Friday, September 6, 2013

It's Time for Sustainability to Reach Critical Mass - Benefit Corporations Can Help

(Authored by Reese Nank, APR, Vice Chair of the BCSI, Inc. Board of Directors)

Since the end of the 1960s, when the Ecology movement emerged, the U.S. has cyclically supported then abandoned the ideologies and attitudes of socially conscious living.  Beginning with planetary conservation efforts such as limiting nuclear proliferation, acid rain and deforestation and moving into the broader and less activist umbrella of corporate social responsibility, sustainability has contained as broad a range of topics as it has had levels of support over the last half century.

Finally, in the past few years, an official avenue for businesses committed to sustainable practices has been created in the form of Benefit Corporation legislation (18 states and counting in the U.S.).  Notably, there also are a few other countries with significant efforts in this regard (i.e., U.K., Canada, Australia) and some of these have been consistently active. We at BCSI are optimistic that a real global movement is building and this time will have staying power.

We wholeheartedly support this forward thinking and holistic legislative approach, but the standards for evaluating the performance of these new entities do yet not exist.  To escape judging B-corps by Wall Street standards or by the characteristics of a true non-profit, BCSI is taking on the scrupulous task of creating and establishing appropriate, reasonable and meaningful standards for these businesses.

We invite you will join in our effort to create structure for these brave new businesses.

BCSI’s mission statement is to fundamentally transform how marketplace performance is measured and perceived by business, consumers and investors.  We recognize this is a big, hairy, audacious goal. Content today with applying this mission to all those who venture into the B-corporation arena, our belief is that a new economy will grow and thrive when looking out for the whole of society is an equally compelling business goal vis-a-vis capitalist profit. So, we encourage all businesses to take a cue from B-corps and adopt sustainability standards – ours or their own.

Our hope is that now, unlike efforts in the past, a groundswell of support for B-corps and all that they stand for, will achieve the critical mass necessary for true and lasting change. We believe there is a better way to do business and a better way to measure success.  Isn’t it time the needs of the many truly outweighed the needs of the few?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Benefit Corporations, Social Enterprise and our BCSI Global Advisory Network

(Authored by John Dane, CAE, Chair, BCSI Global Advisory Network)

The explosive growth in state benefit corporation laws in the past two years is one of the most progressive business trends in the United States.  In late June 2013, eighteen states, including the District of Columbia have passed laws regarding the establishment and operation of benefit corporations. A Governor's signature is due soon on a Delaware benefit corporation law, significant not because of the state's size (it's very small), but rather because two-thirds of Fortune 500 firms are incorporated in Delaware.

Moreover, Washington State has enacted "social purpose corporation" legislation and, in Canada, British Columbia enacted "community contribution companies" legislation and Nova Scotia followed enacting "community interest companies" legislation.

So clearly, these states and provinces are "ahead of the game" and can serve as examples for other states, provinces and countries seeking progressive, cutting-edge business innovation ideas, right?

Well, not exactly.

It turns out that our benefit corporation movement in the United States and Canada has its roots in "community interest company" legislation passed in the United Kingdom in 2005.  Closely allied to that legislation has been a recent and broader international movement to create new social enterprise organizations, promote social entrepreneurship and advance socially responsible investing.

These social enterprise organizations are amazingly diverse and active as economic change agents in their respective countries.  For example:

  • Social Enterprise United Kingdom is sponsoring an already sold-out political summit, is promoting a tax relief initiative for social enterprises and is seeking to broaden coverage of social entrepreneurs on British Broadcasting Corporation shows like "The Apprentice."
  • Social Enterprise Scotland (SES) recently sponsored what they term "the world's largest social enterprise event."  SES has an ongoing interest in reforming public procurement to include social entrepreneurship goods and services.  Their "Just Enterprise" initiative is a "one-stop" for business support.
  • Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) uses the brand "Think big. Act now.  Change Ireland."  SEI supports a variety of entrepreneurial progams including a Minnovation Fund to provide seed capital for high potential business startups.
  • Social Venture Australia has a strong focus on non-profit sustainability. SVA runs a School for Social Entrepreneurs and recently raised $7 million in private capital for a social benefit bond.
These social enterprise organizations promote social entrepreneurship and smaller scale business investments and are laboratories for innovation and change.  Their approaches can serve, selectively, as examples for benefit corporations as leaders seek to identify high priority missions.

We are pleased that our international BCSI Board of Directors has a growing Global Advisors Network that has representatives connected closely with social enterprise organizations from the United Kingdom, separately from Scotland and from Australia.  Combined with our Canadian and United States advisors, the BCSI Board of Directors is developing a deep reservoir of talent that can provide a global (and local) perspective on the future opportunities for social entrepreneurship and for rapidly emerging benefit corporations.

For more information and to get involved, please visit our website!  We would love to hear from you!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Rise of Benefit Corporations

(Authored by Michael Lee, CEO of the ATM Industry Association (www.atmia.com) and author of "Knowing the Future - The Startling Case for Futurology")

As a futurist and head of a global non-profit trade association for the 2.4 million strong ATM industry, I urge business leaders to consider becoming Benefit Corporation Champions, embracing a new, more gratifying way of conducting business by being of benefit to society and the environment while succeeding in business. Consider evolving, along with a growing number of business and social leaders, into a benefit business.

A new paradigm for business, one focused more on defining how to bring broader benefits to society, has become desirable following the self-evident failures of governance which led to the 2008 global credit crisis and subsequent economic crash and slow-down.  In addition, climate change, along with the extreme and damaging weather it's increasingly bringing, requires public leaders to consider the environmental impacts of industry.  Everyone loses if we tip over into irreversible ecological decline.

Even if there had been no global economic crisis and even if climate change did not exist, it would still be true that it is ultimately people who make the world of business go around.  They are the customers, employees and employers.  Being people-friendly is good for the sustainability and governance of business.

Our world has a crying need today for more companies to become benefit businesses.

But just what is a benefit corporation? It's a simple but grand idea that I, for one, would like to champion, along with my esteemed colleagues at the Benefit Corporation Standards Institute (BCSI) - www.bcorpinstitute.org.  To this point, fifteen states and the District of Columbia have passed benefit corporation legislation in the United States alone.

It all starts with one powerful word: benefit.  Benefit means gaining an advantage or profit from doing something well which brings good to the world, however humble.   The Latin word benefactum means to do good, from bene, meaning "well" or "good." The adjective "beneficial" refers to an action which results in favorable, or advantageous, conditions.

Specifically, we are talking about businesses upping the ante when it comes to recognizing their social, economic and environmental responsibilities.  When last did you or I do something good for our world, whether for our community, our wider society, our economy or our environment? A benefit business believes that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts, that we are all part of an interlocking world with many ecosystems which provide the resources and power we need to conduct business in the first place.

At BCSI, our mission, in the light of wanting businesses to be beneficial, is straightforward: to fundamentally transform how marketplace performance is measured and perceived by businesses, consumers and investors.

To do that, we set credible, meaningful standards for the rising number of benefit corporations we would like to publicly recognize and endorse.

If you are in business, BCSI believes our standards, embodying this triple responsibility to society, the economy and the environment, will empower you to prioritize sustainable policies and decision-making for today's complex, globalized and rapidly evolving society.

To get started on your journey to become a benefit corporation champion, first read our Core Principles.  If you identify with them, as I'm sure you will, get in touch with us.  It's a journey we all need to travel together.

Becoming a benefit business is literally a world-changing idea.