B Corp Trend Grows in Region

by Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent

In its self-described statement, B Corporation (B Corp) is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk.

To be designated as such, a company must meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Today, there is a growing community of more than 2,000 certified B Corp companies from 50 countries and over 130 industries working together to redefine success in business, according to national news reports.

As a mutual bank, for example, the focus of the Mascoma Savings Bank in Lebanon, New Hampshire, which has branches Woodstock and Hartland, has been the long-term success of its customers and communities.

“Becoming a certified B Corp was a natural step for us to take,” said Senior Vice President Samantha Pause. “We want to be a business that is focused on being a force for good in the world as opposed to just a source for profit. This has aligned us with other businesses that have that focus. There are a lot of great companies that are certified in our area. We’re now part of a community focused on being best for the world. That’s an amazing place to be.”

Pause said she believes that customers would rather do business with an organization whose members want “to do good” for communities, the environment, and employees to be truly customer-focused.

“As an employee, I want to work for a place that’s more about just making a buck,” said Pause. “A place where employees are engaged for the right reasons, where customers are happy because we’re doing the right thing. We can be a for-profit organization and also be effective for our communities. Certification holds us accountable to be that force for positive change.”

The foundation of the mutual bank is the “perfect” framework for being a B Corp, Pause explained.

“Because we don’t have stockholders, our focus has always been on the long-term success of our customers and our communities,” said Pause. “B Corp certification now gives us the structure to assess if we are fulfilling our mission. We have a process in place to measure and monitor our efforts to ensure we’re focused in being best for society, the environment, our communities and our employees. We’re being held accountable for these practices.”

B Corp assessment is based on a scoring system of 80/200 points in order to become certified, Pause noted. The average score for B Corporations is 96.

“With our first assessment, we scored 122 points which helped to affirm that our mutual structure has helped to give us focus on being good for the world,” said Pause.

Once certified, the expectation is that a business continually looks for improvement in its score.

“Going forward, as we develop our strategic plan, we’ll have specific action items that will focus on improvement in specific areas for society, the environment, our customers and our employees,” said Pause.

Another such B Corp company is the Optimist Center located at 65 Central Street in Woodstock.

“B Corp certification is a wonderful way for businesses to look at every aspect of their business from the light bulbs in the ceiling to the words in their mission statement,” said founder and owner Travis Hellstrom. “We use it as a way to tell the story of what we believe and who we like to work with. I have found it incredibly powerful, humbling and inspiring both as a movement and as a way of using business as a force for good in the world.”

Designed for entrepreneurs, workshops and community programs, the Optimist Center includes spaces for co-working, retreats, and a studio. It is open worldwide and includes access to classes and monthly calls.

“I’ve always dreamed of having my own café or bookstore: an inspiring third place like Ben Franklin’s Junto where great people meet, collaborate and make amazing things happen,” Hellstrom notes on his website.

Approached by the town, to create something similar to his dream, he established his business next door to the recently opened Soulfully Good Café.

“My wife Tunga and I also dream of building another community center in Mongolia which can be both a women’s empowerment center and learning center,” said Hellstrom. “We think the Optimist Center will be a wonderful opportunity to test the model.”

As Hellstrom built the Optimist Center, he took a careful look at every aspect of the operation.

“We choose products from B Corp such as Method (soap), Seventh Generation (detergent, shampoo and paper towels)”, 1% for the Planet, and Better World Books to name a few,” said Hellstrom.

He also chooses to work closely with such local businesses as the Unicorn, Soulfully Good Café, Mon Vert Café, Gillinghams, and Woodstock Home and Hardware. He buys bulbs from Efficiency Vermont and tries to work closely with Woodstock to provide services and events that support his members, community and region.

“That might include supporting other co-working spaces, statewide initiatives or such organizations as SCORE or the Peace Corps,” said Hellstrom. “We can always do more and hope to improve over time.”

Hellstrom’s vision of establishing a second center in the country of Mongolia where his wife grew up and he worked in the Peace Corps is projected to materialize next year.

“We’ve set aside funds every month to start a scholarship fund to support young women in that community,” he said.

Mongolia, in fact, is where Hellstrom first learned about B Corp.

“It was in 2011 that I helped to lead a startup named New Media Group to become the first certified B Corp in Asia,” said Hellstrom who wrote his Master’s thesis on the subject and happiness at work in 2013 and founded Advance Humanity as a B Corp at that time as one of the first dozen certified B Corps in Vermont.

“I’ve helped certify seven B Corp since that time, and I teach about B Corp at the graduate level at both Marlboro Graduate School and SIT Graduate Institute here in Vermont,” said Hellstrom. “I’m a huge fan of the movement. I also have a free resource I’ve created for others at www.bcorp101.com.”

The Optimist Center operates under the parent organization of Advance Humanity that has been a certified B Corp since 2013.

For Gardener’s Supply Company of Burlington, Vt., B Corp fulfills its vision of self-identification. Gardener’s intends to close a purchase sale for the family-run business of Longacres Nursery Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, in January 2018.

“Overall, we subscribe to the core ethos of what B Corp is about,” said Gardener’s President Jim Feinson. “Businesses should serve all stakeholders not only shareholders. That’s who we are. We wanted to support an organization that is furthering that in the country.”

Feinson explained that Gardener’s wanted to take advantage of B Corp’s assessment tool.

“It’s very well done and comprehensive,” Feinson said.  “It’s also a great community of companies with whom we want to do business. So there is a positive economic incentive in joining. It has fit very naturally for us.”

Feinson related that the tool is a way to measure the business and to set a vision for improvement.

“It’s not just a designation,” Feinson said. “As consumers become more aware of B Corp, it’s a way of identifying ourselves to them. It’s a great marketing tool.”

This article first appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, edition of the Vermont Standard.

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