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Let’s Get to Work: Takeaways from 2019 Champions Retreat
In a world filled with divisive challenges — including growing economic disparity, rapid technology changes, and a climate crisis that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable among us — working collectively toward a more inclusive and regenerative economy is crucial. The Certified B Corporation community is using business as a force for good to tackle these looming, global challenges, by recognizing the power of connections, building new systems that create benefit, and getting comfortable with uncomfortable truths.
At the 2019 Champions Retreat in Los Angeles, the B Corp community and its partners gathered to explore how to better create opportunities for all people and take sustainability to the next level. As business culture shifts toward positive impact on all stakeholders, these B Economy leaders must use innovation and collaboration to forge a new path. It’s time for B Corps to lead and build a more inclusive and regenerative economy.
“The plain truth is that capitalism needs to evolve if humanity is going to survive,” says Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario during her Tuesday evening plenary. “More than ever, business needs to step up for democracy and a civil society.”
Ready to get to work? Find ideas and inspirations from some of the speakers at this year’s Champions Retreat.
Connecting by Getting Personal
Through stories, we’re able to best make human connections and convey lessons that are important to us and valuable to others. While it can be uncomfortable to really get personal and share truly meaningful stories, that’s often what instigates the most shared progress and growth.
As part of the Champions Retreat opening session, two business leaders shared their personal story of how the B Corp community came to be an important part of their lives.
The community of Certified B Corporations are walking the walk of stakeholder capitalism. They operate with benefit corporation governance that provides the freedom to make decisions to balance profit and purpose and a way to combat short-termism.
Diana Marie Lee of B Corp Sweet Livity shared how she decided to “muster up the courage” and lean in to the B Corp community by attending her first Champions Retreat in 2017 — five years after her business was first certified. She had felt intimidated because she didn’t see others like her represented in the community at that time.
“We were all born into a sick system that socializes and conditions us and prepared us to have values and attitudes and biases and feelings that kept us disconnected from people,” she says. “Each of us in this room has some power and privilege that affords us the ability to be here. Part of this work … is telling the full story of everyone.”
For James Anderson of The Yerba Mate Co. and B Corp Guayakí, a traumatic childhood led to gang participation and, ultimately, incarceration. Through the years he has worked to help others avoid the same path and to create systems that provide opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals through his nonprofit, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.
“Businesses have an opportunity to change the lives of countless people,” he says. “We’re going to leave this room and go out into this world to create champions.”
Stepping up to the Challenge
As a longtime advocate for the environment, regenerative agriculture and social justice, Patagonia has built a large and loyal following of customers who share those values. In her Champions Retreat remarks, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario lauded B Corps at the Champions Retreat for their work so far, but challenged them to do more.
“Business as usual is not good enough anymore, and we want to lead by example,” she says. “The plain truth is that capitalism needs to evolve if humanity is going to survive. More than ever, business needs to step up for democracy and a civil society.”
In the wake of the Business Roundtable statement acknowledging that businesses have responsibilities beyond their shareholders, Marcario says B Corps must make sure these businesses follow through and “walk the talk.”
“Use your influence and your muscle as a business, and us as a community of B Corps. Your customers want it, your employees want it, and the world needs it,” she says. “Our community has a unique opportunity to lead this conversation together. It’s not only possible, it’s needed.”
Marcario issued a personal invitation as a B Corp to Jamie Dimon, Chairman of the Business Roundtable Board and Chief Executive Officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co.: “Come on in, Jamie, the water’s fine.”
Healing the Planet and Saving the World
Throughout Champions Retreat, energetic emcee Lynn Johnson of B Corp Spotlight: Girls reiterated a simple yet effective message that encapsulates the movement toward a more inclusive and regenerative economy:
“What you do to the land, you do to the people. And what you do to the people, you do to the land.”
In line with that theme, on Tuesday morning, Denise Tascherau of Fairware shared how the B Corp community is moving to take direct, public action on the climate crisis, which she called “the issue of our time.” Tascherau noted that the majority of companies in the U.S. and Canada employ fewer than 100 people, which means that small businesses collectively hold the power to create change on a social and political level.
“We own the place,” she says. “We have the power to organize and drive political change.”
To enhance the collective power of the B Corp community as it tackles the world’s biggest challenges, B Lab partnered with the United Nations Global Compact to develop a tool to track performance on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The new tool, known as the SDG Action Manager, will be launched in January 2020.
In announcing the tool Tuesday evening, Laura Velez Villa of B Lab urged B Corps to consider which of the ambitious SDGs align with their work and meet them “with equally bold and collective business action.” She challenged B Corp workers to write commitments to achieve the SDGs and take that message back to their colleagues.
“This really is a shared responsibility,” Velez Villa says. “Consider which goals your business is prepared to take meaningful action on over the next decade. If not now, when? If not the B Corp community, who?”
As part of the morning plenaries on Wednesday, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, Co-Managing Partner of Bain Capital Double Impact (Bain Capital’s impact investing strategy), shared his thoughts on the future of capitalism during a “fireside chat” with Bart Houlahan of B Lab.
Patrick, who recently became a member of B Lab’s Board of Directors, says B Corps are leaders in reshaping the economy, but plenty of work and learning remain to shift toward a system that ensures a prosperous future for all.
“If we’re going to be about long-term value, we can’t just think about the bottom line. We have to behave as if we understand multiple bottom lines,” he says. “The themes of impact investing and of the B Lab movement are pressing the economy to begin to think and behave in that way, and I want to be part of that.”
To create that change, Patrick says, it’s vital to reach out to those not already using business as a force for good and bring them into the conversations to shape a new economy.
“Sometimes we get in this loop where we think the only good being done is by the people in the room, and that everybody else is somehow less because they aren’t in the room,” he says. “You have to go outside the room to persuade people that they have a role inside the room.”
Broadening the purpose of business beyond shareholders should be the norm, Patrick says.
“We also have to get past this notion that that is actually a choice: doing well or doing good. A lot of us believe you have to trade profit for positive impact. That’s not a necessary choice in every case,” he says. “We’ve seen more consumer behavior changing to be conscious of what we buy and where we eat. Those changes drive markets.”
Collective effort is crucial for tackling the world’s pressing issues, and business must play a lead role, Patrick says.
“Everybody has a role, every single sector … in creating a future worthy of the love we have for our children and grandchildren,” he says. “We must do what we can in our time to leave things better for those who come behind us. What behavior does that then demand of us? Some of us must step into what we think is the lion’s den and try to carry that same message and create those same behaviors.”
Also on Wednesday morning, five collective action groups presented on their progress during Lightning Talks and breakout sessions. Below are short descriptions of each action group and links to find more information on how to get involved with each:
- #We the Change: Empowered womxn creating a radically inclusive and richly regenerative global economy.
- Dismantle Collective: A person-of-color-led group of Certified B Corps focused on naming, disrupting and dismantling white supremacy.
- B Corp Climate Collective: Companies committed to using advocacy, cross-sector collaboration, corporate action, and the capital markets to stop emissions and drawdown carbon for global well-being.
- B Locals: Place-based communities of leaders dedicated to engaging and connecting the local community to use business as a force for good and increasing the positive impact of the local B Economy.
- B Academics: A global community of educators and researchers working to advance the state of academic study into business as a force for good.
B Corps Leading the Way
Throughout the retreat, awards were also given to B Corps and leaders who are leading the way toward a more inclusive and regenerative economy. The 2019 B Economy Award recipients:
- Policy Champions: Paula Marshall, Bama Companies; Bernie Geiss, Cove Continuity Advisors
- Collective Voice: Athleta
- Collective Action: We the Change, Climate Collective, B Local Leaders, B Academics, Dismantle Collective
- Rookie of the Year: Jelly Marketing
- Race to the Top: Spring Bank, PRANA
- Hal Taussig Award: Diana Marie Lee of Sweet Livity
Congratulations to each of the award recipients!
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.
Harnessing the Power of Community to Create a More Inclusive and Regenerative B Economy was originally published in B the Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.