We’re a Co-operative – Why should we become a B Corp?
2012 marks the International Year of Co-operatives. Joanna Reynolds recently wrote a great introduction to co-operatives, which have existed and operated in Canada for over 150 years. Over 50% of Canadians are members of at least one co-operative or credit union.
Here are the seven driving principles that unite co-operatives around the world, listed again:
- Voluntary and open membership
- Democratic member control
- Member economic participation
- Autonomy and independence
- Education, training and information
- Co-operation among co-operatives
- Concern for community
A significant aspect of my role at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing is developing the Canadian B Corp community, I can’t help but be struck by how similar the principles of B Corps are to those of co-operatives. The B Corps certification focuses on 4 main values: accountability, employees, community, and environment. In addition, when a business becomes a B Corp they must sign the “Declaration of Interdependence” that includes the following:
We hold these truths to be self-evident:
- That we must be the change we seek in the world.
- That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
- That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all. To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another, and thus, responsible for each other and future generations.
What to make of these similarities? Co-ops have been using business to pursue mutual social, economic and cultural benefits for over 150 years, while B Corps have only been in business (so to speak) for 6 years. This idea of using the power of business to solve social and environmental challenges is not new. Have I been erroneously working to increase awareness for B Corps, when I should have been touting co-ops instead? Perhaps I should permit myself to take a step back. Why can't I do both?
The converging themes show that B Corp concepts and values have some strong roots in the rich history of co-ops and that shouldn’t be overlooked. B Corp values include community involvement, income equality, and employee investment, which have been practiced by co-ops for years.
Indeed, it is important to note that co-ops and B Corps are not mutually exclusive. Co-operatives are eligible to become certified B Corps. Some may argue that it isn’t necessary, as the seven principles mentioned above already guide co-ops into considering a variety of stakeholders in their pursuit of profit. If co-ops are known for doing good, do they really need a certification to tell the public so?
I would argue that while awareness is growing, many people still don’t know what co-operatives are about. The B Corp certification does a great job of measuring the positive impact of an organization (through the B Impact assessment) and then providing a means to communicate that to all stakeholders.
I also see this as a way for co-ops to continually strive towards best practices and articulate their amazing work. According to Robynn Shrader, CEO of the National Co-operative Grocer’s Association (NCGA) in the US, and a recent addition to the Certified B Corp community, “Food co-ops don’t get out there and demand credit for the great work they are doing. B Corp will help us and our members communicate about our great work more effectively.”
The B Corp movement is about spreading the idea that business is more than just about maximizing profit - whether you’re a co-op, an LLC, a sole proprietor, a corporation, or something else altogether. While becoming a B Corp would be great, it isn’t really the point.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a co-op, a B Corp, or a co-op that’s a B Corp. We are all playing on the same team; some of us may be seasoned veterans while some of us are still rookies. The most important thing is that we’re in the game.