Making Corporate Activism Work: 5 Companies Doing It Right
Through Policy Advocacy — from Opioid Abuse to Family Leave to Pesticides — B Corps and Workers Act on Their Beliefs
The U.S. opioid epidemic is one of the worst public health crises of our lifetime, claiming the lives of more than 130 Americans a day. Despite record-breaking addiction and fatal overdose rates, only one in 10 Americans with a substance abuse disorder received treatment last year.
Brought together by shared tragedies among employees within its corporate families, Certified B Corporation Fors Marsh Group (FMG), a market research and consulting firm, joined with other communications organizations to create the National Opioid Action Coalition (NOAC).
Building social benefit through business is not revolutionary for B Corps, which embed that value into their operations. But some B Corps step up to bigger social challenges that can create broader change by speaking out and advocating for policy changes.
We found five B Corps that are focusing on corporate activism to create healthier environments and provide for a better future for people and planet — and create strong ties between the companies and their communities.
Some issues are matters of life and death — opioids and pesticides — while others touch more on quality of life. But all are important enough for these B Corps and their workers to take a stand and speak up for a cause they support.
As part of the National Opioid Action Coalition, Fors Marsh Group provides research and behavior change expertise while encouraging effective prevention, treatment and recovery for people misusing opioids.
Fors Marsh Group
In 2017 Fors Marsh Group (FMG) joined forces with WPP, a global leader in advertising and marketing services, and iHeartMedia, a multimedia company, to form the National Opioid Action Coalition (NOAC).
“NOAC is a corporate social responsibility initiative intended to harness our collective resources and capabilities to break down the stigma that serves as a barrier to effective opioid misuse prevention, treatment, and recovery,” says Matt Escoubas of FMG, which provides research and behavior change expertise for the coalition’s work.
The fear of being judged can prevent people with substance-abuse disorders, or those at risk for developing them, from getting the help they need, Escoubas says. It also affects how families, communities and companies address prevention and treatment issues. NOAC’s mission is to employ leading research and behavior change communications techniques to provoke engagement and action among target audiences, particularly in the private sector.
Escoubas says FMG workers and others in the coalition will use creative communication to spark a movement that reduces stigma by:
- spotlighting and linking to local, state, and national opioid-related resources.
- engaging private-sector companies to raise public awareness through retail, mobile, business-to-business, and employee outreach programs.
- promoting celebrity influencers, including locally and nationally recognized artists and media personalities who want to lend support or have been personally affected by opioid misuse.
As a B Corp known for its organic yogurt and other snacks, Stonyfield touches the lives of children every day. Already aware of the impact of pesticides in agriculture, Stonyfield turned to other often ignored sources of pesticide exposure and found that more than 26 million U.S. kids play sports on fields, and 65% of fields are sprayed with pesticides that have been linked to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and thyroid and endocrine disruption.
Then Stonyfield surveyed U.S. parents and found that while the majority of them (69%) are looking to reduce exposure to pesticides in food, nearly the same number (67%) do not worry about pesticides at sports fields, playgrounds and parks. However, most playing fields and parks kids play on are treated with a mix of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. These findings inspired Stonyfield to recently roll out the PlayFree initiative to reduce the use of pesticides on athletic fields across the United States.
To draw attention to the PlayFree effort, New Hampshire-based Stonyfield is starting close to home with some grown-up athletes. Manchester’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium — home to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats minor league baseball team — will transition over the next two years to the first professional baseball field to be organically managed. Stonyfield also is working with the communities in Dover and Portsmouth New Hampshire to convert their public parks to organic management.
“We’re on a mission to convert parks and ball fields all across the country to organic grounds management, but we couldn’t overlook our own backyard,” says Stonyfield co-founder and Chief Organic Optimist Gary Hirshberg. “Converting the home field of our hometown team was a natural fit, and we’re thrilled to help give our Fisher Cats the organic ball field they deserve. We hope it inspires other teams to do the same, for the health and safety of their players and fans.”
The Stonyfield website includes a map highlighting towns that already are reducing pesticide use in public parks and on playing fields. Experts and advocates like Beyond Pesticides, Non-Toxic Neighborhoods, and Osborne Organics also are part of the PlayFree initiative.
To reduce its impact through agriculture, PRANA switched from California-raised almonds to those grown by suppliers in Spain who use less water for their crops.
Montreal-based PRANA was started in 2005 by an adventurous Canadian couple who wanted to have a positive impact on the global food system. The “snacktivist” B Corp continues to lead by example, offering 100% organic and plant-based snacks across Canada while its employees (aka the PRANA family) pursue Earth-friendly operations and a sustainable supply chain.
To fully understand the impact of its business, PRANA had B Corp Ellio Consulting perform a life cycle assessment on its operations. The assessment found that most of PRANA’s environmental impact comes through farming activities, at 81%, followed by transportation at 8% and packaging at 5%.
Sabrina Roy of PRANA says that in addition to identifying the company’s biggest impact areas, the life-cycle assessment helped the B Corp’s workers prioritize where they can make changes to encourage and expand agricultural practices with less environmental impact.
“The most important part of the life cycle assessment isn’t the big picture it draws, but the opportunities it exposes for PRANA to take action,” she says. “In line with our vision to reduce our environmental impact, our team is looking into the broader implementation of sustainable farming practices, among other initiatives.”
One example: Based on results from the assessment, PRANA switched from buying almonds grown in California to those in Spain, where farmers rely more on rainfall rather than irrigation and operate under local water use restrictions.
The PRANA team continues to pursue changes like the almond supply shift to reduce its impact and create relationships with suppliers with environmentally friendly practices — snacktivism at its tastiest.
B Corp Beautycounter advocates for stricter guidelines and regulations on product ingredients in the personal care industry.
When Gregg Renfrew founded B Corp Beautycounter — which sells nontoxic beauty products online, in retail stores and through a network of consultants — she had a vision of making each salesperson an advocate for making the industry safer and better.
Over the past six years, Beautycounter has worked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to ensure issues like ingredient review, labeling and recalls for products that cause harm are consumer safety priorities.
Beautycounter consultants across the U.S. and Canada host district meetings with lawmakers, advocating for updates to laws governing personal care products. Their collective voices are making a difference: Beauty counter has advocated through more than 1,000 meetings, 10,000 calls and 100,000 emails.
And it’s not going it alone: In 2017, Beautycounter founded the Counteract Coalition, a coalition of businesses in the skin care and beauty industries that want more health-protective laws in Washington, D.C.
This year California-based Beautycounter announced its support of two bills introduced to the California Legislature that would further protect consumers from harmful ingredients in everyday products.
This map on the UnCommonGoods website indicates the six states where paid family leave is now law (dark green) and the 17 states considering that policy (light green).
This founding B Corp offers designs that support an important cause and works with fellow values-driven vendors, all while striving to give customers opportunities to do more good.
Two years ago, UnCommonGoods announced its support for paid family leave by launching an online map that helps customers learn the status of their state’s paid leave campaign and take action. The B Corp has continued its support for policies that allow family members to go on leave from work to care for a newborn or seriously ill family member for a period of time, while continuing to receive some or all of their usual pay and benefits.
While UncommonGoods started offering this important benefit to its workers before it was mandated in its home state of New York, the company strengthened its commitment to advocating for it. As CEO Dave Bolotsky says, “We’ve been practicing but not preaching to our customers. Now we’re preaching what we’re practicing.”
UnCommonGoods encourages its customers to advocate for family leave by contacting their local, state and federal elected officials; aligning with the Family Values @ Work coalition; and registering to vote for candidates who support the policy.
For those who question why a business would take a public stance on policy, UnCommonGoods shares this response:
“As a B Corp, it’s part of our mission to get involved with issues we care about beyond our bottom line. We believe that paid family leave is good for our country and its economy. And as a business, it’s an issue we deal with in our everyday lives. Why should we leave it to politicians?”