Like “jumbo shrimp,” are profits and the common good an oxymoron?
Among some entrepreneurs and business owners there is a growing movement that envisions profits as a pathway to stewardship of people and the planet. While currently many large corporations generously fund charities, it is often difficult for their directors to financially justify expenses that come out of the companies’ bottom line.
Enter B Corporation. Founded by Jay Coen Gilbert and two partners, the Pennsylvania-based company B Corporation “uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems,” Gilbert said in a phone interview.
His organization certifies sustainable businesses that not only “try to make money, but make a difference, pursuing a triple bottom line – people, land and planet,” he added.
In addition to committing to giving a portion of revenues to charitable causes, companies that seek B Corporation status must also agree to meet high standards for transparency and accountability.
Two local entrepreneurs are among more than 450 B Corp businesses nationwide, certified through the corporation’s B Lab arm.
Currently there are B Corps across 60 industries in North Carolina, Gilbert said.
Adam Shay, CPA, started his solo practice near Eastwood Road within weeks of the birth of his first child.
“It shows I’m not risk averse,” Shay said. The past chairman of Cape Fear Surfriders isn’t able to find the time to attend as many meetings and events, but has found a way to contribute to the organization whose mission is the protection and enjoyment of the ocean and the beaches.
As a B Corporation, he donates 1 percent of his revenue to local non-profits that enable him to conduct his business in a way that is “socially and environmentally ethical,” he said.
“You try to do what you can,” Shay said. “For instance, in my business, it’s hard to get away from paper.” While most of his clients receive their information electronically, those who want it on paper can get it, but it’s recycled paper. That’s an added cost to doing business, he said. But he agrees with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, whose philosophy of treating his workers and the environment right allows a business to make money and be successful.
Shay and Ryan Crecelius, owner of Do Good Real Estate in Wilmington, learned about B Corp through the Internet and word of mouth. That’s not uncommon, Gilbert said.
Crecelius has worked in real estate in Wilmington since graduating from UNCW. The 28-year-old’s business is also B Corp.-certified. He donates 20 percent of each commission – usually $1,000 to $2,000 – to a non-profit organization that has a local presence.
“The charity is not up to me,” he said. “It’s up to the client. That makes it fun, makes it interesting.” Charities that have benefited locally include Carolina Canines and the Make A Wish Foundation.
For a broker in a one-person business, Crecelius is not stepping back from his commitment to the public good. B Corp, Crecelius said, “fits his vision of a next generation real estate company.
Certification, which cost him $500, is not as simple as applying and sending in a check, he said.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t be certified,” Crecelius said. (The process) took one year, showing I was serious.”
The process is rigorous, Gilbert noted. The corporation “has a vigorous assessment practice focusing on process governance and transparency so that B Corps are what they purport to be.”
According to B Corp’s website, the process is rigorous for a reason.
“Current corporate law makes it difficult for businesses to take employee, community, and environmental interests into consideration when making decisions; and “The lack of transparent standards makes it difficult for all of us to tell the difference between a ‘good company’ and just good marketing.”
B Corporations' legal structure expands corporate accountability so businesses are required to make decisions that are good for society, not just their shareholders.
Is Shay concerned as a new business just starting out that contributing part of his revenue could be daunting?
“The business, the profits will grow,” Shay said. “Being a B Corp shows that “I have these values, I’m a person with values.”
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