Business is often demonised for practices that harm the planet and bring out the worst in people. In all honesty, some of this criticism is merited.
The new trend for socially conscious business, however, embraces the good in business while transforming the harmful aspects. It recognises that business can be a profound force for good—if leaders have the right intention.
Changing organisational culture to a more humanistic approach, to serving a more wholesome purpose beyond simply making money, is a trend that has been building for quite some time.
At the heart of the movement is a new corporate entity certification process that formalises the ideals of conscious capitalism: B Corporations, the “B” standing for benefit.
B Corps are privately assessed, audited and certified by the non-profit B Lab (BCorporation.net) to meet rigorous standards addressing the following factors:
- Governance: the company’s transparency and the extent to which social and environmental considerations are ingrained in the management and legal responsibilities
- Workers: the company’s contribution to the financial, social, physical and professional wellbeing of its employees, including compensation and benefits, work environment and ownership opportunities
- Community: the company’s contribution to the economic and social wellbeing of the communities in which it operates, including job creation and inclusivity, civic engagement and philanthropy, and suppliers
- Environment: the company’s e orts to reduce its environmental footprint, as created by company facilities, input materials, outputs/wastes and suppliers/distributors
- Impact business model: beyond the operations of the business, whether the company is designed to create a positive social and/or environmental impact, including product impact and providing those in need with basic services.
Compared with other sustainable businesses, B Corps are:
- 68 per cent more likely to donate at least 10 per cent of profits to charity
- 55 per cent more likely to cover at least some health insurance costs for employees
- 47 per cent more likely to use on-site renewable energy
- 45 per cent more likely to give bonuses to non-executive members
- 28 per cent more likely to include women and minorities in management
- 18 per cent more likely to use suppliers from low-income communities.
I was privileged to meet and interview Jay Coen Gilbert, one of the founders of B Lab and a personal hero of mine.
He explained that most people come to B Lab wondering, “Why should I act differently in business?”
Once they understand the answers to that question, their next questions become, “How can I formalise this intention to make a difference? What does it actually mean to be a conscious capitalist? What formal steps should I take or what practical changes should I implement? How do I create more positive impact by changing organisational culture?”
B Lab gives them a roadmap and a tool kit for changing organisational culture to be more conscious. The road map is their B Impact Assessment, which, Jay says, “is not to tell you what to do, but to show you all the opportunities and choices you have.”
B Lab then helps you benchmark how you’re doing along your journey, compared with your past performance or your future goals, or compared with others on the same path.
This is important, Jay explains, because it “brings in a behavioural psychology element that is powerful for motivating behaviour change, which is, ‘How are other people like me doing, and how am I comparing?’ Comparison is deeply rooted in our psyche, so giving people that kind of comparative data in a fun, positive, affrming way, along with tools to take the next step, is where we see our role.”
One thing that struck me about the B Corp model is that the certification applies only to for-profit businesses.
Again, the point is that, contrary to what many people think, business can be a force for good.
With business representing three-quarters of economic activity and the greater part of our lives spent engaging in the marketplace, Jay and his partners felt that the greatest opportunity for making an impact was in harnessing the power of business, but for a higher purpose than just making money. This requires changing organisational culture.
When I asked Jay how he saw the mindfulness movement in the context of B Corps his answer was simple but profound: “B Corps are mindfulness in the marketplace. Nothing more, nothing less. And on a more personal note, we want to make our parents proud and we want our children to be proud of us. We want to leave this world knowing we made a difference. B Corps gives us a path and a toolkit for doing this. They give us a formal structure for changing organisational culture and enabling mindful business.”