I have a simple measure of whether a day at work has been a “good day.” I judge it by the quality of my conversations. When I speak with people on the phone or meet with them, I crave interesting conversations and value them when they happen. In the last few months, I’ve noticed a pattern. The founders of companies with a social mission always had the most interesting and inspiring statements about their work. Their business challenges were deeper and, therefore, a more worthwhile challenge for Red Cup. The conversation was, in a word, interesting. Something was clicking into place.
The companies that I admire are about a lot more than just staying in business. They have a social good mission to fulfill. Patagonia. EO Products. Kickstarter. Give Something Back. Fetzer Wines. They do a fine job of staying in business and turning profits, and they’ve found a way to benefit society in real ways that matter. Patagonia’s commitment to land conservation and recycling isn’t just talk. Give Something Back is helping local communities. Fetzer has high organic production standards and is serious about treading lightly on the land.
I’ve always believed that businesses should be doing good in the world, and not just by donating stuff or volunteering once a year, but by their very structure and mission. Capitalism is a powerful engine of change for humans, among the most powerful, perhaps. It makes sense that we should point that power in a good direction that would benefit more people.
The past month, in my sales and prospecting conversations for Red Cup, I found myself drawn to companies that are B Corps. To qualify as a B Corp, a company must have an explicit social or environmental mission, and a legally binding responsibility to take into account the interests of workers, the community, and the environment, as well as shareholders. A company must amend its articles of incorporation to adopt a commitment to sustainability and treating workers well.
In my series of “interesting” conversations, I noticed that the people on the other side of the phone were starting to challenge me, and not in the usual ways. (The usual challenges are, “Why aren’t you less expensive?” “Can you guarantee results?” “If I give this less than 20% of my vision and time, can you deliver more than 100% success?”) No, this was different. I was being challenged about my company’s mission and values.
One prospective B Corp client asked, somewhat aggressively, if I wasn’t a B Corp, why should he work with me? I said I was thinking about starting the process. Another prospective client said they’d prefer to work with me if I was a B Corp because they were, and it was a supply chain thing for them.
The proverbial light bulb went on. I realized that in this time of aggressive, often crazy-talking capitalism, there was no better time than now to become a B Corp. (There is a difference between being a B Corp and a Benefit Corp. Kickstarter and Patagonia are Benefit Corps, holding themselves to even higher standards than B Corps, but that is the subject of another blog.)
I sat down to go through a B Corp impact assessment online. It was challenging. It is a voluntary assessment of your company’s social mission, environmental impact, commitment to treating workers well and hiring with diversity. I think about all that stuff all the time, and practice it, but have never formally committed to it in a mission statement or Red Cup’s articles of incorporation. It made me think how much work I have to do to get my closely-held beliefs about business into the world. I want Red Cup to work with B Corps and will become one ourselves because I believe we can change the way business is done and connect it with human goals that benefit everyone.