Author's note: this is half the reason we became a B Corp, from the perspective of Sally Hill - one of two founders. A perspective from Yvonne Lee to come.
I was sitting in a small class room in London when it really dawned on me.
I was 22, living in the UK on a working holiday visa, and had spent almost the last dollar (or pound) of my savings on a masterclass in 'Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility' with Dr Wayne Visser of Cambridge University's Institute for Sustainability Leadership and CSR International.
Until this point I had been somewhat involved in social justice issues, and even less so in environmental concerns. I had studied social science at university and had been surrounded by climate campaigners at an internship-turned-job at GetUp. But the seriousness of the situation we are in had not yet landed, for me.
In the first hour of the class, Wayne gave a presentation that, to him, would have been a pretty rudimentary crash course on the concepts of ecological limits and one planet living. At this point in time (2009) WWF had just released their first Living Planet Report telling us that we were consuming the equivalent of 1.5 planets in resources (in some countries 4 planets) and were well and truly on a trajectory toward ecological overshoot.
Through the research he walked us through, Wayne solidified the notion in my mind that climate change, while an enormous challenge, was just one symptom of a much greater problem. There were a cluster of threats to our continued existence on earth, including but not limited to: biodiversity loss, water shortage, toxicity, deforestation and overpopulation. It was at this moment that I felt - in my bones and with the full weight that this kind of realisation hits you with - that we were operating on the brink of ecological collapse.
I knew this fact would pre-occupy my thoughts until it was solved. So I decided, or rather conceded - there and then - that I would commit my working life to getting it sorted out.
I threw myself into the world of corporate sustainability, convinced that companies - who were externalising responsibility for their social and environmental impact - were at the core of this problem. I did a couple of internships while in London and landed a job at a sustainability communications agency. I've written before about the greenwashing that I witnessed during this time (thankfully not by the agency I worked for) and problem of its counter-productivity.
At the same time I worked on consumer and shareholder activism campaigns. What I saw was that companies were only willing to change when public pressure forced legislation, or when there was a perceived or real threat to their reputation and profitability. While Greenpeace have built an effective campaign strategy on the back of this knowledge, it doesn't address the root of the problem.
Later, back in Australia, I worked on market transformation with an environmental NGO who worked with big business. Again and again, I noticed that environmental NGOs were not holding companies to account for the true cost of their operations - something that I believed was their job to do. And this was the same NGOs were receiving funding from them.
On the occasions that companies were called out, they would rarely examine the source of the problem - in the core of their business operations, but would instead donate money to a non-profit or foundation to clean up their mess and clean their hands of it.
This is what Peter Buffett (son of Warren Buffett) called the 'charitable-industrial complex' - for-profit companies causing a problem with one hand, and paying to clean it up with the other.
So why is it that there is an enormous gap between the way companies behaved and what was acceptable for the environment, communities and the future of the planet? And why were charities and NGOs called in to plug the gaping hole when it could have been avoided in the first place? Why can't companies and their decision-makers operate like any reasonable human being would?
If you're reading this, you more than likely know why. If not, watch this documentary. The simple answer is that companies are not designed to behave this way. Companies and their directors are legally required to maximise profit for their shareholders, and usually in the very short term. Environmental and social costs are simply not present in their measure of profit, value or success.
This is where B Corp comes in. When we discovered the idea of a company that was protected to act in the best interest of its shareholders AND its community AND its environment, in the long term - we were smitten. Benefit Corporations are now a legally recognised entity in the majority of states in America and the B Corp movement is joined by concepts like impact investment, net positive business, true cost accounting, Conscious Capitalism, social enterprise and - to form a huge trend sweeping through the business world which some call 'positive business' or 'business with purpose'. The idea is that you cause as little harm as possible, and you compete to be not only the best in the world, but also the best for the world. Simple.
Wildwon became a certified B Corporation in June 2014 - you can read details of our certification and B Impact Report here. We believe the companies of the future will be those that solve real world challenges and add genuine value - in the form of social and natural capital - to our economy. We're excited to be part of this movement.
If you'd like to chat to us about this please don't hesitate to get in touch.