B Lab Forces for Good Podcast — Episode 8: How can business take collective action on issues that matter?
In Episode 8 of the Forces For Good podcast, we aim to discover how coalitions are built within industries and among businesses to drive sustainability, social change, and more, by asking the following questions:
What are the advantages — and challenges — of taking action as a collective?
What does 'collective action' really mean in practice?
Our inspirational guests include:
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Shaun: [00:34:07] I always use the old proverb as I think what drives me about this movement? If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together. I think that really encapsulates our initiative as the B Corp Beauty Coalition. [00:34:27][19.9]
Amy: [00:47:08] we all have agency, we all have the opportunity and we all have the equity to create those little shifts. [00:47:16] [8.1]
Manjyot: [00:51:43] no one actor can show the way. It is a collective responsibility and it will take all of us. [00:51:50][7.4]
This is Forces for Good, a podcast from B Lab, the nonprofit network powering the global B Corp movement. Forces for Good takes a hard look at how businesses are helping to solve the biggest social and environmental challenges of our time. I’m your host Irving Chan-Gomez.
On our podcast, you’ll hear from B Corp leaders, industry experts, and changemakers. We’ll tell you about what companies are doing to move beyond buzzwords--and change destructive practices across industries. We’ll ask tough questions to uncover how we can truly drive positive impact for people and the planet.
Businesses are usually seen as competitors. They’re all vying for a contract, a consumer’s cash, or an ingredient source. But we also know that the crises facing our planet are too big for one entity to solve on its own. These crises demand that businesses work together: collaboratively and collectively to solve them. But what does that really mean? How are coalitions built within industries and among businesses with similar goals for sustainability, social change, and more? What are the advantages — and challenges — of taking action as a collective?
When Shaun Russell founded Skandinavisk in Denmark, he wanted to infuse the character of Scandinavian culture into his products. He wanted to create candles to transport people into the snowy forests of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. He wanted his perfumes to evoke the tranquility of the northern islands. But as Shaun created his scented products he wanted to add another part of Scandinavia -
Shaun: [00:02:54] I felt a story about a balance, a balance within society, a balance with the environment and a balance of the individual that was so strong in Scandinavia. I thought it was a message that the rest of the world needed to hear. [00:03:09][40.4]
So Shaun set out to create products that evoked the culture, not just in their scent and design, but also in the business itself. He wanted to create products that were better for the environment and society.
Shaun: [00:03:12] instead of selling capitalism to Scandinavians, ten years ago, I launched a brand called Scandinavisk, which means Scandinavian in all three Scandinavian languages Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. And the idea behind Scandinavisk is actually to inspire the rest of the world to take a more Scandinavian approach to life for the obvious benefits it can deliver for the individual, for society and for the environment. [00:03:39][27.5]
Shaun says he didn’t always have such a strong affinity for nature and balance. He’s English and until he discovered the beauty of Scandinavian culture, he worked in marketing for several big multinational companies. So, like with himself, his company embarked on a transformation journey towards sustainability.
Shaun: [00:07:57] over time, there was a journey of realizing, oh, maybe we shouldn't be using paraffin, for example, because as a by product of the oil industry or maybe we shouldn't, maybe we should be using more organic ingredients in our cosmetic formula, or maybe we should be relocating production back to Scandinavia as opposed to outsourcing it outside the region. These were individually isolated decisions in the early stages, and then we felt that actually, no, this is more important than this. If we are trying to bring to life or represent a best practice version of the world, we need to walk the talk as well. [00:08:39][41.3]
Once Shaun had Skandinavisk up and running, he was searching for more steps on his journey of continual improvement. That’s where he found B Lab and Certified B Corporations.
Shaun: [00:08:38] So we need to actually be better practice within our category as well. That means understanding the category better, understanding the innovations within the category and actually trying to initiate, despite our relatively small size, actions that were quite uncommon. And that led us to the B Corp movement because we really wanted to find an external benchmark, the best external benchmark that could validate whether we were doing the right thing. [00:09:08][29.8]
B Corp isn't the only certification option for a cosmetics company. They can be officially Cruelty Free, certified as COSMOS for organic and natural products or Fairtrade Certified (we’ve talked about them throughout our series). While there are other options available, Shaun had reasons to get the B Corp seal of approval.
Shaun: [00:09:40] We certified just by the skin of our teeth, I'll be honest with you, in 2019. But what that did was galvanize a conscious decision to walk the talk and then after certification I think did something perhaps more radical than any other B Corp before us. And that meant we actually replaced our entire product collection less than a year after certifying, because what B Corp teaches you is, it gives you a better direction of the path in front of you. And what are the steps you need to take to improve on that path? Inspired us to take more rapid action. So we phased out the collection that helped us certify to replace it with a collection that was better in terms of more local, more natural, more organic, more ethical and more responsible in multiple areas. [00:10:34][54.3]
But Shaun didn’t want to stop there. Once Skandinavisk was a Certified B Corporation, he wanted to help the entire cosmetics industry improve its practices.
Shaun: [00:12:46] Your ability to influence an industry is extremely small if you are operating as a sole solo player. And I think that's why the mindset of B Corp in general, this, this community of business, people using business as a force for good, that at first really surprised me. The businesses that I would consider competitors were actually open to discussing mutual challenges and finding common solutions. [00:13:17][30.7]
And so, Shaun joined as the chair of the Supervisory board of the B Corp Beauty Coalition. The coalition is a collection of B corp beauty brands that are working together to improve their standards. It started in 2021.
Shaun: [00:13:37] another small, Independent cosmetics business in the beauty space had concluded that despite all their efforts for the past 20 years, no matter what they did to improve, they weren't capable really of influencing the industry to change. And then one of their leaders concluded perhaps the best thing to do is, is reach out to other like minded businesses in that space and see if we can find a way together to put a coalition together of collection and collective action that has far greater potential, amplification potential and influence potential, and perhaps most importantly, action orientation to to actually enable change for an industry that desperately needs it. And that was the that was the starting point of the B Corp Beauty Coalition [00:14:35][58.2]
The idea of the coalition is to share knowledge and best practices that benefit people and the environment. By working collectively, Shaun and his fellow B Corp Beauty Coalition members hope to improve the industry as a whole.
Shaun: [00:14:37] Seven beauty brands across two or three continents united to start putting the, let's say, the skeleton, the infrastructure together to define a way in which we would we would collaborate on a pre competitive level initially and pool our resources to identify common problem areas within our industry and try and work together, firstly, to establish what the benchmark is. Secondly, to publicize that benchmark that we have as B Corps. So are not we are we are the total opposite of what might be called a walled garden closed community. We believe in, uh, publishing open source policy of our best practices, firstly, so the broader industry can see and take action from that, and customers can also see where that best practice exists. [00:15:36][58.2]
Despite the inclusion of members that may compete for shelf space and consumer attention, the group has grown exponentially to over 50 members. They now include Davines Group, The Body Shop, Prose, Rituals Cosmetics, Ursa Major Skincare, among others.
Shaun: [00:18:23] there's just this mutual willingness and it's almost like you kind of discover a group of people in a room and you're facing the same problems and you never had anybody to talk to. And you've only always tried to work it out yourselves internally. One of the coalition members is more than 100 years old and they've never really communicated with any other brand competitor in that category. And they're finding it strange but also incredibly liberating that they're finding allies, actually. [00:19:00][37.5]
Shaun: [00:34:07] I always use the proverb as I think what drives me about this movement? If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together. I think that really encapsulates our initiative as the B Corp Beauty Coalition. [00:34:27][19.9]
The B Corp Beauty coalition is not the first group to experience the power of Collective Action. Amy Clarke is the co-founder and Chief Impact Officer at Tribe Impact Capital. She is also a Board Member of B Lab UK. Like Shaun, she used a similar analogy to describe her work with thousands of businesses that are pushing for the passage of the Better Business Act. It would amend UK law, so that every single company in the UK takes ownership of its social and environmental impact.
Amy: [00:37:44] there's that wonderful proverb isn't there is if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. And I think, you know, we are in what I often refer to now as a marathon of sprints in terms of the issues that we're facing is a long, intergenerational journey that is ahead of us. But we have got to speed up, [00:38:08][23.8]
Tribe Impact Capital is a wealth management group that focuses on investments with a positive impact. Amy says that when she founded Tribe, she had already been working in the business and finance world for years. She wanted to find the antidote to corporate greed - and its impact on society and the environment - by revisioning how people invest.
Amy: [00:11:43] I think we have to be willing to recognize that so much of the issues that we're facing have been driven by global finance and global business. You know, we have extracted so much from so many systems, natural living systems, for such a long period of time, with no real regard for the consequences at all. [00:12:11][27.9]
Amy says her goal at Tribe is to facilitate a culture where everyone’s objective is to have a positive impact. As an example, Tribe uses the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a ‘north star’ to guide their investments.
Amy: [00:14:09] my experience in business and in finance has been that a lot of people are fearful of being their true selves in a work environment because they want to fit in. They feel that the institutional values of the institutional culture is such that you have to behave in a certain way to be able to get from A to B. And as a result, people often dilute themselves. And, you know, it's the tyranny of convenience and the tyranny of culture. You will sacrifice the very things that are important to you in order to fit in. [00:14:49][39.3]
By creating a culture and inspiring like-minded individuals, Amy hopes to have an effect on the decisions being made in the whole finance industry, as well as other businesses.
Amy: [00:15:03] it's giving people that confidence to be able to express who they are and what they care about. And I think by doing that, it has such an extraordinary ripple effect through business, through finance, through the decision making. And we're seeing that with the rise of, you know, sustainable investing, the rise of impact investing, we're seeing that with the rise of mission driven businesses, people coming and bringing their true A-game. You know, this is who I am. This is why I am and this is why I think it's really important. And then giving that space for others to do the same has such an incredibly powerful magic to it that it does start to, you know, fundamentally sort of shift these big manmade systems. [00:15:43][40.3]
Amy and Tribe have been very involved with the collective effort to champion the Better Business Act or BBA in the UK.
Amy: [00:40:20] We're using our collective voices, using our individual voices as and when the individual voices have been needed, bringing, you know, the community together in places like Westminster, you know, the heart of governance, right? [00:40:30][9.7]
Amy and other champions of the Better Business Act hope that, by working together, they’ll be able to have a greater voice in what’s a relatively straightforward amendment of the existing law, but with really critical implications.
Amy: [00:32:36] So what we're trying to do is to use the existing sort of statutes that we have, and this is the Better Business Act, work with what we've got and just tighten it. Basically just tighten the nuts and bolts. [00:32:45][9.1]
The act itself also encourages collective action.
Amy: [00:32:47] It's saying if we just change some of the language here, what we can do is actually create whether it's a publicly listed or privately owned business in the UK, we can create a uniform kind of living field, a minimum standard of performance that hopefully means that we raise everybody's performance and therefore create some collective impact in a relatively short period of time. [00:33:13][25.9]
Amy explains that improvement is necessary on both ends of the spectrum to make a difference. She wants to both raise the minimum requirements for corporate responsibility, and push boundaries by encouraging businesses to do better without legislation. The Better Business Act transforms the law so that companies, at a minimum, have to take ownership for their impact and be better stewards of the environment and society.
Amy: [00:34:30] You need to make sure that you create a very, very solid foundation that is based on the minimum requirements that we need as a global community. And then, you know, through voluntary adoption and through innovation and disruption and all the things that we love, you know, you then create the ceiling. And that ceiling continues to be raised the same way the floor continues to be raised as well. [00:34:53][23.4]
Impacts can be made on so many different levels and even small impacts can eventually make a major difference.
Amy: [00:47:08] we all have agency, we all have the opportunity and we all have the equity to create those little shifts. And the more of us you focus on what our magic is and where we can bring our magic. The more those ripples of influence I said earlier with tribe, you know, our ripples of influence meet other ripples of influence. And before you know it, you're in a wave. [00:47:29][21.4]
The Better Business Act is a great example of collective action at work. Amy says that at the core of it, sits the reality that businesses are nothing more than a group of people making decisions. Once they understand the Better Business Act, and how it affects them both as businesses, and as--individuals, they want to join and push for it as well.
Amy: [00:41:50] I think people like to feel like they belong to something. I think just generally humans like to feel that, you know, they matter, that they belong and that they're worthy. I think as well when it comes back to what we discussed earlier, I mean, when you actually understand the person because again, business is not some structural entity, it's people. Yes. The structure around it. But ultimately, as people, when you understand the people and you can get the people excited, then you get the businesses excited. [00:42:24][35.0]
Ultimately, collective action presents individuals with the opportunity to join a movement
Amy: [00:42:47] you give people that sense of purpose and agency and belonging.most people, in my experience, you know, you present them with an opportunity that's based on evidence and fact. Then they often kind of decide that, yes, I want to be part of this party. [00:43:13][25.6]
As discussed before in this series, and practically everywhere else, climate change is one of the biggest threats to people and our planet. The only way we can find sustainable solutions is if everyone works together.
When we spoke, Manjyot Ahluwalia (ah-loo-wall-e-ah) was a Senior Program Officer // for ‘U.S. and International Climate Cooperation’ // at the World Wildlife Fund. Pulling businesses together to fight climate change.
Manjyot: [00:08:43] we need all actors on the ground. We need all hands on deck. Both the governments and the other actors. [00:08:51][7.6]
Since we spoke, Manjyot joined The Global Methane Hub as a regional director. But in our conversation we focused on WWF’s Alliances for Climate Action. These alliances are made up of schools, businesses, local governments, and other institutions to drive climate action.
Manjyot: [00:09:58] whenever there are times when national governments may not be stepping up, there's already this infrastructure or this bedrock of actors that are ready to take action and continue to push further for bold climate action. [00:10:16][17.1]
The ‘actors,’ as Manjyot calls them, in these alliances hope to work together as well as with national and local governments. There are over 4000 entities from around the world that have pledged to work together.
Manjyot: [00:14:19] We want to work with leaders. We want to work with climate leaders. But we also want to work with visionaries and those who want to take action. So we definitely want to make this inclusive in nature. And we do work with large companies, but we also work with SMEs or the small and medium enterprises, and we try to provide them with the resources they need to empower them to get on this journey of sustainability. [00:14:47][28.3]
Manjyot says the first step toward facing a major crisis like climate change can be working together. When we act collectively, the whole task becomes a bit less daunting.
Manjyot: [00:21:29] So I really think that companies or all entities must view themselves as not individuals, but as actors in a community and how they can contribute to the wider community. Right. So I would say that. Companies can learn from each other and they are bound by certain requirements, if they are in the value chain or supply chain of that company. But I think there is a lot that companies can do to give back to the communities that they operate. [00:22:06][37.8]
Manjyot: [00:22:19] So I really think that a company should not view itself as a monolith, but really work with the whole ecosystem of actors. [00:22:28][9.1]
Like Shaun and Amy, Manjyot also believes everyone could use assistance on their journey to improve.
Manjyot: [00:34:37] I think we can strive for the North Star and recognize everyone is on a journey. And how do we best create a roadmap for these actors to get to that North Star? [00:34:48][10.5]
That roadmap can be created through collaboration. When companies share best practices, commitments, and goals they can encourage others to embark on the same journey. Businesses, governments, and individuals need to create networks that span continents. Natural disasters and emissions, afterall, have no regard for national borders. And as we’ve learned in previous episodes, those least responsible for climate change are yet the ones experiencing its life-threatening impacts the most.
Manjyot: [00:39:10] In the climate sphere, we have to work together and we need to work in collaboration. I don't think this will only be even if even if the US is able to address its emissions, it'll still be. It can never be completely off the hook. Right, because climate is a global issue. [00:39:34][24.7]
Manjyot: [00:51:42] no one actor can show the way. It is a collective responsibility and it will take all of us. It will take a paradigm shift in our humanity and what it means to be a human being. But I think we can and we must, because the future of our planet, our current and future generations, depends on this. [00:52:03][20.5]
Businesses that want to transform their industry can take some lessons from Shaun Russell and the B Corp Beauty Coalition. Alongside the other 11 members of the supervisory board, their goal is to set a course for what the coalition can achieve as a united entity.
Shaun: [00:19:33] you're sitting around a table with, you know, some big brands, some small competitors that you're on the shelves with in retail, for example. And there's just this mutual intent to get your sleeves rolled up. Uh, and dig in to fix the areas that we've already identified. [00:19:54][21.0]
The key focus areas for the B Corp Beauty Coalition are ingredient sourcing, shipping logistics and transit, and packaging. As a result, the coalition comes together to research alternate resources, more sustainable packaging, and better shipping options.
Shaun: [00:29:15] All members must pledge that intention to collaborate across the industry to reduce the environmental and social impacts resulting from the creation, distribution, sale, use and waste of beauty and cosmetic products. [00:29:37][25.9]
The coalition publishes all of their research and best practices because they want all companies to be able to improve their impact. Here’s more OF the pledge that members must make…
Shaun: [00:29:57] agreement to act collaboratively with other B Corp team members in areas of sustainability that are noncompetitive. By respecting the perspectives of others and encouraging open communication [00:30:11][13.9]
Shaun: [00:30:11] agreements and never discuss competitive pricing suppliers or share proprietary information. to abide by the values, principles and communication rules set forth by the coalition, including respect for the B Corp certification and the actual active avoidance of any risk of greenwashing or implication by being members of the Coalition. [00:30:37][26.8]
Shaun hopes that other industries will take note of what the B Corp Beauty Coalition has been doing.
Shaun: [00:31:13] we've already been approached by more than one potential new collective action initiative in other categories, asking us how do we put the infrastructure in place? Because they'd like to do something similar within their own category. And that's reassuring because we're not saying we're the first. But from a category standpoint, we're certainly one of the early movers. [00:31:36][23.2]
Collective Action has been a core strategy for B Lab. Simply because one business, one government, or one nonprofit can’t solve the issues our world is facing on their own. When B Corps come together to take action collectively, they’ve been able to influence other companies, industries, and work with governments to improve policies, wages, and even legislation.
Shaun: [00:33:04] the manifesto of B Corp certification, uh, the impact assessment, um, I really think that was the foundation ultimately for what we've layered on top. [00:33:19][14.7]
Shaun: [00:33:39] Of course, different members have different skills, different priorities. But ultimately, if you become a B Corp and you operate in the beauty space, you are welcomed with open arms. [00:33:53][13.9]
Irving’s Closing Thoughts: To finish, my wish is that this episode brings a much needed sense of hope to our listeners. Hope not only for change, but hope for a sincere recognition that it is possible to work together; despite our differences and challenges, for the benefit of all.
The Scandinavian lifestyle that inspired Shaun to create his company, reminds me of the idea of sam-funds-sind - the Danish concept of putting society’s needs ahead of individual interests. After speaking to our guests today, I believe that we will only be able to solve our most pressing social and environmental challenges when we put this concept into practice. And that, for it to happen, it will be imperative for us to continue to work together – not just as business leaders, civic society, public workers, but, aboveall, as people. Until next time !
If you'd like to learn more about B Corps and purpose driven companies visit BCorporation.net. And listen to the rest of our season! We have more episodes on how business can drive positive impact and be a Force for Good.
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The views and opinions expressed are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the positions or opinions of the producers or any affiliated organizations.
The podcast was brought to you by B lab. Our team includes Sherri Jordan, Jude Wetherell, Tom Hedges, and Hannah Munger. Forces for Good is produced by Hueman Group Media.
For this episode, I’d like to thank Shaun Russell, Amy Clarke and Manjyot Ahluwalia.
I’m your host, Irving Chan-Gomez. Thanks for listening. And I look forward to catching you in our next episode!