This week I attended the B-Corps Handbook book launch at the offices of Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco, the law firm instrumental in lobbying California to institute the Benefit Corporation legislation.
As a marketer myself, I don’t know that I’ve ever found myself in a room with so many lawyers – and I have to say it was heartening. If lawyers in California think this topic is important, it indicates that the infrastructure for the B-Corp certification is in the early stages of hitting its stride for becoming more than just a marketing initiative, but a substantive opportunity to influence the business community it is targeting.
The B Lab – founders of the B-Corp – launched 7 years ago to critical acclaim. Critical in that the market was flooded with sustainable certification symbols such as USDA Organic, LEED and Energy Star. Acclaim in that B-Corp took a much more holistic and lasting view of business’ propensity for net-positive effect, evaluating fundamental operational standards and also putting people into the equation. It is an agnostic certification process for any business that wants to take a values-led approach to doing business differently.
Twenty-seven states have now taken note of B Corps’ lead and passed Benefit Corporation legislation. (Note: the two are separate entities, one is a certification to receive a marketing benefit and one is a legal framework aligning shareholders and management to protect a company’s mission incorporating social benefit and prioritizing revenue distribution accordingly).
The real value behind B-Corps is not simply in its exhaustive process to evaluate a business’s operational policies as they reflect mission, community, employees and environment, but the POV that becoming a B-Corps extends to prospect customers, clients, partners and the supply chain in which the business operates. As one participant thoughtfully noted “It would make me evaluate prospect clients through a whole different values lens. I have the ability to work with many clients but this would help me know I’m having an even larger effect with like-minded businesses”.
B-Corp has stated that it hopes to become irrelevant and Benefit Corporation status is one step in that direction. However, B-Corp’s work is hardly done. With only 1100 companies in 36 countries officially signed on, the evangelism has only just begun.
Innovation is born of necessity. And strangely the carbon cap and trade system just might fit into that category. History has proven that we need crisis to catalyze change. And then it requires everyone, and I mean everyone, to understand and participate in the solution. So while the cap and trade system is targeted at businesses, consumers will play a huge reinforcement role. Enter ideas like the Carbon Quotient Project. The CQ is an extension of similar concepts launched in Thailand and Japan that essentially strive to create a standard unit for product labels. Much like the nutritional fact labels that adhere to all packaged food products, the CQ could give us GHG’s emitted, reduced or otherwise advise on a stand unit of measure for the carbon footprint of each product. We, the consumer, then have the ability to offset our bag of potato chips or bottle of beer by riding our bike to work or simply not purchasing. There are actually a million different behaviors that this could launch but the bottom line is that we would start to become educated relative to a standard unit (so the theory goes), hold businesses accountable and gradually start to bring about global responsibility and accountability for how businesses are impacting the deteriorating environment around us. It has been said before but change is incremental.
OK, its the “day after”. And the meaning of yesterday’s elections have been and will continue to be reflected upon over and over. However as we think about social change in the world. Its important to consider how that change will happen and the role of leadership.
Its been quite some time since we’ve seen examples of real leadership. Mostly we’ve seen ‘the guys at the top’ looking for post-fraud scapegoats or excusing themselves out of straight-up bad or arrogant decision-making. These were never individuals fighting for change, they were looking for power and/or money. However, in the post-election glow that most of us are feeling, we are finding profound hope in a single individual who demonstrates the true qualities of a leader. Integrity. Character. Humility. Calm assurance. The ability to listen and respond with sound, articulate reasoning. Stamina. Focus. A champion for his followers. A passion for truth. This is where change starts and this is why change becomes inevitable when true leadership exists.
With leadership, not only do we expect follow-through but we expect excellence. Leaders build excellence, they don’t command it. Barack Obama comes to us with cross-cultural beginnings and a foundation in community building. He knows that change is not possible without the commitment of every individual he leads, which means he knows how to communicate and engage. These are qualities we can all learn from in our own efforts to impact change. Real leadership requires discipline and an unprecedented commitment to see things through.
We can all be inspired by the story of Barack Obama and the impact he will have on our lives – from what is personally possible to the real impact he will have on the change we all believe is necessary.