B Corporations: A discussion about commitment through action

Missed the Laidley Centre for Business Ethics’ recent events? Learn more in this three-part series by recent BCom graduate Avneet Bhabra about McGill University’s central hub supporting ethical decision-making in business through teaching, academic research and community engagement.

B Corporations are becoming an increasingly prevalent type of organization, but what are they exactly? An event hosted this March by the Laidley Center for Business Ethics (LCBE) and moderated by LCBE research fellow Muskaan Bhaidani tackled how certified B Corporations are leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy.

The panel included B-Corp certified organization leaders Byron Peart, Co-Founder of Goodee, Anne Pringle, Programs and Impact Director of Lucky Iron Fish, Thomas Ferland-Dionne, Partner at Boite Pac and Olivier Laquinte, President of Talsom. Stemming from a variety of industries, the event`s discussion highlighted how B Corps are shaping societies.

Attendees were introduced to how an organization obtains this certification and how it can be beneficial. Ferland-Dionne outlined the pillars that businesses must address to receive certification: governance, workers, community, environment and customers. Businesses are evaluated across each of these dimensions and must satisfy at least 80 of the 200 criteria to begin the accreditation process. While 80 criteria may seem minimal, he explained how most struggle to meet even 50 of these assessments.

Each panelist noted the highly personal nature of pursuing such a certification. Becoming a B Corp is not a decision to be taken lightly – instead, it takes time, dedication, and a willingness to adapt. Being recertified also shows that making a one-time commitment is not enough. For Peart, who works in the home goods sector, building a brand around sustainability was a priority. For Laquinte, it meant developing the company in the right way, whereby every process and action has a sounding board and does not merely place financials above all else.

The tension between financial and social goals is something all organizations must reconcile. The panelists explained how good business and good purpose can go hand in hand; Peart emphasized that the B Corps can create even more financial opportunities. Admitting that it may cost more to do good, a B Corp certification can elevate an organization’s processes by considering ethics as the first lens before finances. Ferland-Dionne echoed this, explaining how Boite Pac bases its values on its B Corp certification, keeping this at the heart of its day-to-day decisions.

As for myself, now officially embarking on my career, one of the comments that most resonated was Pringle`s remark about how environmental considerations will factor into any company’s bottom line. If an organization does not wish to incur extra costs in the present to ensure sustainable practices, they will face the economic consequences created by its decisions down the line. No matter how you slice it, sustainability and ethics will make their way to the bottom line.

Earning a B Corp certification embodies what it means to be an ethical business and any organization that commits to the processes can achieve it. But what are its benefits? Laquinte explained how becoming certified allows one to tap into a like-minded community and opens up a number of opportunities, for example being invited to speak at a conference in Europe. Pringle also pointed out that it helps organizations stay accountable. Businesses need to demonstrate that they satisfy criteria under all five pillars if they want to attain this certification; it does not suffice to excel at only one.

While being a B Corp has its benefits, some requirements may be difficult to keep up with. For example, Peart shared how his business works hard to conduct due diligence on their partners and suppliers, ensuring that stakeholders are also behaving ethically. For some of the panelists, the solution was to set up internal committees that ensure targets and B Corp requirements are met.

Laquinte explained that getting certified is just the beginning of the journey. Expectations rise every year and, while Talsom`s business goals may evolve over time, its commitment to sustainability remains steadfast.

The panel and event highlighted that, as consumers and members of society, we have a responsibility to request change from companies we engage with. Researching organizational values and practices can help us make better decisions, but the next time we choose to shop with a particular business, the B Corp certification can serve as an important indicator of an organization’s commitment to ethics and sustainability.

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