Trying to address issues such as income disparity, climate change and racial injustice, not to mention the economic disruption the whole world is facing in varying degrees because of the pandemic, brings all sorts of wildcards into the operation of any kind of business, whether you’re running a design studio or a financial institution.
If, as a business leader, one makes a conscious decision to remain oblivious to all those issues, then you are on your own and if there is any justice in the world, your business will not succeed.
On the other hand, stressed out, over-worked conscientious folks who run businesses may be at a loss as to what actions they could possibly take.
As a way to address those and other issues that could have a positive impact on the world, Andrew Boardman, the founder and CEO of the Winnipeg web design and brand identity firm, Manoverboard Inc., suggests taking the B Corp assessment exercise.
As the San Francisco-based social enterprise says on its website, "Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balance purpose and profit."
Manoverboard and Assiniboine Credit Union (ACU), two of seven Manitoba companies that have achieved B Corp certification, were recently recognized as "best for the world" by B Corp after achieving scores in the top five per cent of the 4,000 B Corp certified companies and organizations from around the world in specific categories.
Boardman and Suzanne Braun, the managing director of Relish, another Winnipeg certified B Corp, have formed a Manitoba B Corp local, looking to recruit other Manitoba companies to the movement.
Manoverboard was the first Manitoba company to become a B Corp in 2012. Boardman, an eastern seaboard transplant to Winnipeg in 2005, was drawn to the B Corp model because of a fundamental desire to have a positive impact on the world.
"I had a dream back in 2012-13 that we would have many, many more B Corps in the province," he said. "It is starting to come to fruition, so that’s pretty cool."
Brendan Reimer, who heads ACU’s values-based banking, said the recognition is an affirmation of what the credit union is doing.
Among other things, ACU is known as the financial institution that goes into neighbourhoods that have been abandoned by other banks and it has been recognized often for its work in supporting low-income Manitobans.
But Reimer said, "One of the things you realize in completing the B Corp assessment is that there are areas you really do well in, in the terms of how they assess being a purpose-driven company, but you realize there are more opportunities to grow and evolve your business model to continue to have an even greater impact."
Boardman believes the B Corp model — which, he admits, involves rigorous documentation and a significant time commitment — is worth the effort, as opposed to unilaterally undertaking a virtuous approach to business.
"I think what is beautiful about the certification is that it provides proof, social and business proof, that the business is walking the walk and talking the talk," he said.
For instance, Manoverboard does work for academic institutions including University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg and Red River College, all of whom take social responsibility seriously.
"From a procurement standpoint, it makes their lives a little bit easier knowing that we have gone through the process," Boardman said.
The marketplace is complicated enough and many business leaders may not feel they have the resources to be able to make the most globally conscientious decisions about every element of their business.
Companies want to make sustainable and responsible choices, like when purchasing business services, and if they can have some certainty about the sustainability or social responsibility bona fides of a supplier, all the better.
"The B Corp certification just shows in a very concrete form some assurance that this company is doing good," Boardman said.
There are only a couple of hundred Canadian companies and only seven certified Manitoba companies — the Manitoba local includes three other companies that have a Manitoba footprint but are based elsewhere — but there is some momentum building.
(The other Manitoba members of the club as well as Manoverboard, ACU and Relish, are Momenta, Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, Frontiers North and Mondetta.)
Boardman uses the term "not-only-for-profits" as one way to characterize B Corp companies. The point is that most of the organizations are traditional "for-profit" enterprises and gaining certification can be extremely valuable for business development purposes.
"One of the big unheralded aspects of becoming a B Corp is the networking possibility and the community that has evolved," he said.
Granted, gaining B Corp certification would be a challenging proposition for a struggling company, large or small and it’s likely a road that can be taken only when the time is right. But Boardman said it has helped him grow his five person company because, among other things, it’s a designation that shows it is a substantially different and interesting company to other companies and organizations around the world.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.