Since the B Corporation movement’s inception a few years ago, policy makers are closer to giving businesses the option to create an organization that can be profitable and do good: currently the stark choice is to be solely a corporation or a non-profit. The work and advocacy by B Lab, the organization behind B Corporations, is paying off: California is among several states that will allow organizations to file as an “H-Corp,” allowing companies to function as a hybrid for-profit/non-profit entity. B Lab’s success speaks for itself: its registry includes over 300 companies, which together reach annual sales of over $1 billion.
Now, with the additional support of Intuit, B Lab is giving local businesses an opportunity to assess their overall sustainability. Meanwhile, the Intuit-B Lab partnership is offering these businesses’ customers the chance to nominate them for at the very least, free advertising, and for the one judged as the most exemplar, a grant totaling $30,000.
Through a 10-question survey, The Local Hero Challenge engages business owners in determining how they are making a positive impact on their communities. Measuring the 5 attributes most important to B Corporations (environment, consumers, community, employees and accountability), the survey ranks these businesses from Scout (heading in the right direction) to Local Hero (the highest score, i.e., a business that leads in solving social and environmental issues).
Customers can also give their favorite local stores and businesses, with the standout organization winning a $30,000 small business grant from Intuit. On Intuit’s Love a Local Business page, you can search for a business, then write a a brief 250-character comment on why this organization deserves your praise. The more votes a business snares, the more chances it has at winning a $5000 grant during April, May, and June. The process is brazenly simple: I couldn’t restrain myself from nominating Scoop’s, a small L.A. ice cream store that serves up the freshest, richest soy-based desserts that make a cynical lacto-omnivore like me a happy convert. Not only is its offering of exotic flavors churned and changed daily, the company aggressively recycles plastic utensils, and has had a role in reviving the urban hipster neighborhood, “Hel/Mel.”
But beyond the cash, prizes and praise, this partnership between Intuit and B Lab has a critical long-term purpose: that the data from what is hoped to be thousands of participating businesses can be analyzed, resulting in a report that will gauge the current state of smalls businesses and sustainability. In an e-mail exchange with me, Rupesh Shah, Intuit’s Director of Sustainability, wrote:
We know that small businesses play a key role in supporting their local communities, so we wanted to help give voice to their efforts. The Local Hero Challenge gives small business owners the opportunity to not only assess the sustainability of their business practices and learn ways to continually improve, but also promote the positive impact they make on their communities.
We hear a lot about large corporations’ drive to become more sustainable; some of it is genuine, too much of it is crass greenwashing. So Intuit and B Lab are onto something: by matching the feedback of small businesses and their customers, we can learn a lot more of what it means to be a “sustainable” business. The vast majority of firms have less than 100 employees, and they do not have the time or capacity to put up a vivid sustainability web page on their site nor will they publish a CSR report . . . or pamphlet. Let’s hope this venture succeeds this summer: we all could learn a lot.