Becoming CSR-certified

More than 65 Canadian companies have become Certified B Corporations, making a legal commitment to deliver social or environmental benefits to society.
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Stewart Brown, CEO of Toronto-based Genuine Health, says he always felt shy talking about the good things his company was doing for its workers, the community and the environment. Since the nutritional supplements company became a Certified B Corporation in December, he has no such qualms.

“It gave me the confidence, where somebody else is accrediting us and saying ‘you are doing a good job,’” he says.

Brown’s company is one of 68 in Canada that are Certified B Corporations. Similar to a LEED certification for building design, companies have to meet high environmental and social standards to become members of the initiative run by the non-profit B Lab out of San Francisco, and must make a legal commitment to deliver social or environmental benefits to society (the B in B Corps stands for benefits).

For the companies, the benefits of associating with the B Corporation brand is third-party authentication in a crowded market where companies are eager to promote themselves as doing good to engage skeptical consumers. “It’s a big difference having a measuring stick and baking the values into the DNA of your company,” says Joyce Sou, manager, B Corporation at the Toronto-based Mars Centre for Impact Investing, a hub for the San Francisco non-profit.

To promote the status, Brown says Genuine Health will include B Corporations’ “B the change” logo on the company’s products and trumpet their certification in ad campaigns. Meanwhile, B Labs worked with U.S.-based T2AP Creative Team to produce ads that appeared in Now and Corporate Knights magazines in April, highlighting a few of the companies, including renewable energy company Bullfrog Power, Genuine Health and clothing company Patagonia.

Sou says the organization is relying on buzz as more companies sign up to the program launched in the U.S. in 2007 (Ben & Jerry’s became certified last fall). Sou admits it can be difficult for companies with more than 1,000 employees to pass the B Lab test, which scores four areas: how it treats the environment and its employees, the impact it has on the community and the strength of its governance structures. However, B Lab is looking into whether there “are more appropriate indicators” for larger companies to be tested on, says Sou.

In the meantime, Ron Seftel, SVP of operations for Bullfrog Power, says the standards demanded provide a template for larger companies to incorporate into their structure.

“Certainly any company, whether they’re a B Corp or not, could go through [the B Impact Assessment] and pull out some good practices,” Seftel said.

Independent CD and brand strategist Marc Stoiber says he believes the B Corp movement is an indicator of the way companies will be expected to approach corporate social responsibility in the future.

“Not just for profit, not just for good, there is a mutual benefit,” he says. “I think that’s where the future is going, that they are basically just stitched together and it becomes sort of the norm for business.”