Start Here - Advice from the Best for the World
This post was originally published on B Lab's Best for the World publication on Medium.
Our Best for the World honorees all commit to dozens of exceptional business practices to improve their impact on the world — but what do they think is the most important? We asked our honorees to choose one practice they think all companies should implement, and trends started to emerge. Here are the ideas that Best for the World companies are most eager to see the rest of the business world adopt.
Not surprisingly, one of the most talked-about issues in the world of business came up with our honorees: a living wage. Distinct from a minimum wage, which is determined by local and state governments, a living wage is the wage necessary for a person to support themselves (and potentially a family) on a full-time basis, and it varies depending on the cost of living in a given region. Our Best for the World honorees were firm in their support.
“All companies should pay a living wage,” said Cindy VandenBosch of Best for Communities honoree Turnstile Tours. “Being in business is about providing goods and services, but it’s about supporting people and their families.”
Chris McCurry of Highland Craftsmen (a triple honoree in Communities, Environment, and Overall) concurred. “Pay a living wage,” he said. “This is one way that many levels of society are improved at once: workers benefit, businesses benefit, the community and the economy benefits.”
Formalize Charitable Commitments
Other companies felt strongly that businesses should forge connections with non-profits — both to support their work and to provide outlets for employees. Garret Kababik of Communities honoree Channel Islands Outfitters spoke to how he felt non-profits helped his company achieve their mission.
“Organizations that don’t sell products or services must find funding somehow to continue to exist,” he pointed out. “I feel it is our obligation as a business with an environmental mission to support the organizations that help us fulfill our mission. We are a proud member of 1 Percent for the Planet for this reason.”
Sharon Kinkade of the appropriately-named Give Something Back Office Supplies recommended creating paid time off policies for employees to do volunteer work. “Require that each employee donate their time every quarter to doing something good in their community,” she suggested. “Allowing it on company time makes it resonate with the employee.”
Resource & Waste Management
Unsurprisingly, our Best for Environment honorees were eager to encourage others to lessen their environmental footprint.
“It is so easy to reduce, reuse and recycle,” said Michelle Greenfield of Third Sun Solar. “Get a waste audit at your company and make recommended changes. Start by reducing your use of water and office supplies; reuse packaging; and recycle all possible waste.”
Stephanie McLarty of REfficient echoed the same positive sentiment. “Look for ways to be resource efficient. Reuse as much as possible, and buy recycled and upcycled products where possible. There is so much you can do with some creativity and research.”
Eric Zimmerman of Tripzero challenged companies to go further, pointing out the business case for sustainability. “Every company should measure and reduce its carbon footprint. Our global economy — and every company within it — depends on a healthy planet. And if we don’t reduce our carbon output, we’re not going to have one.”
The overall push for improvement was summed up by Danique Gunning of MUD Jeans. “Ask yourself this simple question,” she said. “What if we all clean up our own mess? How can your company become more circular?”
Supply Chain Management
One of the most common recommendations by far was to take a closer look at supply chains. As Ariel Hauptman of Greyston Bakery suggested, the relationships between a company and its vendors can be extremely powerful. Many other honorees agreed.
“You have to spend the money to get supplies or services in order to run your business,” pointed out Saudia Davis of GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning. “An easy best practice is to choose vendors that are making an impact; utilizing those vendors for everyday products and services sends a message to your employees and clients about your commitment to improving the world.”
Different businesses necessitate different types of supply chains. Donna Sky of Love & Hummus, for example, encouraged businesses to look close to home, urging people to “work directly with local vendors as much as possible.” Companies working internationally, however, had different concerns.
Yellow Leaf Hammocks works with artisans in Thailand — their mission is to alleviate poverty in that region. “Every company has a responsibility to examine their supply chain and to make sure that the labor and resources going into their products live up to their ethical standards and their values in terms of sustainability,” said their co-founder Rachel Connors. Cameron Crake, Raven + Lily’s Director of International Production, repeated the theme of responsibility.
“You are not just responsible for what you do, but for who you work with and buy from,” she said. “Our relationship with our artisan producers is the foundation of our company. Beyond that, we also try to look into their suppliers and get to know our supply chain from the very beginning of the raw materials. Obstacles will come along, but it is the long term commitment to doing business with a community that ultimately makes the best working relationship and creates the greatest impact.”
Transparency and the Triple-Bottom Line
Unsurprisingly, many honorees opted for more meta-level advice, challenging other companies not just to focus on a specific impact area but instead to reconsider how they frame their business model.
O’Connells OBM encouraged companies to start concretely and develop an open book management of company financials. “We would definitely encourage other businesses to try open book management,” said Trudi Saul. “The cultural change that comes out of these systems is truly positive for both the business and the team personally.”
Financial information wasn’t the only thing honorees thought deserved transparency. “Having the confidence to be transparent in your environmental impact and policies not only forces you to be rigorous internally,” said John Jabara of Savenia Labs, “but the disclosure of this information educates and motivates others (like suppliers, customers and competitors) to take action. This creates a positive reinforcement loop for change.”
Multiple honorees highlighted the importance of formalizing stakeholder considerations. “Commit to a triple bottom line decision model,” urged Nora Livingstone of Animal Experience International. “When projects are no longer strictly motivated by money and profits but also people and the planet, suddenly everything benefits all of us more.”
Elaine Chiang of FIGS agreed, warning of the pitfalls of losing track of your impact. “Integrate social good as into the DNA of the company, not as a line item that can be adjusted based off profits or as something that looks good for marketing and PR,” she said. “If your company is not authentic about its mission, not only will your customers see right through you, it will never get the support internally to scale and become truly impactful.”
Finally, two honorees left us with some easy ways to remember what matters. “For every decision, pretend you’re on a reality show,” said Nick Bencivenga of Dharma Merchant Services. “Would you be comfortable broadcasting this decision to the world? If not… you may not want to do it.”
Denis Moriarty of Our Community Pty Ltd was equally straightforward. “Be authentic,” he said. “Because there is so much bull@#!& about.”