September 06 2017
Consumerism/Greater Good

Buy Your Stuff from B Corps to Save the World

b corpI don’t want to frighten anyone by unleashing my inner Che Guevara, but I have a lot of complaints about stuff. A crappy cable monopoly just bought my existing crappy cable monopoly and now my crappy cable service is just as crappy, except also more expensive.

I also have a lot to say about how the real estate market in New York, aside from making housing unaffordable, has unleashed an assault on my aesthetic sensibility with a market driven onslaught of boring glass boxes that house — no, not people — just mysterious bank accounts.

Every day we lose beautiful historic buildings in order to make room for soul-crushing monoliths. If buildings were built by the people who were actually going to live in them, stuff would look a lot different around here.

Furthermore, I have to hide under my bed from hormones, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, antibiotics and flame retardants. They still find me, of course, because people cannot elude any of these substances without regulations. And the companies that inflict these things upon us have ensured that the government they have bought and paid for will not be imposing too many of those.

And don’t even get me started on the insult to human decency that is the airline industry.

The planet is being polluted, workers are being treated unfairly, the poor are kept in a cycle of poverty and companies need to make a profit off of sick people in order for sick people to get medical attention. And not just because the world is grotesque, but because they literally need to.

Corporations have one reason for being and that reason is to deliver value to their shareholders.

It is their sole responsibility… their most solemn legal obligation.  Profitability trumps every other possible value a person might hold dear, from the idea that workers should be paid a fair wage, right down to the belief that companies shouldn’t poison people.

Thus was begotten the evil corporation.

Evil corporations fulfill their sacred duty on this planet by pelting us with offensive architecture, shitty cable and toxic shampoo, while waging nuclear warfare in our microbiome with a diet full of antibiotics, not to mention a whole host of other unsavory practices from predatory lending to the pollution of our waterways.

But did you know there are companies out there whose very definition as a business includes a stated intention to not be evil?  Companies who are allowed to do things that are good for the world and their workers, even it if means making slightly less money?

This thing exists and it is called a B Corp.

B Corps are for-profit companies that meet certain social and environmental standards. They care about the environment. They don’t treat workers like garbage. In short, they are generally a better receptacle for your money.  If you care about that sort of thing.  There are less than 3,000 certified B Corps and while most are probably not really applicable to your life, some definitely are.  Including a few well known brands that you may have been unaware are not evil corporations.

I have been working on my consumer footprint lately – a slow, complicated task. B Corps are helpful for that. If you too want to support businesses that are trying to be a force for good in this world, choose B Corps when the opportunity arises.  Such as:

King Arthur Flower

Do you know what your flour tastes like?  I have no idea.  Maybe you are some kind of baking champion and have very specific flour requirements?  But most likely, there is no reason in the world to buy any flour but this one.

Method

Method make nice products, as an added benefit.  The super size Method Laundry Detergent in Beach Sage smells so good and lasts a million years.

Ben & Jerry’s

Assuming you’re not a Cylon living on this Earth, you are very likely already eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Good.  Keep doing so and feel good about it.  Except for the toxic level of sugar that is present in ice cream. I can’t offer every answer in this life.

Warby Parker

You may already know about Warby Parker’s heritage of donating one pair of glasses for every pair sold.  Perhaps you don’t need to know that it is a B Corp to know that this is a socially responsible company, that by the way, makes great eye wear. Warby Parker recently participated in a program in Baltimore to provide glasses to 1000 students who needed them, something that will almost surely impact grades. There are so many aspects of poverty that barely register with the bootstraps crowd.  If a kid can’t see, a kid can’t learn. This is why poverty is a cycle.

EO

My husband bought kid soap from this personal care brand once and it was very nice.  I prefer Shea Moisture for kid soap but now that I know more about this company, I will give it another chance.

Cabot Creamery

This one is exciting.  For most people, dairy products are a daily necessity.  For me, they are one of the top five reasons to be alive.  From butter to cream cheese to shredded cheese, I am more than ready to get off the Kraft train and onto the Cabot Creamery train. I just need to find a store that carries all of the Cabot products.  This may mean taking a trip to Fairway once in a while.

The limits of socially responsible capitalism… they’re pretty short and pretty non-negotiable.

I’ve left out what is possibly the most famous and successful B Corp, and until now, its poster child: Etsy. Like many people, I love Etsy. I have found wonderful things on Etsy that I could find nowhere else. I love supporting its small makers and seeing people I know build their own Etsy businesses. Passing by its gorgeous DUMBO headquarters on my way to Brooklyn Bridge Park, I fantasize about being an Etsy employee, riding my bike to the office and being treated to an organic, Fair Trade free lunch every day.

But Etsy, sadly, may just be bedrock proof that you can be a huge publicly traded company, and you can make a legally defined commitment to your social and environmental ideals, but you cannot do both.

When a B Corp goes public, it has four years to become a “B Corporation.”

A B Corporation is a different thing from a B Corp.  A privately held B Corp agrees to certain standards and is monitored by B Lab, the organization that certifies B Corps.  But when a company goes public, these standards become legally defined.  And that means that a B Corporation can be sued by a small number of its shareholders for not upholding these standards.

Since its IPO, Etsy is has been under tremendous pressure by its shareholders to make the squiggly line on the graph go up. Investors don’t appreciate all the perks and nice things Etsy has done for its employees. (Etsy has a more generous paid leave package for parents than most companies out there, among many other feel good benefits, not to mention its commitment to environmental sustainability).  And Etsy’s investors are really not happy because…

Etsy’s revenues only grew by 25% last month.

That’s right- only 25%.

On Wall Street, it is not ever enough to make money.  It’s not even enough for sales to grow.  The growth needs to grow.  Because if revenues don’t grow, the share price doesn’t grow.  And a stock that doesn’t increase in value is essentially worthless to investors.

So while the owners of the company I work for would fall over into un-reviveable cardiac arrest if their revenues grew by 25% (and die smiling), 25% just doesn’t cut it for sweet, socially responsible little Etsy anymore, because it is a smaller rate of growth than previously enjoyed. The company has indicated that when the four year transition period is up, they will likely let their B Corp status lapse.

Again, I don’t want to disturb anyone with even an implied criticism about capitalism, which is sometimes more sacred in this country than human life itself (literally), but the fact of the matter is, for a company to grow forever and ever exponentially, it must become public, which further necessitates its need to grow even more, which makes it darn near impossible to make a meaningful commitment to being a not evil corporation.  Even when being socially responsible is a part of a company’s very DNA, as it was for Etsy.

Consider the tech industry to see how we are slipping back into an economy that is powered by unfettered monopolies and it is not hard to contemplate the worst possible effects of unchecked, never-ending growth.

Some companies do better than others.

From banking, to internet service to food, I do not pretend it is possible to not support a single publicly traded company.  But whenever I have a choice between a huge corporation and small or private business, or a business that cares about the world, that choice is clear for me. Especially when it is a simple case of choosing between, say, flour brands.

I hope that consumer awareness of B Corps grows and that it becomes something people look for, like the “USDA Certified Organic” label.  I’m not saying B Corps are some sort of panacea for our society. There are great companies who are not B Corps, just as there are responsible farmers and ranchers that are not certified organic. (Not to mention recent questionable items with USDA Organic labels.)

Attempting to be a conscious consumer is a complicated, confusing proposition that at best lacks clarity and guidance, and at worst must contend with serious misdirection and misinformation. We are on our own.

Supporting a B Corp, or looking for a Fair Trade label is just a little short cut that we can make over the course of our many, many daily transactions… a teaspoon in a sea of complex consumer choices that seek to do no harm, if not to promote a better world.

Of course, the simplest short-cut is usually to just buy less stuff.

 

 

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  • Good to know! It makes me happy to buy King Arthur flour. 🙂 It’s so hard to find companies nowadays that don’t put crap in their products or treat people/animals like crap to make a quick buck. It’s sad. 🙁 I think the key is, like you said, to buy less stuff and start making more things ourselves. Or buying from local artisans.

    • The profit growth machinery sweeps everything up in its claws. There are so many companies that I give money to while abhorring them in my guts. I don’t always have an alternative. But I will never stop caring.

  • I had no idea about B Corps! This aligns so much with some of what my husband and I have been feeling lately. Since we started being more mindful about what we consume, it becomes more and more obvious how much pressure to buy-buy-buy comes from so many angles. It is hard not to think about the environmental impacts of all the wasteful producting, consuming, and discarding of cheap/harmful products. I’ve been working to shift my consumption to take into account more than our budget. I spent an extra $10 on some pants sold by a local Co-op verses ordering them online from a mega-retailer yesterday. It was hard to spend more than necessary, but I felt good about my choice when I left the register. Thank you for this thoughtful piece, Linda.

    • Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment Melanie. It certainly means a lot coming for you – I was so impressed to see the story you shared about the paid sick leave program you worked on. Together with parent leave, his is one of the great issues of our time. I have already had my children and will never benefit from progress here, but I still want to see this happen for all those who come after me. Not to mention my own children, nieces and nephews.

  • We’re lucky to have a grocery co-op that we’re a part of that helps do a lot of this vetting in the sourcing of our food. It’s not perfect, but definitely helps!

    We try to use companies that at least do *something* visibly in alignment with our values, but it’s hard to know what else is going on that we’re not aware of. The B Corp thing is a really nice indicator to make that process easier!

    • There is a really popular food co-op in my neighborhood. I wish it were a little closer and more convenient – it requires a fair number of volunteer hours which is hard for me. But co-ops are great – I would love to see more…

  • I spent some time on the B Corp website this morning (completely new to me) , what an eye opener. Their search filter is very good, and makes it easy navigate through the directory of companies. While I hadn’t heard of many before, I was able to find a few in my backyard.

    • I am so glad MMM! I hope that this was at least news to some people. I had vaguely heard of B Corps before, but they never registered a ton and I never actively researched them before. If nothing else, this small movement boosts my faith in humanity. These small business owners are making life harder on themselves to do this, even though being a small business owner means fighting for survival every single day. No one would do this out of sheer cynicism or opportunism. I have to believe these people actually care and are putting their money where their mouth is. Is it enough? Probably not, but it moves and inspires me all the same.

  • Thanks so much for this post and doing the legwork on this! I’ll have to look for King Arthur flour the next time we’re out shopping for flour.
    I would rather buy less and less often in order to support companies that choose to do the hard work of doing better for this world. My only truly meaningful life goal is to leave the world in a better place than I found it and even if this feels like a small thing, every little bit has to help.

    1. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life 03:18pm 21 September - 2017 - Reply

      Thanks so much for this post and doing the legwork on this! I’ll have to look for King Arthur flour the next time we’re out shopping for flour.
      I would rather buy less and less often in order to support companies that choose to do the hard work of doing better for this world. My only truly meaningful life goal is to leave the world in a better place than I found it and even if this feels like a small thing, every little bit has to help.

      • Brooklyn Bread 09:38am 22 September - 2017 - Reply

        I feel the very same way, Revanche. I wish more people did as well.

    2. Mystery Money Man 11:30am 08 September - 2017 - Reply

      I spent some time on the B Corp website this morning (completely new to me) , what an eye opener. Their search filter is very good, and makes it easy navigate through the directory of companies. While I hadn’t heard of many before, I was able to find a few in my backyard.

      • Brooklyn Bread 01:39pm 08 September - 2017 - Reply

        I am so glad MMM! I hope that this was at least news to some people. I had vaguely heard of B Corps before, but they never registered a ton and I never actively researched them before. If nothing else, this small movement boosts my faith in humanity. These small business owners are making life harder on themselves to do this, even though being a small business owner means fighting for survival every single day. No one would do this out of sheer cynicism or opportunism. I have to believe these people actually care and are putting their money where their mouth is. Is it enough? Probably not, but it moves and inspires me all the same.

    3. Chris @ Keep Thrifty 09:50pm 07 September - 2017 - Reply

      We’re lucky to have a grocery co-op that we’re a part of that helps do a lot of this vetting in the sourcing of our food. It’s not perfect, but definitely helps!

      We try to use companies that at least do *something* visibly in alignment with our values, but it’s hard to know what else is going on that we’re not aware of. The B Corp thing is a really nice indicator to make that process easier!

      • Brooklyn Bread 09:07pm 08 September - 2017 - Reply

        There is a really popular food co-op in my neighborhood. I wish it were a little closer and more convenient – it requires a fair number of volunteer hours which is hard for me. But co-ops are great – I would love to see more…

    4. Melanie of Mindfully Spent 11:41am 07 September - 2017 - Reply

      I had no idea about B Corps! This aligns so much with some of what my husband and I have been feeling lately. Since we started being more mindful about what we consume, it becomes more and more obvious how much pressure to buy-buy-buy comes from so many angles. It is hard not to think about the environmental impacts of all the wasteful producting, consuming, and discarding of cheap/harmful products. I’ve been working to shift my consumption to take into account more than our budget. I spent an extra $10 on some pants sold by a local Co-op verses ordering them online from a mega-retailer yesterday. It was hard to spend more than necessary, but I felt good about my choice when I left the register. Thank you for this thoughtful piece, Linda.

      • Brooklyn Bread 11:48am 07 September - 2017 - Reply

        Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment Melanie. It certainly means a lot coming for you – I was so impressed to see the story you shared about the paid sick leave program you worked on. Together with parent leave, his is one of the great issues of our time. I have already had my children and will never benefit from progress here, but I still want to see this happen for all those who come after me. Not to mention my own children, nieces and nephews.

    5. Mrs. Picky Pincher 09:03am 06 September - 2017 - Reply

      Good to know! It makes me happy to buy King Arthur flour. 🙂 It’s so hard to find companies nowadays that don’t put crap in their products or treat people/animals like crap to make a quick buck. It’s sad. 🙁 I think the key is, like you said, to buy less stuff and start making more things ourselves. Or buying from local artisans.

      • Brooklyn Bread 09:32am 06 September - 2017 - Reply

        The profit growth machinery sweeps everything up in its claws. There are so many companies that I give money to while abhorring them in my guts. I don’t always have an alternative. But I will never stop caring.

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