“Earth has survived everything in its time. It will certainly survive us.” — Michael Crichton
Talk of Benefit Corporations continue in business and media circles. It’s en vogue to champion your business as eco-friendly, sustainable, and every other buzz word that signifies leaving a smaller carbon footprint.
Obtaining Benefit Corporation status gives prominence to your company’s socially and environmentally responsible agenda. Once achieved, it is a legally binding rank, signifying that the core values of your business include being mindful of the greater good of society or the planet. The company must annually prove how it has upheld these values in order to continue to qualify for recertification. Examples include vowing to use a certain amount of recycled materials in your products.
You are not in any way required to apply for it. And once you have it, you can lose it and that could become public knowledge. If you’re a young or new business looking to attract like-minded talent or customers, you might be considering its importance. The allure is understandable — it’s the corporate equivalent of driving a hybrid. It’s nice to tell clients, consumers and competitors that you did it for the environment and future generations, but there’s a solid chance you also want the bragging rights. Bragging rights don’t always pay the bills.
It’s not a necessity. I assure you, while it’s a nice extra for you to have, no one will compare you to C. Montgomery Burns if you never apply for it.
If you really want to make a difference, especially when you’re starting out, sign a lease in a LEED certified building. The building’s owners and management are obligated to employ efficient energy use methods. When you draft press releases, mention how LEED status attracted your company to the building because it meets your core values and omit any details about Benefit Corporation — even if you plan to apply. The extra couple of dollars per square foot on your lease has now covered your eco-contributions and you don’t have to furnish any reports to B Lab, the assessor.
There are annual certification fees based on the tiered structure of your business, as well. We’re talking upwards of $25,000 annually. Hey, small tech start-ups, it’s a nice sentiment, but worry about your investors first. Turn a profit for a few years, establish yourselves and then think about the environment.
A recent Fortune article revealed that just 10% of applicants “receive an on-ground verification visit,” and that some B Corp business may not merit the title, which could “erode” companies’ brands. It also suggests that it’s tougher to qualify as the company grows, and that some stakeholders may be turned off because it suggests inverted priorities.
Growth and revenues should be your goal as a principal. It’s a nice idea to strive for a B, but wouldn’t you rather be in business without it?
The fact is, unless you’re a non-profit, a niche specialty ice cream churner, or the premise of your brand is to be earth-friendly, make Benefit Corporation status an afterthought or a reward for being profitable. You’re already doing something for the planet — employing some of its inhabitants and keeping them from sleeping on its ground. Show that you’re in the black before you go green. If you can only do the former, that’d still be “excellent,” anyone’s standards, even Mr. Burns’.
Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts or experiences about the Benefit Corporation certification process.