Another look at the benefits of B Corp certification

To view the original post on LNP, click here.

An article in the March 29 edition of LNP highlighted the reasons why local businesses have not chosen B Corporation certification — a type of outside verification of socially and environmentally friendly business practices — or to register as a benefit corporation — a legal registration allowing companies to make business decisions with the whole community in mind, rather than maximizing profits for the shareholders at all costs.

At ASSETS, we take a much more positive view on the value proposition and potential impact of B Corp certification than was posited in the article.

While there are certainly risks and extra effort required to achieve the certification or to register as a benefit corporation, we are of the strong belief that those efforts are very much worth it.

Here’s why:

To begin, we operate under the assumption that “business as usual” simply is not enough.

Nationwide, inequality continues to grow and wages remain stagnant. Closer to home, Lancaster city has a rapidly growing poverty rate with 60 percent of the population living in economic distress, a budding housing crisis, and a shortage of skilled workers in many industries.

Traditionally, government and nonprofits are tasked with addressing these issues. While necessary, the public sector is simply insufficient to address these challenges.

In order to reverse these trends, we have no choice but for the private sector to take a hard look at its “traditional” practices and determine how they have, perhaps, contributed to these problems, and consider how they can be a bigger part of the solution.

To put things in perspective, in 2014, Americans gave $360 billion to charity but we spent an almost equal amount, $341 billion, in restaurants alone.

What if just a portion of that spending went to companies that were more socially responsible? This shift is already underway nationally, especially in some East and West Coast cities, and among a younger generation of business leadership. But it has yet to fully take hold here.

The time is now for Lancaster-based businesses to become leaders in this growing, powerful movement to use business as a force for good in our community. The B Corp certification is the best tool to achieve this lofty goal and celebrate businesses that do so.

The B Corp assessment process highlights business practices which intentionally build up the economic and social fabric of our society. The certification is rigorous, yes, as it should be. However, if a company can meet the requirements, then consumers can be sure that their money is going to make our community stronger.

Examples of business practices that pass muster with B Corp include: livable wages paid to employees, employee ownership, underrepresented people in leadership and governance, intentional hiring practices that seek out vulnerable populations, environmentally sustainable supply chains and local supplier preferences.

It is important to highlight that, despite the effort involved in initial certification, B Corps have proven beneficial not just to the community, but to the financial bottom line as well.

Improved environmental, social and governance practices reduce financial risk due to higher visibility, greater competitive advantage, and access to new sources of capital.

Businesses with these values and practices also have greater luck attracting and retaining a talented workforce. In a community such as Lancaster with a labor shortage, movement toward B Corp certification could be a key employment strategy.

After all, millennials comprise more than 50 percent of the workforce, and 88 percent of them say money is not the best measure of success. In fact, they’d rather take a lower-paid job with meaning.

Lastly, B Corps tend to be more resilient. During the financial crisis, B Corps were 64 percent more likely to survive than traditional businesses.

In the end, the most valuable outcome of more businesses pursuing B Corp certification may not be from an increased number of business that actually meet the rigorous standards and achieve certification.

The true benefit likely will come from an even greater number of businesses taking the assessment and identifying the myriad of areas in which they can improve their practices.

Most businesses will not achieve certification on the first or second attempt — the bar is set too high.

However, each business that takes the assessment will be able to compare with other businesses around the country and identify clear areas for improvement.

As more businesses improve their social and environmental practices, we all win. As businesses begin to measure social and environmental performance with the same rigor that they measure financial performance, they will have the ability and the impetus to improve their performance on those measures.

The business community knows better than most that we can’t count on government to fix our problems, which in many ways are getting worse, and unfortunately even our greatest charitable generosity can’t fix it alone.

But there is a path where business can be a bigger part of the solution and help the bottom line at the same time —this is true business excellence.

Over a generation, this will redefine success in business, to include not only financial gain, but also successful business practices that help alleviate poverty, rebuild communities, preserve the environment and create great places to work.

Financial metrics won’t be the only way we evaluate success.

Jonathan Coleman and Jessica King work for Assets, a Lancaster-based nonprofit that works to create economic opportunity and cultivate entrepreneurial leadership in order to alleviate poverty and build vibrant, sustainable communities. For more information about B Corps, visit assetspa.org.

Why this Lancaster business owner seeks a positive social impact

To view the original post by Lenay Ruhl on CPBJ, click here.

Sophie Stargazer Boutique owner Kristin Snyder keeps an eye on where and how her boutique items are made.
Sophie Stargazer Boutique owner Kristin Snyder keeps an eye on where and how her boutique items are made.

Kristin Snyder said she has always focused on eco-friendly, American-made fashion, but the owner of Sophie Stargazer Boutique LLC is becoming even more aware of where and how the items she sells are being made.

Snyder opened her women’s designer fashion boutique in 2013 on East King Street in downtown Lancaster. The store has recently started to integrate local brands whose origins match what she wants to see on the shelves.

“I’ve brought in more ethically made brands and learned more about what that means,” Snyder said.

The boutique carries many brands that are centered on helping groups of people – from shoe-makers in the Guatemalan slum of La Limonada to jewelry-making women who are escaping homelessness in Lancaster.

In a roundabout way, the boutique is transitioning to what could be considered a social-enterprise business model by providing a place for established social enterprises to sell their products.

A social enterprise is a business that aims to have some sort of positive social or environmental impact, or a for-profit or nonprofit business that uses the power of the marketplace to address social issues.

Each year, ASSETS Lancaster and the Lancaster County Community Foundation host a business plan competition for social enterprise ideas. Applications for the 2016 Great Social Enterprise Pitch are due today (April 11).

Snyder has applied. If her boutique is one of the 10 enterprises selected, she will go on to participate in weekly classes, have the opportunity to generate funding through public donations and participate in a live pitch event, where winners receive cash and pro bono services.

Snyder shared a few reasons why she is interested in the Social Enterprise Pitch.

A CHANGING MISSION

Snyder’s business plan is changing.

“I’m looking to add more ethically made brands, which obviously costs a little bit more,” Snyder said.

Since this wasn’t part of her initial business plan, she needs to refine her model to reflect her additional mission.

Snyder, who went to fashion school in Philadelphia, wrote her first business plan when she was in middle school. Since then, she’s worked with business mentoring programs such as SCORE, to help grow her boutique.

Officials from the U.S. Small Business Administration visited her boutique in 2015 to encourage people to shop at women-owned businesses.

EXPANDING BEYOND CONSIGNMENT

Today, the boutique is carrying most of its ethically made pieces only on consignment, since it wasn’t in the original budget.

On consignment means that the boutique allows the maker to sell the items there, and the boutique pays the maker once the item sells, instead of buying items in advance.

Snyder’s goal is to get to a point that she can buy upfront from local artists so that they can produce more.

She hopes that selling their products at her boutique will give them a platform for their own businesses to grow.

COMMUNITY

Snyder grew up in Lancaster City, and although she left home to go to college in Philadelphia and also lived in Hawaii for three years, she cares about the community.

She could have opened her shop in a larger city, but seeing all of the growth in Lancaster, she decided to stay.

“I love being able to give back to the area that I grew up in,” Snyder said.

Vegan-friendly businesses ‘expand the circle of compassion’ in Lancaster

To view the original post by Vance Lehmkuhl on philly.com, click here.

Development chief Ross Martin-Wells (left) and head chef Rafaed Pozzi of Lancaster's Rijuice show off some of the company's "life in a bottle." ((Vance Lehmkuhl / Staff))
Development chief Ross Martin-Wells (left) and head chef Rafaed Pozzi of Lancaster’s Rijuice show off some of the company’s “life in a bottle.” 

WITH ITS CHARMING contrast of redbrick buildings and white cherry-tree blossoms, Lancaster is a beautiful place to be right now. It’s also an exciting place for those interested in animal-free foods.

This traditionally meat-and-dairy-based region is now on the vegan-friendly map, thanks to some forward-looking companies and a growing demand for their foods.

Recently, I checked in with four such businesses while noting other vegan options (see sidebar) for Philadelphians who might want to venture west for a day or weekend. And there was a common thread of looking beyond the plate to the health of the larger community.

This was no surprise at our first stop, The Seed (52 N. Queen St.), a worker-owned “Community Space / Vege Cafe” founded in 2012 in the aftermath of Occupy Lancaster.

“Organizers didn’t have a safe space that was progressively minded,” explained Drew Garza, who was working the counter when I stopped in. “Lancaster didn’t really have much in the way of vegan and vegetarian options.”

The Seed hosts music and arts events and get-togethers of like-minded groups, serving as what Garza calls “a progressively minded community for traditionally marginalized folks. Our goal is to expand the circle of compassion.”

Though there are some menu items with eggs or dairy, “everything . . . can be made vegan.”

As a worker-owned collective, The Seed is “anti-profit,” a phrase on its table cards. So what happens with surplus income? “Everyone has an equal share in what we do,” said Garza. “Then we fold any operating profits back into the space and into the community.”

Profits and options

Across town at Lancaster Food Co. (341 Liberty St.), cofounder Craig Lauer struck a seemingly different note: “We’re a for-profit company. We are out to gain market share.”

The company’s product line is breads but includes maple syrups and seasonal spreads, including seed butters and jams. All ingredients are certified organic, and, Lauer said, “We didn’t feel a compelling need for dairy or eggs,” so those are excluded “not from a philosophical point of view, but to give people options.”

Giving people options is the flip side of the for-profit comment, as the company pays entry-level employees $14 an hour and has a commitment to get “returning citizens,” or ex-offenders, back into the workforce.

COO Polly Lauer, Craig’s wife, said she recruits from agencies that provide “job-readiness training to people reentering mainstream employment.” A large part of the two-year-old company’s mission is to “hire people out of poverty into thriving-wage jobs.” Company cofounder and CEO Charlie Crystle, a livable-wage crusader, was a guest at Gov. Wolf’s March 7 signing of the executive order to raise the statewide minimum wage by nearly $3 an hour. There’s also an employee stock-ownership plan.

Juicing the system

While LFC concentrates on putting bread into people’s hands, a nearby outfit works to juice the system with locally sourced fruits and vegetables. Rijuice (rijuice.com) packs a pound of Lancaster County produce into each 8-ounce bottle for a tasty nutrition boost pitched as “life in a bottle.”

“We want to make this area the Silicon Valley of food,” said development chief Ross Martin-Wells. Rijuice supplements its regular line of six flavor combinations with specials keyed to local, seasonal produce. Rijuice produces both raw and high-pressure-pasteurized drinks, which allows wholesale and retail distribution.

Martin-Wells described a business model with three pillars: supporting small-scale family farms, training people reentering the workforce to work, and getting the vitamin-packed juices to people in underserved communities.

“It’s definitely a social-enterprise mission,” he said, adding that the company aims to “drive as many jobs as possible” via partnerships with organizations such as the Lancaster County Re-entry Management Organization and Assets Lancaster.

Rijuice is currently available in 38 locations, including Lancaster’s Central Market and Green Aisle Groceries in Philadelphia. Martin-Wells said Rijuice founder Cullen Farrell was scouting Philly for a potential storefront – and the team is open to suggestions from Philadelphians.

The vegan pub

Just a few blocks from Rijuice, another kind of drinking establishment is garnering local buzz – a newly opened vegan (December 2015) bar and grill called Root (223 W. Walnut St.).

Owner Rob Garpstas “saw a need for a place like this” in Lancaster. “You had The Seed, but they don’t have a liquor license.”

After going vegan six years ago at his daughter’s behest, Garpstas deployed his skills as a chef and restaurant entrepreneur to open the laid-back, no-frills watering hole with “pub-style food,” beers, and wines that are animal-free.

The food is familiar but with some interesting spins. The maple-glazed tofu with bok choy was good, and the off-kilter banh mi pizza worked, especially when paired with a nice red vegan wine. (Aren’t all beers and wines vegan, you ask? No. Some are clarified with ingredients made from fish bladders or other animal products. Guinness just made headlines by announcing it is dropping the practice and will soon be a vegan product.)

“We’ve gotten a big response, better than we expected” general manager Chase Peterson said.

In a Philly-friendly move, next week’s menu (new items are swapped in every month or so) will introduce a vegan cheesesteak.

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 15-year vegan. “V for Veg” chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia.  VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.