In June 2018, my firm became a Canadian B Corp. At the time, I only had a peripheral understanding of what that meant. I knew that I was joining a movement of businesses that believe in balancing people, profit, and planet. I understood that the B Corp community works towards “…reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.”
This ethical approach to business practise very much fit with our company ethos, but it all still seemed somewhat distant and academic. So how were these companies accomplishing such lofty aspirations?
At the beginning of this year, I was lucky enough to become Marketing Lead for what turned out to be one of North America’s largest B Corp conferences, BLD Ontario 2019. Held in June at the historic Palais Royale on Toronto’s waterfront, this conference brought together B Corp firms, both large and small, to explore what it means to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. There I caught up with a few folks to find out more about both the conference and what it means to operate as a B Corp.
First I chatted with Rachel Berdan, Marketing & Communications Lead at B Lab Canada.
SH: What is the driving force behind the BLD conferences in North America?
RB: The B Corp movement is driven by people using business as a force for good™, and BLD conferences are a great example of what that looks like. These day-long conferences are made possible by dedicated volunteers from B Local communities, place-based groups that gather regularly to create connections, learn from each other, and work to raise awareness about the movement.
SH: Why are these conferences so important for the B Corp community?
RB: Like most businesses, B Corps focus on the day-to-day to ensure their businesses can continue to have a positive effect on the world in whatever form that takes. BLDs provide an opportunity for people within these businesses to take a pause, reflect on the change they want to create, connect with other like-minded professionals, share best practices, and find new ways of working independently and together to maximize positive impact.
SH: How would you describe the B Corp movement, as it pertains to Canada?
RB: Canada is in a fairly unique position as part of the global B Corp movement. Because of our proximity to the US — the birthplace of the movement — we benefit from the awareness building that happens there. Many Canadians regularly consume US media and many people and businesses in Canada do business with US brands that are also B Corps.
At the same time, Canada is a massive country with a fairly distributed population across its distinctive regions. While this means we have a lot of ground to cover as we try to build the movement, it’s also why so much of the growth we have seen thus far has come through the commitment of people working within strong regional identities, from active B Locals to community members coming together to share their stories.
That sense of local identity showed up in the Vote Every Day campaign here, as well. One of the things we learned from the first month or so of the campaign was that the version of our campaign video (edited by Republik, a Montreal B Corp) that focused on local businesses performed the best across the country. Canadians are proud to buy local Canadian products, and we also know from a 2018 Kin & Co report that Canadians value purpose-driven businesses (as consumers and as employees), making for a huge opportunity within this particular market for more businesses to certify.
I had the privilege of working alongside some fabulous companies to bring the BLD Ontario conference to life, and also wanted to know from them what differentiates Canadian B Corps from the rest of the world. Jeff Golfman, Founder & President of RawOffice has been around since practically the beginning, “When I joined B Corp many years ago, there was only a handful of people in Canada in the B Corp movement. Now there are several hundred businesses spanning from Vancouver to Quebec to here in Ontario. Our aim is to engage with even more businesses over the coming years, to build this powerful B Corp force that balances people, profit, and planet.”
Fiix Software is another B Corp doing incredible work in the community. In fact, they have an entire department dedicated to Corporate Social Responsibility. Katie Allen is the CSR Manager and comments about the Canadian B Corp landscape, “What differentiates the B Corp Canadian community from the rest of the world is that we already have social policies in place that put us a step ahead. Our challenge as Canadians is that we are setting the bar for the rest of the world to bring about even greater positive change.”
Finally, there is a fabulous company called Flow Office Wisdom, that operates out of the community of Guelph, Ontario – a place I highly recommend visiting if ever you are on Canadian soil. Guelph elected the first ever MPP and Leader of the Green Party of Ontario, Mike Schreiner a little over one year ago.
Crystal Wilson is Partner & Chief Buzz Builder at Flow Office Wisdom – For her, diversity is an important factor when considering the unique make-up of Canadian B Corps, “In Canada, with the number of B Corps we have, and the fact that we stretch out across the country, we capture a whole host of ethnicities, cultures, and religious backgrounds. This is truly unique. We have so much to draw upon, and such a great cross section of what Canada actually looks like: From native run businesses to women run businesses, as well as entrepreneurial initiatives that have been created by refugees that have settled here. There’s so much wealth in that for us to share with the world as it truly represents what it means to be a part of the Canadian B Corp identity.”
But how do we grow this Canadian B Corp movement? I again turned to Rachel Berdan, MarComm Lead at B Lab Canada for insight.
RB: The growth of the movement in Canada (now over 250 B Corps) is one indicator that awareness continues to grow. As more B Corps certify and tell their stories, more businesses will learn either through the sales process (e.g., when they see a B Corp logo or slide in a pitch deck or proposal) or as suppliers (e.g., as B Corps challenge their suppliers to meet particular standards and be more transparent, or even use the B Impact Assessment themselves).
I have seen B Corps do some work in the community to help build awareness through their employees, which makes a huge difference. During the launch month of Vote Every Day (a public awareness campaign that launched in Canada in February and will continue through 2020), we saw businesses come together at trade shows to share best practices for weaving B Corp certification into their corporate stories, and companies like Traction on Demand made an effort to engage their employees in the Vote Every Day story. There are a couple of great podcasts being released within the community that also do a great job of telling B Corp stories and, I think, continue to help raise awareness about the movement: The Boiling Point (co-hosted by Greg Hemmings, from B Corp Hemmings House Pictures) and the Business Development Bank of Canada’s (BDC) B Corp Effect.
SH: What can individual B Corp businesses do to heighten their profile in Canada, as ethical practitioners of the B Corp ethos?
RB: Every business has a story and I often advocate that people start there. People want to know the purpose behind a business and why they should believe the business will deliver on its promise. Based on my conversations with B Corp leaders and my observations of businesses within the movement, the B Corp component of a company’s story is usually tied to either or both of those elements. So, heightening a company’s profile could be as simple as including “which is why we’re a Certified B Corp” at the end of a statement to the press (we try to keep an eye out for these stories), or joining in the Vote Every Day campaign with on-brand messaging on social media (tagged with #VoteBCorp) about why the company is a better choice because of their values and their certification. B Corps can also share space at trade shows (sharing the cost of a booth and displaying their B Corp pride) or work with other B Corps in their community to raise awareness and their own profiles.
For me, the recent BLD Conference helped solidify why I decided my company should become a Certified B Corp. But more importantly, this was an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who truly believe in affecting positive societal change. For one, as businesses we have the opportunity to influence our politicians and policy makers to do things differently.
As Andrew Simpson, a fellow B Corp and CEO of ecotone succinctly puts it, “Climate change is the overarching challenge of the 21st century and will impact every aspect of human life from catastrophic weather to biodiversity and habitat loss. As B Corps, and potential B Corps, we can aid in the fight to bring about monumental change.”
Watch a short video with interviews from some of the above participants of this article who helped make the BLD Conference 2019 a reality.