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6 Lessons from B Corp Leadership Development: Bay Area

On May 22nd, B Lab joined B Corps Honeyman Sustainability Consulting and One PacificCoast Bank, along with our partner Golden Gate University, to host the first-ever BLD event (B Corp Leadership Development). 

We've come to understand that the biggest benefit of B Corp certification is, by far, the B Corp community itself. With that in mind, we hoped to help local B Corps network, collaborate, share best practices, and learn how to better use their certification. With over 150+ employees of B Corps in attendance and 9 breakout sessions hosted by B Corps, we walk away judging BLD a great success, while looking forward to improving upon and replicating it around the world.

Below is one attendee’s takeaway, reposted with permission from Exponent Partners. Thank you to all who attended and helped make BLD such a success.

“It’s about doing something other people think is dumb, doing it well, and proving them wrong,” said Andy Fyfe, Community Development at B Lab, in a speech at the leadership summit BLD : Bay Area (or “B Corp Leadership Development”).   

Fyfe was speaking about the way B Corps have taken a chance on an innovative new business model. B Corps voluntarily meet higher standards of social and environmental responsibility, accountability and transparency. They use business as a force for good, both for society and shareholders. This concept may have originally seemed far-fetched to some, but 1,000+ certified B Corps worldwide now proudly prove them wrong.    

The event was a chance for B Corps to meet each other face-to-face and trade best practices about topics like social media, company culture, strategic pro-bono, and more. These businesses hailed from all sectors -- from food to publishing, finance to technology.

Fyfe noted, “BLD was an opportunity for certified B Corp employees in the Bay Area to get together and leverage the power of their community. B Lab's been proud to see so many employees of B Corps up on the stage with the mic, getting published, getting really creative with social media, and helping create fun workplaces at their companies. We thought by putting them all in the same room to learn from one another it would create some magic.”   

We agree about the magic. What we observed was both inspiring and broadly applicable:

Takeaways from BLD : Bay Area 

1. Behind each of our favorite B Corps lies the story of at least one motivated, mission-minded employee deciding to do things differently. Although we ourselves work at a B Corp, what struck us first was how grounding it was to associate real humans with our fellow B Corps that we only knew from their logos. It made everything seem more real to shake the hand of a friendly business development professional at New Leaf Paper while coincidentally writing in one of their notebooks, chat about sustainable packaging and the food industry with thoughtful representatives of Lotus Foods and Plum Organics, to listen to a dynamic method speaker describe their unique company culture model.    

It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget -- a B Corp doesn’t happen suddenly one day. It evolves from a new or existing business because one “intrapreneur” or maybe a small group of employees makes a choice (really, a series of choices), to take action against the grain. Often, that means overcoming the challenges of an industry, day by day.    

Action step: If you are compelled by the B Corp mission, make connections with B Corps and learn how they made the leap. This can help you formulate a plan for your organization.

2. Holding yourself to B Corp standards attracts a proactive and innovative set. We noticed a great commonality of purpose and passion as we interacted with the B Corp community. Everyone we talked to was eager to learn, yet knowledgeable about issues across sectors.   

It’s not so surprising. As entities that voluntarily commit to higher standards of business with people and planet in mind, B Corps by their nature attract caring, future-thinking professionals, who drive the organization to meet these ongoing self-driven goals, and are open to insights from unexpected corridors.    

Action step: Identify these types of professionals in your organization and ask them for ideas about how to do things better. Keep an open mind. Talk to them about being a B Corp -- you can recruit your own set of intrapreneurs to join your cause.   

3. A few organizations can have an outsized effect on industries and their direction. It was fascinating to realize that this relatively intimate group (155 attendees from 100+ B Corps, mostly from the Bay Area) represented so many powerhouses in their respective areas of expertise. Then, it was inspiring to think about how these businesses are having a disproportionate effect on changing their industries. For example, method has led companies like Clorox to follow suit with green products. New Leaf Paper quantified the value of post-consumer fiber, and has led many other paper manufacturers to add post-consumer recycled lines or shift practices. Etsy literally redefined the marketplace for small, local sellers. And many more. B Corps are drawing attention to better possibilities in their industries and actively leading those changes.   

Action step: Think about how your organization can become a leader of change in your sector -- what opportunities are wide open, what problems can you solve?

4. Being a B Corp comes back to your mission and standards: it can’t be just a marketing move. In one breakout session about strategic pro-bono, the speaker from Oaklandish mused that customers didn’t always notice that their t-shirts were supporting causes like helping to fight poverty. The speaker from Give Something Back Office Supplies noted a survey about Newman’s Own in which 70% of customers admitted being unaware that the spaghetti sauce company was donating 100% of profits to charities, along with making great spaghetti sauce.   

B Corps meet two goals -- doing well by the world, and doing well by their customers. Some people will absolutely love you and select you for your values (thought to be about 16% of the U.S. population as of 2006), but in addition, your product or service needs to be competitive in the marketplace on its own merits. That is the challenge, and privilege, of being a B Corp.   

Action step: Audit your company’s actions to make sure your processes align fully with your message. Are you touting the sustainability of your product? In what ways are you fulfilling that promise? At the same time, make sure not to sacrifice any quality in your product or service.   

5. As a B Corp, we can continue to find ways for our employees to engage with our mission on a daily basis. Great ideas were flowing in the breakout sessions. One thing was clear: improving a company doesn’t have to be top-down. Give Something Back Office Supplies mentioned that some of their ideas for strategic pro-bono, such as using their empty returning trucks for carrying e-waste, came directly from the departments using the resources. Often one department or staff member is aware of an underutilized asset that another may not encounter.   

At Exponent Partners, one of our employees started an initiative for company volunteering. Leadership further incentivized participation by offering a donation to a favorite nonprofit for the volunteer with the highest number of hours. In addition, we run a grant to award a free technology solution implementation to one lucky nonprofit applicant every quarter. We’re always on the lookout for other ways to give back. We believe that these activities, in addition to connecting staff with our mission, make our company culture stronger and more passionate.   

Action step: Empower your employees at all levels to start and run initiatives that are in line with your mission, and reward them for doing so.    

6. It’s critical to support the B Corp community with our voices and our pocketbooks. It was clear from chatting with attendees at the event that B Corps are growing, not going away. However, their continued success rests on each of us spreading the word and supporting them.   

To support our vision of a better world, we resolve to support the growth of other B Corps and the B Corp community. We all need products and services, on an individual and company level. Can those needs be fulfilled by other B Corps? Most likely!   

Action step: Buy from and recommend B Corps. Look for ways to help network and create partnership opportunities for other B Corps.

We hope these takeaways help the B Corp community grow. Many thanks to B Lab for organizing and all of the generous sponsors for helping make it happen.    

Rebecca Hamilton, attendee and Director of Product Development at Badger Balm, enthused, “The B Corp BLD event was a huge success! The engagement, passion, and commitment of this community is a clear sign that BLD is a viable model that should be replicated throughout the greater B community. The Bay Area BLD gave us all an excellent opportunity to network with fellow B Corps, gain B specific expertise and bring a general air of excitement and renewed energy back to our respective businesses.  I can’t wait to see what this amazing community creates next!”   

We’re likewise energized by BLD : Bay Area, inspired by our fellow Bs, and full of great, actionable lessons to make Exponent Partners an even more effective changemaker.

Thanks to Kerry Vineberg at Exponent Partners for this great piece, and for all the B Corp sponsors & donors who made BLD possible. To learn more about Exponent Partners, check out their B Corp profile or their website.

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