s 1 in 100; we’ve lost that connection to what we eat.” Bringing makers/growers and eaters together is their mission. Although the process of getting certified was time consuming, it was ultimately rewarding in that it ‘raised issues that we had never thought about, and that we really had not had time to think about.’ These two themes was reiterated by all three entrepreneurs – the value of certification to force reflection on issues such as supply chain and human resource policies and the difficulty to find time to work through the certification process while meeting the demands of a growing business.

The final panelist was Seema Pabari of Tiffinday. Tiffinday provides vegan litterless lunches, served in stainless steel lunch boxes called tiffins, to the downtown core. They also have a catering arm and sell at farmers markets in Toronto.

Ms. Pabari praised the holistic nature of the B Corp Certification and the breadth of metrics to be considered in attaining certification.  Even with this breadth she was still able to identify opportunities to incorporate company specific metrics  like the environmental and health merits of her plant based product that were not in the standard assessment. In the nimble manner of private enterprise the B Lab’s advisory board assessed the merits of her claim and awarded her points.

In this way we see B Corps are evolving, or as Joyce would put it on a “journey”. Checklists and requirements for certification are honed and updated every two years, not only to reflect changes in businesses and sectors, but also to reflect cultural variations in different countries.  The question and answer session revealed that there was a wide spectrum of knowledge in the audience ranging from those who had never heard of B Corps and attended because they were curious about the concept to some who currently worked for a B Corp. Though we are still in the vanguard, the growing interest in B Corps bodes well for the future and the ability of for-profit business to participate in the creation of a more just and sustainable world.

To learn more about individual B Corps and to get a full list of Canadian B Corps, click here!

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