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B Corps Use Business to Improve Social and Environmental Factors that Have a Big Impact on Our Well-Being
While many people equate health with traditional (and typically costly) medical care, the factors that most influence an individual’s well-being are where they live, work and play. Known as the social determinants of health, these issues overlap with what Certified B Corporations promise to consider when they sign the Declaration of Interdependence and shape how the companies Vote Every Day through their business practices to build a better world. B Corps that are leading performers on these practices — scoring in the top 10% of the B Impact Assessment administered by B Lab — are honored each year as Best For The World.
Among the community health-focused B Corp leaders is Northwest Permanente, a Portland, Oregon-based medical group with more than 1,300 physicians and clinicians. A 2019 Best For The World honoree in the Overall, Customers and Workers categories, Northwest Permanente recently released a climate action plan for its operations and region — a unique move in the health care industry. The Northwest Permanente plan includes steps to ensure that vulnerable populations in its communities have a leading voice in planning for climate interventions; minimize the B Corp’s greenhouse gas footprint and offset the carbon its core business creates; and make the case for climate-smart business as a strategy for financial solvency amid growing uncertainty.
“What we’re really trying to say is that health care goes way beyond the clinic, and we need to address social and environmental factors. Over 60% of health issues are around housing, security, education, and transportation,” says Carolyn Allison, interim director of communications at Northwest Permanente. “Addressing the climate crisis is imperative for the medical community. As physicians, our voices are among the most trusted resources when it comes to issues that will impact our health, yet the field of medicine has been slow to respond to this issue. We created a platform that other health systems can use, and we’re really excited about that.”
By stepping up to face our planet’s biggest social and environmental challenges with steps such as a climate action plan, B Corps like Northwest Permanente serve as a model for other businesses looking to build a better world and a healthy and strong future for themselves and others.
The 2019 Best For The World Honorees are building a more inclusive, regenerative economy focused on having a positive impact for all stakeholders.
We talked with several other Best For The World honorees to learn more about how they strive to improve the health of their communities and build a better world through their everyday operations. In addition to Northwest Permanente (NWP), these B Corps include:
- Community honoree Wakami, a handmade jewelry and fashion enterprise based in Guatemala that works with rural artisans;
- Community honoree Hood to Coast, an Oregon-based event firm that puts on the world’s largest running and walking team relay;
- Governance honoree Salt Palm Development, a Florida-based real estate development firm dedicated to the health of the people of its hometown St. Petersburg.
Below we highlight how these B Corps Vote Every Day for stronger, healthier communities by addressing social and environmental factors through their work.
How does your B Corp build a better world by improving or enhance the health/well-being of your customers and others in your community?
Northwest Permanente: Volunteering for change is part of our DNA at NWP. Annually, NWP supports our physicians and clinicians who participate in caring for the unserved populations in our communities by staffing free clinics during Martin Luther King Day of Service and throughout the year. In the NWP Hippocrates Circle program, our physicians serve as mentors for middle school students interested in a health care career to ensure the medical workforce of the future represents the communities we serve. We know that patients do better when cared for by physicians who look like them, can speak their native language, and have similar experiences.
Hood to Coast: With the Hood and Portland To Coast Relay and HTC Race Series, we see a direct impact in improving health and well-being by creating more active lifestyle choices in the Portland community and around the world. People sign up to run or walk in the race and create friendships committed to training with one another throughout the year. We often hear stories from participants of how they met their partner, became more active, changed eating habits or rekindled connection with longtime friends and family, all through the bond shared in this incredible long-distance running/walking team relay adventure.
Many of the B Corp values align with social determinants of health. Please share an example of how your B Corp affects or improves these areas.
Northwest Permanente: As a part of NWP living our B Corp values, we have a growing and maturing corporate social responsibility program to address environmental leadership, food insecurity, and education with three community partners. The first is with Forest Park Conservancy, the largest park within the boundaries of a U.S. city. NWP provides funding and volunteer support for things like trail maintenance, restoration projects and removal of invasive species like ivy to preserve the park. Our partnership with Meals on Wheels People, which ensures that home-bound and transportation-challenged seniors can get proper nutrition every day, allows us to help address hunger while also breaking down the walls of social isolation. Reach Out and Read (ROR) is our educational partner. By providing complimentary books to our youngest members (6 months to 5 years) at their annual wellness exams, and prescribing books and reading aloud, ROR fosters the language-rich interactions between parents and their young children that stimulate early brain development. This early education can help reduce the achievement gap, providing a foundation for success and keeping children in school longer.
Wakami: In countries like Guatemala, with one of the biggest gender gaps in the world and the biggest in the American continent, once women are empowered they change reality for their children, their families, and their communities. We measure impact — including nutrition of children of Wakami workers, school attendance, and women empowerment — with a monitoring system. What we are seeing is that 60% of (Wakami workers’) children with chronic malnutrition are starting to recover and children of Wakami workers have 75% more school attendance than the national average. Also, 95% of the women who work with Wakami came out as more empowered by having a source of income for the first time. Check out Wakami’s GoFundMe pages.
Salt Palm Development: One of the best examples of how Salt Palm aligns with these determinants is the support and sponsorship for a local program called the IDEAS Hive in St. Petersburg. The Hive is run by IDEAS For Us, an Orlando-based nonprofit and accredited NGO of the United Nations, and provides a Think + Do Tank designed to educate members of the public about sustainability and develop their ideas into local action projects. Hives across various communities meet to grow stakeholders and educate them around the 17 Sustainable Development Goals through seminars, field trips, action projects, and film screenings. Salt Palm, via the St. Pete For Good program, provided the resources to bring the IDEAS Hive to St. Petersburg and foster this kind of social and environmental impact growth.
How does your B Corp, as a Best For The World honoree, Vote Every Day to build a better world? How do you help other businesses and customers do the same?
Hood to Coast: The Hood and Portland To Coast Relays and HTC Race Series votes every day in choices we make, big or small, to create a better future and act as a model for others in the athletics industry by choosing to work with women-led or co-owned businesses and vendors, by creating more efficient ways to reduce waste and improve recycling on the 199-mile race course, and by reusing banners, water containers, table tarping and other equipment instead of throwing them away as others might. Additionally, we donate staff time and funds to help over 35 local nonprofit organizations.
Salt Palm Development: After becoming a B Corp in 2019, Salt Palm created the Florida For Good Movement. Salt Palm feels strongly that business leaders will help shape our future and should realize that their success is predicated on the success of their stakeholders and not just their shareholders. Salt Palm also is dedicated to the overall health and conscious development of St. Petersburg, with 95% of its expenses in 2018 going to benefit corporations, charities, and the Florida for Good program. Salt Palm also recently provided Florida for Good with the capital necessary to invest in DoneGood, a conscious online shopping platform, to help participating businesses grow and thrive so that consumers will vote with their dollars for a better future. In addition, Salt Palm uses several programs in the construction of its luxury townhomes that encourage homebuyers to lead more sustainable and mindful lives.
What does your business gain as a member of the B Corp community? Why would you encourage other businesses to join the B Corp community?
Northwest Permanente: We all strive to continuously improve, and being a B Corp helps us do just that. By participating in B Lab’s annual Inclusive Economy Challenge (IEC), we are able to look at specific areas where we can improve in ways that makes a measurable impact in our organization and in our communities. The IEC helps us identify areas where we can still make improvements and do better for our members, employees, and society.
Hood to Coast: Since Hood to Coast became a B Corp, participants and the broader community tell us they feel validated and positive in voting with their dollars for a business that makes a multifaceted effort to constantly improve in sustainability, inclusion, and upholding high standards of coverage and morale for its employees. As a B Corp, Hood To Coast has gained an embracing and positive community of B Corps that genuinely want to collaborate. In speaking with B Corp leaders, we’ve brainstormed ideas and creative problem-solving, and continually find groups within this community that truly root one another on and want to collaborate with like-minded, mission-driven businesses.
Wakami: Wakami has been certified since 2013, because we loved the B Corp values and the concept and people speaking a language and a narrative that we fully believe in. For us, it would be great to be able to connect to other B Corps looking to distribute our products. Our goal is to find corporations interested in impact procurement around light manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, so we can train the communities, get the investments needed, and connect them to the market.
Salt Palm Development: One of the key benefits Salt Palm gained as a member of the B Corp community was know-how. The B Impact Assessment reveals more ways to use business for good, and B Corp certification brings credibility and trust. Salt Palm encourages businesses to join the B Corp community for two primary reasons. The first: The future will be purpose-based, as proven by multiple studies on millennial and Generation Z consumers. If a company does not adapt to a more purpose-driven and mindful model, it may not continue to be successful. The second: Society needs business to use its power and resources for good. If a business owner or leader values clean air, a safe environment for their family, transparency, accountability, and a general fairness to all things, they should then want businesses to care about the same issues and the first step in making that a reality is by doing it with their company.
B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.
Building a Better World, Starting with the Health of Their Communities was originally published in B the Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.