In the modern consumer economy, just putting out a great product isn’t enough. Companies must live up to a great responsibility to not only their customers, but also their employees, their communities, the environment, and the global village as a whole. For too many years, maximizing profit has superseded the need to sustain a better world, exacerbating many of today’s most pervasive problems, including climate change and wealth inequality.
From this mission to effect positive social change and shape the future of business head-on, the B Corp was born. As stated in the B Lab mission:
“Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”
For years, B Corps were associated with organizations dedicated to being environmentally responsible, and that tenet remains an important focus. However, in recent years, the emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has gained momentum. Companies that want to build a healthier planet should also be engaged in building a more tolerant and inclusive world full of opportunity extended to all.
B Corps such as Patagonia are leading the charge for businesses driving positive social transformation. To remain viable in today’s incredibly dynamic economy, we can learn a lot from these organizations that are working toward changing the world.
How B Corps Are Shaping the Future
Millennials are often seen as the impetus that drive today’s raised standards for corporate responsibility, and indeed, their demand for values alignment from the companies they work for and buy from has been an inspiration behind the B Corp concept. As millennials continue to shape the future of business and work and as they move into positions of influence across industries reigns, Generation Z is now starting to enter the workforce and is showing early signs of continuing disrupt corporate and organizational norms.
Generation Z represents 27 percent of the global population and, by 2020, will comprise 40 percent of all consumers. This generation is notably more values-driven than any previous generation. A millennial displeased by an organization’s social responsibility (or lack thereof) may consider switching brands; a Gen Z kid won’t hesitate to move on. Alternately, someone from Generation Z may become a cheerleader and advocate for a brand that aligns with their values. B Corp certification increases the odds that organizations will land on the right side of what customers and employees hold near and dear, setting B Corps up to shape the future of an inclusive economy that is embraced by all people.
Perhaps more critical to the B Corp mission is the new priority of DEI, especially when thinking about millennial and Gen Z staff retention. The latest edition of The B Corp Handbook: How You Can Use Business as a Force of Good incorporates DEI metrics into the methodology and offers sample surveys organizations can give to employees. By looking at B Corps and the examples leading organizations set, B Lab has been able to keep a pulse on what matters to consumers while measuring social, financial, and ecological impact that benefits the triple bottom line.
Ryan Honeyman, one of the authors of the B Corp Handbook, writes, “What I have learned over the past few years, however, is that there is no such thing as a conversation about DEI and a separate conversation about business as a force for good. They are the same conversation. Siloing DEI into something separate is one of the main barriers facing our movement to create a more equitable society.” Creating a future that works for everyone requires truly thinking of everyone—and a DEI emphasis helps B Corps revolutionize outdated corporate and organizational structures and face the future head-on.
How Patagonia Did It
The outdoors industry, like many other industries, has been slowly but surely shifting the focus toward thinking about DEI and embracing all people and the planet. One company in this industry, Patagonia, has been leading the charge as a certified B Corp and longtime proponent of committing to social responsibility principles.
Patagonia’s core values that contributed to its B Corp certification include:
- Build the best product
- Cause no unnecessary harm
- Use business to protect nature
- Not bound by convention
Patagonia is striving to incorporate diversity into the concepts that have made its overarching philosophy so successful. In a 2018 blog post, the company wrote, “We can, and should, be doing a lot more to actively engage with individuals and communities who are historically underrepresented in the outdoor community, the environmental movement and our own company.”
One way Patagonia expanded its commitment to DEI was by partnering with The Greening Youth Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping underrepresented young people “become stewards of the environment.” Patagonia also offers on-site childcare, run by teachers skilled in child development (including bilingual teachers). Its childcare program is dedicated to exploration and learning far different than that offered at a traditional company’s daycare. Furthermore, Patagonia has publicly spoken about its commitment to protecting migrant workers and meeting strict employment standards.
Patagonia’s DEI efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2017, it ranked No. 98 in Fortune’s Best Workplaces for Diversity. And this year, Fortune ranked Patagonia at No. 100 on its annual list of the Best Companies to Work For.
Better for Business; Better for the World
Patagonia is a shining example of how B Corps and companies striving for certification—or just intent on improving the world—can excel in all facets of social change. Any company can make progress toward DEI, environmental sustainability, and community goals.
Put simply, when working toward making the world a more just, equitable, and sustainable place, business thrives. Customers love you, the best people want to work for you, and socially conscious investors want to align themselves with your organization. That support creates a critically important cycle—the more you invest in social and ecological responsibility, the stronger your position becomes in shaping a world that truly works for all.