How We Walk Our Talk: Berrett-Koehler 2018 Benefit Report


Posted by Shabnam Banerjee-McFarland - 09 September, 2019

We want to share the results of our fourth annual Benefit Report, which details the ways in which Berrett-Koehler sets ambitious goals to drive growth while generating public benefit.

To fully commit to creating a world that works for all, we became a B Corporation in 2011, joining a movement of progressive businesses that drive positive change by balancing people, the planet, and profit. We were the second book publisher in the world to become a Certified B Corporation. Since our inaugural certification, the movement has grown to include more than 2,500 Certified B Corporations in over fifty countries.

Four years later, in October 2015, Berrett-Koehler was the first book publisher to go beyond B Corp certification to also become a Benefit Corporation. Becoming a Benefit Corporation puts the force of law behind Berrett-Koehler’s long-standing social mission, values, practices, and objectives. We’re using the Benefit Corporation requirements as a framework for our report. As a Benefit Corporation, we are legally obligated to provide four things:

  1. Public Benefit. To quote from the new California law, Benefit Corporations must provide “general public benefit,” which “means a material positive impact on society and the environment, taken as a whole.” And BK’s Articles of Incorporation now include BK’s mission and values as “specific public benefits” to which BK is legally committed: “connecting people and ideas to create a world that works for all and helping people promote positive change to advance quality, stewardship, partnership, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion in their lives, organizations, communities, and the world.”
  2. Positive Impacts on Stakeholders. Benefit Corporation status makes it the fiduciary duty of the BK Board of Directors to “consider the impacts of any action or proposed action upon . . . shareholders, employees, customers, community and social considerations, [and] the local and global environment. So BK’s founding concept—managing the company “for the benefit of all of our ‘stakeholder’ groups,” including “authors, customers, employees, suppliers and subcontractors, owners, and the society and environmental communities in which we live and work” (as stated in our very first catalog in 1992)—is now legally mandated.
  3. Accountability. Benefit Corporations must assess their overall corporate, social, and environmental performance on a yearly basis using an independent third-party standard. The Impact Assessment that BK passed to be certified as a B Corp—and that it retakes to be periodically recertified—qualifies as such a third-party standard.
  4. Transparency. Finally, California Benefit Corporations must report their overall social and environmental performance to their shareholders and to the public in an annual benefit report. This is consistent with everything about how Berrett-Koehler wants to be in the world, but making it a legal obligation ensures that it actually happens each year.

Here is how we measured up to these four commitments.

Providing Public Benefit: A Mission-Based Publisher with Global Reach

It’s no secret that we believe books can change the world. In 2018, Berrett-Koehler published 39 new books and 5 new editions of previously published books in multiple formats, plus several companion products, all of which sold over 1 million copies!

The ideas in our books were also shared through reviews, interviews, articles, and book excerpts that appeared in hundreds of different print, radio, television, and online media. Social media sharing of the ideas in the books reached many additional millions of people. And our authors spoke about their books to hundreds of thousands of people at conferences, seminars, workshops, forums, and other events.

A Worldwide Presence

We broaden our reach by working with publishers in other countries to translate our books into other languages. Last year, we made 162 translation rights deals in 29 different languages, bringing the total number of translation rights deals in the company’s history to over 3,071 in 54 languages. It’s important to us that our stated mission of creating a world that works for all not be empty verbiage.

We also closed 58 subsidiary rights deals in 2018, such as licensing the right to summarize BK books to organizations like EBSCO and getAbstract and licensing editions by specialty publishers. These deals further spread the ideas in our books. And we reached additional audiences through the BK website, our blog, and direct marketing programs that are discussed in the following section.

Beyond Print, Beyond Borders: Online Training Programs

In 2018, Berrett-Koehler organized and hosted the Women’s Leadership Online Summit. The summit drew 20,287 attendees from 145 countries. It was the largest global convening of the BK community in our 27-year history. Over a period of 8 days, 31 community organizers, CEOs, executives, and other experts addressed different aspects of women in leadership, offering an unprecedented breadth of perspectives. The summit was free, with multiple presentations broadcast daily and access to speakers’ free bonus gifts.

A paid upgrade package was available for those who wanted lifetime access to the more than 20 hours of video training, which was also available as downloadable audio and PDF transcripts. The event included access to a Women’s Leadership Facebook group, where participants gathered to network, share information, and discuss the event.

Berrett-Koehler also created and broadcast a servant leadership master course, the Dare to Serve Online Training with Cheryl Bachelder, author of our book Dare to Serve and the former CEO of Popeyes. The training was broadcast over 5 weeks with weekly video lessons, a course learning journal with exercises, and weekly hour-long live video training sessions with Cheryl.

These live training calls were filmed and later made available in the course portal for lifetime access. All course content—over 90 minutes of video lessons, a learning journal, and 5 hours of Q&A training with Cheryl—was also available in the course portal as downloadable video, audio, and printable PDF transcripts. The event included a private Servant Leaders Facebook group for discussion and updates. A total of 2,710 people opted into a free three-video workshop on servant leadership with Cheryl Bachelder, and 138 attendees paid for the full training.

Our online trainings and summits are part of BK’s strategic imperative to transition from a traditional book publisher to a media enterprise.

Expanding Our Impact: Audiobooks

In 2015, we decided to publish our own audiobooks, and the program has grown rapidly in very little time. Audiobooks not only provide a way for readers to literally hear from our authors (although they’re usually read by professional narrators), they also provide easy access for those with visual impairments.

By the end of 2017, our audiobook program was fully streamlined and we successfully published all our new titles in three simultaneous formats: print, ebook, and audiobook. In 2018, we added more than 40 new audiobooks, and we doubled our 2016 sales, both in number of units sold and in revenue.

We presciently ramped up BK’s audio publishing program in time to take advantage of the rapid growth of audio publishing that is happening not only in the United States (where audio sales grew 13 percent from 2017 to 2018) but all over the world. Many of the content providers with whom we have partnerships are major international players, such as Google Play (which launched in January 2018 in 43 countries), Kobo (the biggest digital content retailer in Canada), and Storytel (the Swedish company that is rapidly dominating the European audiobook market). So audiobooks are another way that we’ve expanded our global reach.

Marketing That Provides Value

In 2018, Berrett-Koehler expanded the use of content marketing. This is a relatively new approach that puts the customer’s needs front and center. Rather than simply urge people to buy our products to improve their lives and organizations, we proactively provide them with helpful free content through our blog, social media, and website. We aspire to become a trusted source of information, a partner rather than just a purveyor. Our aim is to connect with customers across a variety of media and deepen our relationships with them so that when we do ask them to buy something, it’s almost as if a friend is suggesting it.

Serving Our Stakeholders: A Presence in the Community

The reach and impact of the BK mission were deepened and expanded in 2018 through the Berrett-Koehler Foundation, a nonprofit that receives financial support from Berrett-Koehler Publishers and from contributions by BK authors, employees, service providers, and other friends of the company. The foundation shares ideas from BK books and coaching from BK community members and authors, furthering our mission in a direct, tangible way. By connecting people across differences, the foundation helps the next generation of leaders and change-makers learn and put into practice systems-transforming ideas through several programs, including Action-Learning Fellowships, Leadership Exchanges, and Experiential Exchanges.

Berrett-Koehler as a company believes in the power of volunteerism and strives to make space for all employees to give back to the community. To that end, we have a volunteer program that encourages employees to volunteer up to four hours of paid time per month, as well as one annual company-wide volunteer event.

In 2018, our company-wide volunteer event supported the Alameda County Food Bank. We also hosted the Black Youth Leadership Project in partnership with the City of Oakland.

In 2018, $39,468 of the profits from our Leadership Now ebook bundle (promoted in association with the company’s Humble Book Bundle) went to the nonprofit First Book, which works to provide equal access to quality education for children in need. Berrett-Koehler also has a book-donation policy that allows employees to donate copies of selected books to community organizations of their choice.

Helping Authors Help Themselves

BK might be the only publisher whose authors have formed their own autonomous organization: Berrett-Koehler Authors Inc. While it has no official connection to Berrett-Koehler, we support its work in many ways. We partner with BK Authors Inc. members to put on the annual Author Marketing Workshop, which is open to the general public, as well as the annual Authors Retreat. These events help authors increase their ability to take the messages of their publications out into the world, thereby increasing the impact of those messages. The Co-op, as it is commonly called, also supports new BK authors by connecting them with more experienced authors who serve as their mentors.

Treating Employees Fairly

Berrett-Koehler is committed to supporting, engaging, and developing our employees through many means, including our open sharing of information, our participative decision-making model, comprehensive employee benefits, and employee stock ownership plan. These have positively contributed to employee engagement and success within the organization. Berrett-Koehler has a transparent compensation structure and practices open-book management to give employees full access to our salary schedule as well as to complete company financial information.

Increasing Diversity and Inclusion

For some years, Berrett-Koehler has been making a concerted effort to increase the number of female authors and authors of color among the BK author base. And these efforts in 2018 and prior years are bearing fruit. Of our scheduled 2019 publications, 40 percent are written by female authors and 30 percent are written by authors of color, which are both well above the averages for the areas in which we publish, including business book publishing. Forty-five percent of our audiobooks are narrated by women.

We made substantial strides in 2018 in working toward greater racial and ethnic diversity among BK staff members, in part through creating a paid internship program a few years ago that is helping us find and prepare outstanding candidates for open staff positions, expanding our searches for job candidates, and emphasizing other qualifications and experience besides publishing experience (since less than 10 percent of publishing staff in the United States come from ethnic minorities according to Publishers Weekly surveys). Thirty-two percent of BK staff are people of color, which is exceptional in the book publishing industry.

Protecting the Environment

BK continued to make environmentally sustainable paper purchasing a priority in 2018. The company favored vendors who could certify that their paper was FSC certified and aimed to use paper that contained 30 percent post-consumer recycled waste. This goal was achieved with only a small number of exceptions. In an industry where environmentally compromised and uncertified paper and printing are generally sourced from Asian markets and shipped by container, BK worked hard to secure a more local supply chain with a lower carbon footprint and domestic employees. These policies resulted in our paying a premium over printing in Asia but also resulted in our having a far more responsible and accountable supply chain.

BK continued to show environmental stewardship in other policies, such as our choice of a LEED-certified office, our office recycling and composting programs, and our work-at-home program to reduce employee commutes.

Transparency and Accountability: The B Impact Report

Berrett-Koehler’s commitment to transparency and accountability is best demonstrated by the B Impact report that we had to submit to become a B Corp and that we have made public and available for download

We had to score highly on more than 300 questions and do a follow-up audit, attesting that we met rigorous standards for corporate, social, and environmental performance.

When Berrett-Koehler most recently qualified as a certified B Corporation, we got a score of 95.3, well above the score of 80 necessary to receive B Corp recertification. The median score for the thousands of companies taking the assessment is 55—and these are companies that are already committed to practicing corporate, social, and environmental responsibility. The assessment score of companies in general would undoubtedly be far below 55.

Not showing up in the summary report is BK’s successful accomplishment of the optional “Inclusive Economy Challenge” by meeting three criteria: living-wage creation, board diversity with respect to gender and stakeholder representation, and equitable pay for interns. The B Impact Assessment already thoroughly measures company practices in four key areas (workers, environment, governance, and community), so basically, we aced an extra credit assignment.

The Benefits of Being a Benefit Corporation

We used the B Impact Assessment we submitted to B Lab as the third-party benefit report required to renew our California Benefit Corporation status. It wasn’t just because we’d already filled it out. It’s also the most popular impact measurement and management tool in the world. It has been used by more than 30,000 businesses to evaluate, compare, and improve their overall social and environmental performance, as well as by an increasing number of investors, business associations, and government entities serious about understanding and benchmarking the impact of the companies in which they invest and with which they do business.

Since BK is a Benefit Corporation, our social mission becomes an integral part of our corporate charter—even a new owner would be legally obligated to adhere to it. Combining B Corp certification with Benefit Corporation legal status is the new gold standard for socially responsible businesses. Together, they help BK continue being a leader in advancing the social mission dimensions of business and publishing.

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