B Corps are for-profit organizations certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,000 Certified B Corps from 33 countries and over 60 industries working together to redefine success in business.
Anne Sherman led Staach through the B Corporation certification process and is a passionate advocate for the value it can bring to a company’s culture and brand. We caught up with Anne to find out what inspired her to get involved with the B Corp movement and the benefits and challenges of becoming certified.
When did you first become interested in sustainability?
I’ve been interested in environmental sustainability my whole life. My father worked on early environmental sustainability efforts in the 70s and so I was always conscious of environmental issues and the importance of protecting the planet.
How did you find out about the B Corporation Movement?
I did a Masters in Sustainable Design at Philadelphia University and learnt about many of the different sustainability certifications as part of my course. Philadelphia is where the B Corp movement first started so I had the opportunity to interact with a number of certified companies and see the value they got from improving their social and environmental impacts and being part of a community working together towards a shared goal.
I was also lucky to have the support and inspiration of my professor, Rob Fleming, who I worked with to develop Quadruple Bottom Line, defining Experience – particularly those which contribute to the improvement of the human condition – as the fourth ‘bottom line’ necessary to establish a lasting form of sustainability. I adapted it for use in business, but the concept is adaptable and is also described in Rob Fleming’s recent book Design Education for a Sustainable Future.
What motivated you to pursue a career at Staach?
The founder of Staach, Seth Eshelman, and I were undergraduates together at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He founded Staach in his senior year and I worked closely with him as he brought his vision to life. I guess I have always had an emotional connection with the company and hoped to find the right opportunity to work there. I reconnected with Seth when I used Staach as an example for the Quadruple Bottom Line tool that I worked on at Graduate School. As part of this process, I identified key opportunities for the company and made the case for a Director of Sustainability, which then became my role.
Why did you decide to pursue FSC and B Corporation Certification for Staach?
From the beginning, Staach only sourced FSC materials but it never formalized these efforts through certification. Becoming FSC certified is not easy and requires companies to go through an intensive audit each year – there really needs to be someone to manage the process. What’s more, between audits, there is lots of training required to ensure that materials are handled and stored in the right way throughout the company’s operations. The benefit is maintaining credible third party standards for our procedures to assure an unbroken chain of custody, as well as being able to use the FSC label on our products, which is really important for effectively marketing our products.
The B Corp certification is more comprehensive as it looks at both social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Staach was in a fortunate position in that the company was already going above and beyond in a number of areas to address its environmental and social impacts. However, the certification provided us with the third party credibility to talk about our efforts and to differentiate us from our competitors. It also provided us with the framework and data to evaluate and improve our performance and an opportunity to strengthen our role as advocates for responsible business.
Do you get support from B Lab and the B Corporation community?
The B Lab team provides a great deal of support to companies going through the certification process. They are more than willing to help answer your questions and they also accept and appreciate feedback to improve the process.
One of the biggest benefits of being a B Corp is the community. There are working groups and annual retreats where B Corps come together to collaborate and answer the big
questions. It isn’t easy to make radical changes in a company so it is invaluable to have a network of like-minded individuals who support and question your ideas and actions. You don’t have to participate in the B Corp community to be certified but, in my opinion, staying engaged helps you get the most value.
Does the work stop once you are a certified B Corporation?
The certification process is just the beginning. After Staach was certified, I went back and highlighted areas where are scores were lower, taking into account the weighting they were given by B Lab and how this compared to Staach’s priorities. Then I separated these questions into three categories: “easy wins,” “medium-term aims” and “longer-term thinking.” This process informed the development of Staach’s sustainability program and helped us identify what more we could be doing. First, we tackled the “easy wins,” while also considering the “medium-term aims” and “longer-term thinking” as part of our ongoing business decisions.
I know a number of other companies that have leveraged the certification results as a roadmap to drive continuous improvement.
The roadmap I created also enables me to project future B Corp certification scores. It’s not an exact science as the certification changes slightly; however, I’m looking forward to seeing how close I got!
What has been the impact of becoming a B Corporation on the Staach’s culture and its brand?
It’s definitely a value add – both for the company’s culture and brand. Staach scored in the top 10% of B Corps and was awarded ‘Best in the Environment’ by B Lab. This external recognition of our efforts boosts morale internally and is hugely motivating for the whole Staach team.
It has also helped us gain visibility with potential customers. One customer recently told us that, for them, the fact that we source our materials locally was the reason they chose Staach over competitor brands. Having the B Corporation certification provides us with a robust, transparent and increasingly recognized means of verifying the sustainability claims we are making.
What advice would you give to those looking for a career with a positive social or environmental impact?
You don’t need to work for B Corp or a company with strong sustainability credentials to make a difference. Many companies that are not already thinking or talking about sustainability will be motivated to change if their employees really care about it. Be an intrapreneur, work from the inside out, identify influencers in the company and pay attention so that when the opportunity arrives you are prepared.
Education is important and my academic qualifications have really helped me; however, nothing rivals working on the ground and getting real-world experience.
Also, seek out mentors to help you be the best you can be. Organizations like Net Impact Boston enable you to meet like-minded professionals and potential mentors to guide you on your journey.
Which companies do you most admire?
I am inspired by so many members of the B Corp and broader sustainability community, in particular, the companies and non-profit organizations that collaborate and take risks.
- International Living Future Institute: I am always inspired by this non-profit’s work as it is so comprehensive and Greg Norris and his team are not afraid to go where others won’t. In particular, I love the “Living Building Challenge” and “Living Product Challenge” (due to launch this year), which measure sustainability alongside beauty and happiness and yet are grounded in research and data.
- Patagonia: in my opinion, this company leads the way in terms of corporate sustainability. Its efforts to reduce consumption have become integral to the business without compromising its success – in fact, that’s what many consumers love about the brand.
- Beneficial State Bank: The work that Beneficial State Bank is doing is hugely important as the financial sector, on the whole, has been very slow to join the sustainability movement. I met one employee, who had been on the verge of quitting her job in finance until she got a position at Beneficial State Bank and was able to combine her passion for finance with her values. Check out this video of Kat Taylor’s B Inspired talk at the 2014 retreat.
- New Belgium: this is a great example of an employee-owned company that is leading the brewing industry with its sustainability efforts.
Check out B Inspired talks to find out more about the amazing innovation within the B Corp Community. If your company is considering B Corporation certification, check out the free Quick Assessment, which enables you to take the assessment for a test drive.