On Thursday, February 20th, the Social Enterprise Institute hosted Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab for its February lecture series event. B Lab is a non-profit organization that certifies companies meeting rigorous social, environmental, and transparency standards. These companies are termed B Corporations, and include well-known, socially responsible brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Warby Parker.
Gilbert began by discussing his entrance into entrepreneurship through his first company AND1, a basketball footwear and apparel company, also famous for street ball and mix tapes. Gilbert noted that AND1 was successful because the brand stood for something authentic, and the fact that its customers could identify with the lifestyle it represented gave it power in the marketplace.
Gilbert later spoke about discovering the potential for business to be used as an agent for change through AND1. With this in mind, he co-founded B Lab in 2006. To date it has certified almost 1,000 companies in varying industries across 32 countries.
A big generational change, he mentioned is that millennials care more about integrating our passions with our workplace; young people that want to make money and make a difference. Gilbert referred to the pairing of these dual motives “profit with purpose.”
“Capitalism is the most powerful force on the planet, but today there is an evolution taking place for what is means to be a capitalist,” said Gilbert. “We now aim to maximize shared value, not just shareholder return.”
The lack of social or environrmental standards in capitalist economies is now at odds with a consumer base that increasingly values sustainabile and socially responsible business practices. Gilbert cited this paradox as motivation for why B Lab created the B Impact Assessment, a standardized measurement tool that analyzes a company’s corporate practices and generates a score based on their performance. Companies that surpass a particular benchmark score on this assessment can obtain B Corporation certification. Because this assessment is based on measurable data, B Corps can be analyzed and compared to other companies and are proven to be more durable, offer higher quality jobs, and do more to improve their communities.
B Lab has also been responsible for sparking the Benefit Corporation movement, a legal initiative that offers businesses an alternative form of incorporation that allows them to consider all stakeholders in business decisions, rather than merely maximize shareholder return. So far, this legislation has passed in 20 states, including Delaware, with more on the way.
Gilbert concluded by discussing the power for creating change that B Corps have together, which none of them would have alone. Together they stand for a new generation of business, and become a marketing machine with a reach of over 25 million consumers and employees worldwide that have the potential to completely redefine business.