The list is impressive and growing. Dietary supplement companies with B Corp certifications in hand now include heavyweights from the mission-forward wing of the industry—Garden of Life, New Chapter, MegaFood, Gaia, Traditional Medicinals—as well as upstarts looking to make an impact—Your Super, Organic India, Nuun, Bear, and Future Kind. Over the past decade, as the business world got serious about baking purpose deeper into its operations and strategy, supplement brands also got serious, paying close attention to the consumer and cultural trends driving change.
That drive to get serious about purpose as something more than marketing-speak created a real opportunity to quantify social impact with a new breed of key metrics and indicators. B Lab, the global nonprofit behind the B Corp seal, filled the gap with assessments and scores that now serve as a go-to shorthand for businesses looking to signal their authenticity around mission. For harnessing the goodwill of businesses drawn to do good in the world and measure their impact, NBJ is proud to present B Lab with the 2021 Mission & Philanthropy Award.
Why go B Corp?
Kyle Garner is now CEO of Maty’s Health Products, but he was the CEO of two early B Corps before that. Back in 2013, Garner led the charge toward certification at New Chapter and then again at Organic India in 2015. “The main value I saw in both cases was the connection with other like-minded companies,” he says. “For a smaller company, there is a very low likelihood of ever getting to interact with the pioneer companies that are moving the needle on social responsibility.”
This network of do-gooders can be a powerful force. “Getting certified opened up doors to build connections with these companies that we would likely never have been able to achieve otherwise,” says Garner. “This allowed for best-practice sharing on everything from sustainable packaging to employee benefits, to communications on social responsibility. In some cases, we even were able to create joint promotions on social media or in retail to drive awareness of these activities.”
As any student of natural products will recognize, badges of quality come and go, and the promise of the next new seal to attract quality consumers can be powerful. Opinions on the usefulness of obtaining B Corp certification might haved differed over the past decade, but the stats are starting to prove value. According to B Lab, aggregate awareness of B Corp in the U.S. has risen to 43%, with a 488% increase in media attention from 2019 to 2020.
It’s more than a seal
B Corp is a different beast than the typical seals that drive quality in the industry. Unlike Organic or Non-GMO, the assessment is a living tool that looks broadly at a company’s operations, from supply chain to raw materials, from charitable giving to employee benefits. It sticks numbers on a company’s entire social impact, from workers to community to environment to customers and governance. As such, it’s a tool that many businesses bring deep into their strategy to help inform decision-making and prioritization.
“It’s fair to say that many B Corps use their assessment to inform their strategy,” says Alexa Harrison, Senior Manager of Public Relations at B Lab. “On a broader scale, we encourage that for any business that uses the B Impact Assessment, even if they don’t have plans to certify.”
Eric Edelson is CEO at Fireclay Tile, a B Corp since 2015 that lives inside the portfolio at White Road Investments, the venture arm at Clif that also includes Farmhouse Culture, Guayakí, Om Mushroom Nutrition, and Your Super. “Taking the B Corp Assessment, certifying, and working with fellow B Corps have changed the way we approach business and has challenged us to truly ‘use business as a force for good,’” he says. “We’ve been able to create clear accountability metrics that ensure we follow through on our commitments as well as challenge ourselves to step out of our comfort zone to create more lasting, sustainable impact.”
And it’s more than just business doing good. It’s also good for business. Research from McKinsey shows that B Corps and ESG-minded brands command a 10% premium from investors. It’s data that CircleUp measures as well, through its Helio technology platform.
Three pillars of change
Indeed, B Lab’s key to creating credibility lies within the rigor of the assessment tool, an evaluation process many would describe as a heavy lift. To obtain the seal, a company must attain a minimum score of 80. The average score for B Corps is 96.5, compared to ordinary businesses down the ranks at 57.3. For a more aspirational reference, Dr. Bronner’s, another early B Corp and unequivocal pioneer of mission and purpose in the industry, last scored 177.8. That’s a number the company talks about with customers and strives to increase every year.
B Lab admits that, even with the rigor that exists, the assessment process is imperfect. The organization is currently managing a significant update to its assessment through a multi-stage, multi-year process that will hopefully reduce some friction in the certification process while simultaneously upgrading standards to reflect best practices around social impact. Key topic areas up for revision include living wages, worker empowerment, climate, and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) initiatives.
This speaks to the big picture at B Lab, where a five-year vision has the nonprofit focusing its impact in three key areas, each with detailed action plans of relevance to prospective applicants. From the vision statement: “Action sustained over time is necessary to build an economy that centers racial and climate justice; creates value for workers, communities and the environment; and dismantles unjust policies and systems.” Each of these “three pillars of change”—racial equity, climate justice, stakeholder economy—puts a flag deeper in the sand to help companies to navigate an emerging landscape in which consumer demands push companies harder and harder to better the world. Or, as B Lab's vision statement puts it: “People and the planet must be of equal, or higher, value than short-term profits. In this new paradigm, businesses that help all communities heal and thrive are rewarded.”