What is a B Corp? Podcast Episode #86
October 1, 2019

What is a B Corp? Podcast Episode #86

Today Kristin talks to Hanna from Local First about what it means to be Certified B Corporation and how it impacts our community.  Gold Coast Doulas is the area’s most recent B Corp!  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.

Kristin:  Welcome to Ask the Doulas with Gold Coast Doulas.  I’m Kristin, co-owner of Gold Coast, and I’ve got Hanna Schultz here with me.  She’s from Local First, and we’re going to be talking about B Corp business today.  Welcome, Hanna!

Hanna:  Thank you so much for having me!

Kristin:  Thanks for being here!  So we have partnered with you.  We’ve been a Local First member from the day we started Gold Coast, but we’ve been working with you over the years, initially becoming a Good for Michigan business, and now we’re so excited to be a certified B Corp business.  I’d love to hear your involvement in the process and why B Corps matter.

Hanna:  Absolutely.  Local First started about 15 years ago.  The organization was born about 15 years ago, and through the years, we have really seen, and the statistics support, that local businesses are better for the community in a lot of different ways, based on every indicator: environmentally, socially, and the way that businesses give back to the community.  So we’ve leaned into that, those studies, and what we’ve seen with our Local First businesses, and like you had mentioned, we sort of created this program that we call Good for Michigan, helping businesses to really track their metrics around their environment, social, and community sustainability.  We want businesses to success financially, and we see the connection between businesses that give back to the community and treat their employees well and also are conscientious about how they consume from the environment or what they put back into the environment.  We see the connection between those things and a healthy business financially, so we have created programs to help businesses track those metrics.  Through that work, we’ve also created a very strong partnership with a nonprofit called B Lab, and that is a nonprofit that certifies B Corps, like you mentioned.  Gold Coast is Michigan’s newest certified B Corporation.  There are 22 in the state now, which we are really excited about.

Kristin:  It’s growing!  It’s so exciting!

Hanna:  Congratulations!  Local First and the Good for Michigan program are a Be Local community here in Michigan, so if any business is interested in going through the certification process for B Corp, they can come to us to get some assistance or to be connected into resources to help them through that certification process.

Kristin:  And we started with a Quick Impact Assessment to see where we scored, areas we could improve, and then sat down with you when we knew our goal was to become a B Corp.  We were learning how we can work on our environmental impact, our community service, governance, and all of the different categories.

Hanna:  Absolutely, and the Quick Impact Assessment is a very helpful tool for businesses to start out with because it’s free.  It’s a relatively easy way to just sort of check out and see what questions are going to arise around your business, depending on the size of the business and the sector of business that you’re in.  Gold Coast Doulas would not take the same exact assessment as a law firm or as a restaurant, for instance.  The assessment kind of auto-generates based on the category that you self-select into.  The Quick Impact Assessment is a good way to get a snapshot of what a larger assessment could look like and give you an idea of where the low-hanging fruit might be, for instance, around, well, we don’t have a recycling program in our office yet, but we could probably do that.  Then Local First and Good for Michigan can help tie you into the resources in the community that can help you get there.  West Michigan, in particular, which is where the work has started — we’ve started to scale across the state now, but West Michigan in particular is so rich in resources; specifically nonprofit resources, to help businesses kind of improve those different impact area.  So there are organizations that can help you implement a recycling or composting program.  There are resources that can help you check your energy efficiency and save money in those ways.  There are also organizations that can help you with your employment to be a conscientious employer around benefits and salaries and cultural competency, which is something that is really relevant in our community.  There are resources that we have curated through our website and in other ways to help businesses connect into those services that will cost them either very little or are free in the community so businesses can focus on spending the time to do the work and not worry about having to gather the resources financially to put into it.  There are ways; there are certainly things you can do if you have the resources, but if you don’t and you’re really just interested in doing the best work that you can afford to do, we’ve helped businesses along that spectrum as well.

Kristin:  We’ve certainly appreciated all of the support and help you’ve given to us!  I would say the biggest learning experience for me in the six-month process of becoming certified was that, really, I have always prided ourselves on shopping local and looking at our vendors, but to become a B Corp, there’s so much documentation as part of that process and things that you don’t really even think of doing, like checking where do they get their t-shirts from, and are things ethically sources, and it’s more than just supporting local businesses.  It’s looking at where their suppliers are, where the sourcing is, and thinking that you live in — your business is located in a sustainable building, but what can you do beyond that, and how are you tracking your energy usage and efficiency?  It was eye-opening to me, going through the process and knowing how we can do better in the future because it’s a three-year certification process, so we have documentation.  Just getting certified is a continuous process to become certified, and again, you have a lot of businesses that have been long-time B Corps and they have gone through that recertification process.

Hanna:  Yeah, and I think one of the unique things about B Corp certification that is different, because I think as a business owner there are a number of different certifications out there, and you can look and see what fits your business best so that you can really signal your values as a business.  I think something that’s becoming more and more prevalent is that consumers are supporting businesses that signal values that mirror theirs, so being able to say, hey, we’re a responsible business.  Maybe it’s LEED certified.  There are some that you see that are all over the place, and something that we see value in B Corp, particularly, is because the process is so rigorous and because you have to recertify every three years, which I think at times there is a challenge around whether a business or an organization might certify and then say, cool, we got the stamp of approval and now we’re done.  We don’t have to kind of do this work.  And you and I have had this discussion that it’s a constant process to continue improving and learning.  We as individuals need to constantly improve and learn how we can be better stewards to our community and to our relationships and to the earth, and as a business, it’s the same.  It’s a living, breathing thing, and it can constantly be improving and constantly be in touch with how to better walk out those values.  The B Corp certification changes.  You’ll take a different assessment in three years when you do recertify.  Some things will slightly shift.  They’ll expect you to have made improvements.  When you do recertify, then you’ll be able to say, we’re not sitting on our laurels.  Gold Coast has been doing this work.  We’re working hard towards improving on all of our indicators, and that’s something that we find very meaningful.  That said, it’s an arduous process, and it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of energy.  I think it’s that much more satisfying when you do get there, but what we’re trying to do also as this B Local — so I put B Local sort of in finger quotes because it is a designation.  It’s not like we almost have our own seal as Local First and Good for Michigan.  We have our own designation as the convener of the Michigan B Corps, and what we’re trying to do with that designation is really provide what we call a community of practice around B Corp.  When we started this relationship with B Lab and with the B Corp community, there were three B Corps in West Michigan, and this was about five years ago, six years ago now.  And we’ve grown to over 20.  So we’ve taken that time — and certainly, I mean, part of this is because the movement has grown and the recognition has grown and the return on the investment of time, then, is growing because more people know what B Corps are and are using that to make their decisions around purchasing.  I also like to think that we had something to do with it.

Kristin:  I would say so.  I mean, that’s how I became passionate about it is talking to your team.

Hanna:  Yeah, and we are hoping that we can connect the B Corps that have taken the time to certify and have put the resources into certification so that there is this community of 20 business owners, in theory, and they have — most of our B Corps in the community have a disaggregated structure of leadership, as well, so they usually have a number of staff that really are integral in the process, and that changes, obviously, depending on the size, and we have different sizes of B Corps in Michigan, as well, but we try to pull those folks together and keep those connections very close so that if you wanted to reach out to somebody at Brewery Vivant, for instance, or Cascade Engineering, or even in Ann Arbor, we have Revalue, which is an interesting organization that we’re doing some work in the Ann Arbor area, and you could call them up or we could make an introduction, and then there is this kind of collaborative spirit around, hey, I’m struggling with this; how have you seen your improvement along these lines?  I don’t know how I’m going to convince, for instance, my office of six people to recycle because it’s just not anybody’s habit; I have no idea how this is going to work.  How do I talk them into it?  How did you talk them into it?  There’s sort of this conversation that happens and this mentorship, collaborative, community of practice spirit that happens in those rooms when the walls come down and everybody’s vulnerable and saying, hey, I’m really struggling with this, or hey, I’d really love to pay my staff a living wage, but I have no idea how I’m going to do it.  Or I’d really love to provide a 401(k) for my staff, but I just don’t know what that’s going to look like.  How do I provide the training for people?  How do I have conversations about appropriate workplace interactions or cultural competency in the workplace or making sure that my staff is being respectful to one another regardless of background, race, religion, sex, et cetera.  How do we have those difficult conversations?  And you, as the newest B Corp, the owner of the newest B Corp in Michigan, you will be invited to our next CEO peer circle, and that is where we sit around the table and we kind of have these lightly-facilitated, completely confidential, very vulnerable conversations around, like, what are we going through as a community of businesses that are intentionally-minded and wanting to, again, really signal those values, and how can we help each other?  That’s been pretty powerful.

Kristin:  I love that!  It’s great to have that support and be able to look at best practices, and you also — even for businesses that aren’t intending to become B Corps, you have a lot of seminars in the area and you can learn about different topics every time, but you had one today that I missed.  Tell us about some of the seminars that you put on that the public would be invited to or Local First members.

Hanna:  Any businesses — if you’re not a Local First member, you don’t have to be to attend those workshops, and they typically cost no more than $15 or $20, so we try to keep them really inexpensive, but today, we actually  had a workshop about how to be having intelligent — let’s see, it was the psychology around intelligent conversations, so we brought in an expert and a local business owner to specializes in this psychology of having difficult conversations in the workplace and interacting with staff and customers in a way that is emotionally intelligent, is making sure that you’re providing what you need to your employees that helps, ideally, keep those employees around, keep them happy, keep them productive and doing their best, bringing their best selves and their full selves to work.  Something that we’re seeing across the board in the business community is a challenge around retention.  Really having a hard time holding on to super talented folks, and it’s one of those sort of double-edged swords, right, because that’s an indicator of low unemployment rate, and obviously, we know that we have some work to do in Grand Rapids around employment in certain communities, but if we set that aside for a moment and say, we really want to just build teams that have a lot of talent, and as a business owner, we want to honor that talent and make sure that it’s being fostered and making sure that it’s being developed, and how to do that is to really be a mindful employer and have conversations with your staff; keep connected; keep creating a culture that they can show up as their full selves to work and bring with them what they need to bring with them and that you’re helping them foster their creativity and foster their loyalty, too, to your company and grow as a person and as an employee.  So that is what the workshop today was about, and then we usually have workshops every month or every other month.  All of this you would find on our website or on our Facebook page, but they are based on, frankly, the conversations we’re having with business owners in the community.  Some of it’s driven by our B Corp businesses that say, hey, we’re seeing these trends, or our Local First membership; hey, we’re seeing these trends or these are the things we’d like to learn about.

Kristin:  We’ve had even tours of facilities, and we’ve had so many different topics.

Hanna:  Thank you, yeah.  We had an electronic recycling.  Valley City Electronics is a B Corp in the community, and they help businesses recycle their electronics, which is not something that a whole lot of people know about, but it’s this really wonderful service that we have here in town, and it’s also a place where you can go and get a used, refurbished laptop if you need to provide that for one of your stuff.  There’s all these ways that they give back to the community, as well, but we use the data that we’re able to drive from the Quick Impact Assessment that we were talking about earlier, that short assessment.  If you’d prefer to keep all of your information to yourself, you do not need to share the data with Local First or Good for Michigan, but if you want to be transparent about your impact, then you can share that with us, and we simply use that as an aggregate data collection so that we can help decide what these workshops are going to look like; where the gaps are; what our community needs in terms of education around these impact areas.  Then we put the series together based on all of those factors.  We’re currently actually working on our 2020 workshop series as we speak.

Kristin:  Can’t wait to hear what you’ve got lined up!  So B Corp, for those who don’t fully understand what it is, the short summary is, profit with a purpose.  So it’s a way for a business like ours to be able to give back without having a nonprofit arm.  Our passion is to help low income women, but we have to charge a living wage and cannot necessarily serve them as doulas, so we do a lot of community education, volunteering, giving money financially to organizations that support low-income women and families.  Our diaper drive would be an example of that.  So how would you, for those of our listeners and clients who have no idea what a B Corp is and why Gold Coast should be interested, can you help me fill them in?

Hanna:  Absolutely.  You know, I think those examples about Gold Coast sort of signaling — again, back to that signaling of values as a business.  These are things that we’re seeing are really helping businesses grow their customer base.  I mean, frankly, at the end of the day, a for-profit business needs to make money in order to exist.  And the argument that we would present as an organization that advocates for B Corp certification is that walking out your values and really putting intentional effort towards not only documenting what you’re doing as a business but also verifying, having this third-party verified signal of, we’re doing this work – there is a return on that investment.  There is financial growth and sustainability in that model, and we believe that B Corp is the most holistic measurement, the most holistic certification, out there that shows that not only are you as a business being a good steward to the environment, but you’re also treating your employees well, and you’re also giving back to the community.  The standards are high.  As a B Corp — as a consumer that maybe hasn’t heard of B Corp or as a consumer that is looking at all of the potential choices that I have when spending my money, regardless of whether o not I have very little or if I have a huge amount of money to spend, we make a decision every time we spend money.  When I have additional information around, oh, this business is B Corp — that means to me that I’m spending my money in a place that matters, and that money is going to go back to my local community, or that money is going to go to help families and low-income women.  That’s something that I’m very passionate about personally, and that’s how I’m going to vote with my dollar is I’m going to use my resources to push money into doing good in the world.  This is something that, if you see the B Corp Certified seal on a business — for instance, when you go to your local grocery store and you see 7th Generation or Method, those are — like if you were going to be buying laundry detergent or something — you’ll see on the back that there’s a B Corp seal, and that’s something where you can think, okay, I’m buying a $10 jug of laundry detergent, but I know that there are certain environment standards around their brand, and their employees are being treated a certain kind of a way.  Or a clothing brand; I know that whatever manufacturing standards this clothing brand is using, I can feel good about where this came from.

Kristin:  Yeah, their sourcing is obviously good.

Hanna:  Yeah, and again, the standards and the assessment itself generates based on what type of business it is, but you can be sure that that business has gone through something very vigorous and has jumped through a lot of hoops to maintain that certification, so it’s just a way to know that you’re making an impact with the money that you’re spending, and that’s something that resonates with me.  I think that’s something that resonates with a growing number of consumers and business owners, because as a business owner, you also consume from other businesses.  So to have that shared value statement, I think is really important.

Kristin:  And certainly many of our clients are millennials, and I feel like millennials want to give their money to companies that are giving back and have a purpose and meaning beyond just your standard profit focus.

Hanna:  Yeah.  Again, a huge piece of what economic development is all about, and as an employee of Local First, I can say that local development and local economic development is something that’s important to us, and equitable economic development is something that’s really paramount to us.  You’re right; the consumer statistics support what we’re saying, what you’re saying.  Millennials and people who are coming up into wealth and coming into influence are making their decisions based on a lot of the values alignment.  You’ll see that when you click on the news and there’s some sort of boycott here or there, or this business CEO makes a decision that negatively impacts their workers or the environment, and there’s a reaction to that in terms of their customer base.  And so you’ll see that, regardless of where your personal values lie; you’ll see that decisions are being made based on those values of the business, and I think that’s happening more now.  The statistics are supporting that that’s happening more now than it has in the past, so it’s becoming very valuable from a financial sustainability standpoint for businesses to signal those values and to put as much intentionality around how they’re showing up in the community and in the world as they possibly can.

Kristin:  Right.  And as far as our industry, we are the first birth-related business.  We’re not a retail space; we don’t manufacture anything.  We’re service, and the process was unique for us because we don’t have employees.  We have subcontractors who are business owners of their own, so that part, too, was how do we really focus on being good for employees when we have two owners, my business partner Alyssa and myself, and then subcontractors?  But we are good for them; we give them opportunities; we’ve done disability trainings that are optional for our team, as well as PRIDE has come in and did an LGBTQI training for us, and we’ve done Empathy with Healthcare Professionals through Mothership, so we’ve tried to use that overarching philosophy even though we don’t, at this point, have employees.  Someday, I’m sure we will.

Hanna:  And I think, too, because this movement — B Lab, the nonprofit that certifies B Corps, has been around for twelve years, I think, roughly, and the movement is growing, and it’s grown very quickly.  But that doesn’t mean that they don’t encounter new business models.  They’re out there working with them every day, so the cool thing about the assessment, the B Impact Assessment, is that it is always evolving.  Even another layer of connection between Local First and Good for Michigan and B Lab is that, because we are that Be Local community for the state of Michigan — so B Lab is a global organization.  B Corporation certification is a global movement.  It’s not just North America; it’s not just the United States.  It’s everywhere, which is wild to think about, and it’s wonderful to think the movement is that large, but as a Be Local in the state of Michigan, we do have a relationship with the folks that are helping to curate the assessment and how it evolves in North America, specifically, because a lot of the policies are based on the continent and based on place.  So it does change in different areas, but we get to have conversations around what’s relevant here in our place.  Culturally, what’s relevant in the United States, and we help inform how the assessment evolves a bit.  So I expect that based on your experience with B Lab and how things went and how you had to work around the uniqueness of your model while also being very adamant in saying, this is something that really matters to Gold Coast and we want to make this work — having had that interaction will help them and help inform them on how to update the process around unique models like yours.  There are very few healthcare-related B Corps, and as you can imagine because of the environmental impact of healthcare organizations and because of just the size of many of them and the uniqueness of the structure, it’s not an easy model.  We’ve also had very few in the country.  When I say we have very few, I mean in the country, in the United States.  There are also very few banks for a similar reason.  Very few banks are “locally owned,” and so those large national chain banks, the power is so disaggregated that it’s difficult to track all that data.  So that kind of brings you back to those local businesses.  They tend to have an easier time certifying as a B Corp just because of the way the decisions are made.  That doesn’t mean that a chain couldn’t become a B Corp.  Patagonia, for instance, is huge.  You’re probably familiar with the brand Patagonia.  Ben & Jerry’s, for instance.  Both those huge brands are B Corps and have been for a long time, so you see — I can’t even imagine how difficult that certification is, right?  But they put a lot of resources into it.  It’s something that’s very valuable to them.  It signals their brand identity.  For an outdoor apparel company that sort of has that hipster vibe and it’s a little bit more high end, it kind of signals this, which makes sense.  But then there’s the ice cream brand, too, and that’s something that anybody would grab off a shelf, and it doesn’t matter if I like hiking or if I prefer to Netflix and chill; whatever it is, but that’s a choice I’m making that I’m going to buy this ice cream instead of something generic coming from who knows who, what cows and whatever.  The idea that the assessment is ever-changing and it’s always signaling to the community what’s relevant to that community and to our place is really important, I think.

Kristin:  If people are interested in learning more, where should they go?

Hanna:  The best place to get started is to head to our website or follow Good for Michigan on Instagram or Facebook.  That’s going to connect you to our staff, and if you’re interested in taking the assessment, you can find it right there in the homepage for your business.  It’s totally free and totally confidential.  Or you can reach out to one of our staff and we can have a conversation with you a little bit more about what starting down the path would look like for your business.  It can be as simple as just having a conversation, taking that Quick Impact Assessment and then stopping there, or moving all the way through to B Corp certification like Gold Coast has and 22 of our other good friends here in the community.

Kristin:  Last year, I accidentally took the full B Corp assessment, thinking I was taking the Quick Impact, but that really helped me think about the process for this year.  Thanks for coming on!  We’ll have to chat again as we get further along in the process.  I know there’s a big retreat that you don’t even need to be a B Corp business to attend — the B Corp Conference?  Tell us about that!

Hanna:  B Lab puts together a conference every year they call the Champion’s Retreat, and there are a couple different tracts of the retreat.  There’s the tract that’s just for B Corp certified businesses.  There’s a tract for Be Local communities, like ours, and then I believe there is a new tract around prospecting B Corps or businesses interested in learning more about the process and how it could be beneficial to them.  This year, it’s in Los Angeles.  Last year, it was in Louisiana.  The year before that, it was in Toronto.  It was in New Orleans, and then in Toronto.  So it bops around all over the place.

Kristin:  To warmer clients so Michiganders can get out somewhere with sunshine like LA!

Hanna:  Yeah!  I’m looking forward to it.  I will be there and a few of our local B Corp CEOs and leaders will be there.  It’s not an inexpensive thing to attend, but we will be able to go and we’ll be bringing back some learning from that and hopefully be plugging it into our programming for next year, and we’re excited to be able to continue doing the work.  It’s a privilege to be able to get to work with businesses like yours and like the other businesses that are taking time out of their busy days and their passion to sort of give back and use their business as a force for good.  It’s a tagline that we like to use because we believe that business can be used as a force for good.  We’ve seen it.  We know there are folks like you that are out there doing it, and we’d really like to hold up those businesses as an example and help others follow in their footsteps.

Kristin:  Thanks for joining us today, Hanna!