A Good Corporation: “Conscious Capitalism” Is Sprouting in Ottawa
In early September, Céline Bak drew three bottom lines under her company. From now on, Analytica Advisors – a clean technology consultancy based in Ottawa – officially stands for the triple bottom line of people, planet, profit. Bak has a Benefit Corporation (B Corp) certificate to prove it.
A Good Standard
A B Corp certification is to sustainable business what LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is to green building, or Fair Trade certification is to coffee. A B Corp certificate is provided by B Lab – an independent non-profit based in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
In 2006, three entrepreneurs decided to change the world of business for the better: Jay Gilbert, Bart Houlahan and Andrew Kassoy founded B Lab – a non-profit that assesses companies’ business practices. If businesses have a positive impact on the community, their employees and the environment, B Lab grants them a B Corp certificate.
In 2007, 55 U.S. companies undertook a B Lab assessment, and received B Corp certificates. Among them were businesses of every type. The group signed the B Corps’ Declaration of Interdependence, promising to meet B Labs’ rigorous standards of environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
It seems that Canadians share the same values. In 2010, Better the World – a technology-based social enterprise in Toronto – became the first B Corp-certified company in Canada. Since then, the B Corp movement has spread from coast-to-coast here.
Today, there are 81 B Corp-certified companies in Canada, with 43 in Ontario – and Ottawa’s business ecosystem has just welcomed a third B Corp company. Analytica Advisors has joined the ranks of the city’s two other B Corp companies – RocketOwl and Homestead Organics.
Aaron Emery, a B Corp Fellow at the MaRS Centre For Impact Investing in Toronto, thinks the B Corp movement is just gaining traction in Canada.
“The B Corp vision of using business to solve social and environmental problems is quintessentially Canadian,” Emery says. “So while the Canadian B Corp movement doesn’t have a Ben & Jerry’s or Patagonia on board elevating the visibility of the certification north of the border – I believe it is only a matter of time until some major Canadian companies step up into this leadership position.”
MaRS Discovery District in Toronto is a non-profit, which serves as the hub for the B Corp movement in Canada. Emery handles daily communications with Canadian B Corps members and prospects. He says he is inspired by the work that B Corps companies are doing: “Big banks are investing in clean-tech ventures. Caterers are hiring from and operating in under-resourced neighborhoods. People are making copy paper at industrial scale and competitive price points out of surplus straw rather than trees. This stuff is all happening in Canada—and it’s great. As the B Corp movement continues to grow, I am excited to see what kind of potential can be unleashed when entrepreneurs feel like the permission to do good through business is mainstreamed.”
Supporting a Good Business Movement in the Nation’s Capital
For Analytica Advisors, it was important to support the B Corp movement; joining B Corps is manifesting a good business ecosystem, Bak says. “B Corp certification involves taking stock in what matters to the company and to the people who make it up. It also involves formalizing not just why we do what we do, but how and with whom. It enables us to learn about important resources and to formalize how our company contributes to the sustainability of other companies.”
Analytica Advisors’ research on innovation-based companies is transforming the investment and policy landscape. Bak’s company brings together investors, entrepreneurs and governments with one mission – to have a positive impact on the environment and the economy, while providing good jobs to support families: “At Analytica Advisors, we are focused on enabling companies whose very existence is predicated on sustainability,” Bak says. “These are companies that are focused on commercializing innovation to improve how we use energy and water resources, and how we can be good stewards of our environment.”
On September 24, Analytica Advisors launched the 2014 Canadian Clean Technology Industry Survey. The research is a beacon for the federal and provincial governments to determine green policy, and how to regulate natural resources.
A second-generation food processor, Tom Manley says a B Corp certificate confirms that his company – Homestead Organics – is operating in a beneficial way. The certification sends a message to investors, customers and the community that his business stands for the social and environmental good.
“Lots of companies say they are good corporate citizens, but you have to take their word for it, subject to interpretation,” Manley says. “But if I can brag about what we do and also have an independent agency verify that – I think it gives our customers a greater sense of comfort, and I am sure, a greater sense of transparency on our part.”
Tom Manley and his wife Isabelle Masson took over a family business in Berwick in 1997. They turned a small shop into a resource centre for organic farmers. Homestead Organics provides organic farmers with feed and seed, fertilizers, pest controls and books – serving 700 organic farms in Ontario, Quebec, the Atlantic provinces and New York State.
Yet, even after being B Corp-certified, Manley says Homestead Organics can’t have a better recognition than his customers’ trust and loyalty. “It feels good to provide service to people who appreciate it and say thank you, and reward us with their loyalty.”
Play to Make a Change
Ottawa’s software world isn’t left behind. In December 2012, RocketOwl became the first B Corp-certified company in Ottawa. RocketOwl is a video game developer of online social and mobile games. The video games are eco-friendly and promote sustainable living and environmental stewardship.
Jasvinder Obhi, who has a doctorate in physics, is a co-founder of RocketOwl. As an expert in green technology, Obhi would often be asked about alternative energy and always enjoyed providing answers… so much so that he started thinking how he could share his knowledge with more people.
When Obhi met Graeme Barlow, an expert in games and online media, he knew he had found a pathway to a bigger audience. Obhi and Barlow created a mobile game to raise awareness of social and environmental issues. They envisioned a hub where players united by a game could discuss climate change and seek solutions.
“The idea is being able to do something in the virtual world and having a real-life impact,” Obhi says. “For instance, in our game, we have certain levels where you can purchase a tree and we can plant it in the real world. Or you can purchase an endangered species within a game that will help support them in real life as well.”
In 2012, RocketOwl released GreenSpace – a social gaming app. The game takes place in the future, and the player as a SpaceJanitor must save the galaxy from accumulated human waste. The player has to clean up and restore planets by seeking sustainable alternative energy sources.
By November 2012, RocketOwl had planted 10,000 trees with the help of the reforestation non-profit weforest.org. Through GreenSpace, the company aims to plant 250,000 trees.
“B Corp certification is a step in making sure that everyone is aware of our values,” Obhi says. “Corporations now have to start looking at more than just profits. We have to look at people, planet, profit. We only have one planet, and we all have to look after it.”
Winds of Change
Against all skepticism and doubts, a ship with a B Corp flag is set to sail across the world. Today, 830 B Corp-labeled companies operate in 27 countries in 60 industries – and the movement to do good business keeps growing.