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Certification Creates Opportunities and Helps Attract Talent, Customers and Investor Interest
By Jon Tse, co-founder of Karst Stone Paper
Growing up in the ’90s and seeing movies like Wall Street, Boiler Room and Glengarry Glen Ross, I picked up the message that the only way to get ahead in business was to trample over someone else. Years later, Mark Zuckerberg’s mantra of “move fast and break things” has mutated into a culture of “ask for forgiveness, not permission” for many businesses.
But I believe that time is long over. We need an alternative framework for building businesses that won’t result in PR nightmares years down the line. And I think Certified B Corporations provide that framework by following responsible businesses practices that prime growth and, more importantly, longevity.
My co-founder (Kevin Garcia) and I initially shared a vision of building a successful company that provides a unique product that respects its employees, customers, and the environment, so the fit for B Corp was naturally there.
However, as we progressed through the assessment, I learned a lot about where we were falling behind. I didn’t even think to consider things like supplier ownership diversity or impact reporting. If there’s a four-hour MBA, this was close to it.
Initially, I thought B Corp would be a great way to show potential customers the viability of our product. But as we progressed through the certification process, I realised the B Corp framework is also a great test for making sure your business idea is worth pursuing in the first place. Monitoring the five areas of performance (workers, environment, community, governance and customers) guarantees your business is healthy and primed for growth, and the shared community of B Corps can help jump-start success by providing a network of vetted potential partners.
Karst Stone Paper is part of the community of businesses that have used a third-party verification of their impact. Use the free B Impact Assessment to evaluate your company’s impact on all stakeholders, including the environment, your workers, your community and your customers.
Startups, in particular, should grow with B Corp in mind even if they don’t yet have the resources to apply for the certification. As Richard Branson said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
This is a little bit how I like to think about B Corp certification with Karst Stone Paper. By redefining success in business, you take care of the people, planet and the community around which your company revolves. The business will be able to open doors and opportunities that would not be possible had the focus been purely on finances and profit.
When we launched Karst Stone Paper, the last thing on our minds was the idea of committing to a comprehensive and rigorous program like the B Corp certification, especially when we hadn’t even acquired our first customer. In those first stages of growth at breakneck speed — while everything around you is also breaking — it’s hard to see the big picture and tempting to cut corners. But when you first have an idea to start a company or brand, it’s motivated by a larger picture or vision of what the idea could become. B Corp helps you define your values while getting there.
Karst Stone Paper’s management team members have been positively impacted on a day-to-day basis in our decision-making through our journey toward and after certification. We are now investing a lot more time and resources into R&D for things beyond our products, such as packaging. It is important for us to not just look at the financial costs of packaging, but also take into consideration whether packaging materials are photodegradable, biodegradable or recyclable, and the impact of their carbon footprint. This is something we will look to implement so the entire process from start to finish of creating our products and getting them in the hands of our customers is as eco-friendly as possible. (Stay tuned for some exciting announcements in 2020!)
Furthermore, our company culture has evolved a lot around B Corp. The idea that as a company we can be young, disruptive and ambitious but also instilled with the idea of sustainability, transparency and respect for the planet has greatly motivated the team. This unifying passion has really helped the company attract talented hires who want to be part of a greater movement and a new way of doing things. I was at a dinner party the other day where we spoke of the fact that it is no longer sufficient to be a big company with a well-known logo to attract the best hires — there increasingly needs to be a higher purpose and overarching mission. The top candidates want something more to believe in. I read that four to five great people cannot create a unicorn (billion-dollar company), but four to five great people can hire talented people who can together do this.
We were recently part of a startup competition, and of the 400 companies that applied, I think we might have been the only B Corp in the room. This helped us to stand out immediately from the rest of the cohort, particularly with investors and potential partners. While there is no guarantee for commercial benefits with certification, it is undeniable it has made it easier for us to attract top talent, customers and investor interest through becoming a B Corp. If we can do it, other startups can do it too.
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.