Embracing the B Corp Movement: Striving for Excellence in Corporate Citizenship. From the extractive to the regenerative business models

By Adriano Izzo, Civil lawyer and President of the Gennaro Santilli Foundation

There are ideas that can help make our planet a better place, stimulating critical thinking and triggering the virtuous lever of change.

In 2006, three former students of Stanford University, Andrew Kassoy, Bart Houlahan and Coen Gilbert, shared a vision of the for-profit sector which has a clear revolutionary intent in its DNA: to use business as a driving force to generate a positive impact both at the environmental and social level.
The transition from idea to facts is fast and the effects are disruptive.
Thanks to their innovative intuition, B Lab was born. A non-profit organization that supports the growth of a community of businesses with the primary objective of building a more inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy. The B Corp certification was born, as a tangible proof of the company’s real commitment to the environment and the society.
The concept of B Corp is attributable to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), because B Corp companies choose to implement the typical principles of CSR and, therefore, to consider their impact on society and the environment as a priority factor as much as the creation of profit.
The goal of the B Corp movement is so simple that it seems utopian: to spread throughout the world a pragmatic approach to evaluating the environmental and social results of companies; induce companies to place social benefits, workers’ rights, community impact and environmental management on the same level as financial shareholders.

Obtaining the B Corp certification, issued by the B Lab organization, means receiving a benchmark of your environmental and social performance compared to other companies.
Certification applies to the entire company, including all product or service lines and all business areas, and any company is potentially eligible for certification. It is a powerful tool for building credibility, trust and value for a specific company’s business.
The paradigm shift is radical.
From the idea of an extractive business, which takes more social, environmental and economic value from stakeholders and the territory than it produces, we move on to the regenerative business model, which gives back to society and the planet more than it has taken.
A logical corollary of this systemic change is the birth of virtuous competition between companies, which responds to the demands of a market increasingly sensitive to environmental and social problems and favors a total rethinking of the way of doing business.

The B Corp movement born in the United States has seen continuous growth over time. Today the spread of for-benefit businesses has gone beyond American borders, recording ever-increasing success around the world.

The first nation after the United States to introduce this new type of company was Italy, in 2016, being the first in Europe to implement a business vision resistant to the idea of creating profit as the only tool for measuring corporate success.

The art. 1, paragraph 376, of Law no. 208/2015 establishes that the Benefit Company in the exercise of an economic activity, “in addition” to the profit-making or mutualistic purpose, “also” pursues one or more purposes of common benefit to be indicated in its corporate purpose, operating in a responsible, sustainable manner and transparent towards all stakeholders.

The diffusion of this model in Italy demonstrates the foresight of its legislator and, above all, confirms the crucial role played by small and medium-sized enterprises which are firmly rooted in the territory and, therefore, physiologically inclined to have greater social and environmental awareness in their policies.

A clarification not only of a terminological nature but also of substance.

We often tend to confuse Benefit Corporations with B Corp, as if they were two different terms to indicate the same entity.

In reality, the Benefit Corporation is a legal form legally recognized in some countries. B Corp, on the other hand, is a certification obtained by companies that undergo the B Impact Assessment. Not all certified B Corp companies are legally recognized as Benefit Corporations and vice versa.

An example of a Benefit Company that is also a B Corp is Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company that has always been committed to environmental protection.

The extreme and revolutionary gesture of its founder, Yvon Chouinard, to sell the entire property to two new non-profit entities, Patagonia Purpose Trust and Holdfast Collective, to combat climate change and protect the planet, demonstrates that the wind is changing and that, above all, it can change.

“Make business a force for good” is no longer a simple slogan. Now there are the cultural, political and legislative conditions to really make a difference. And look to the future of our planet with more optimism.

Photo source: by Adriano Izzo

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