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B Corps: Changing the Capitalist Game

This post first appeared on Mosaic.

By Rosana Francescato

Years ago, I was invited to a “Monopoly” party. The hosts divided us into groups and got five or six games going. What fun, no? No! As the afternoon progressed, I noticed people getting meaner by the hour. People I thought were my friends. People who were normally nice. The game was bringing out the worst in everyone. It dawned on me that we were playing at the capitalist system, and it’s one that encourages selfishness and greed. I vowed never to play “Monopoly” again.

I only recently learned from Nation of Change that the game was created “to warn players of the dangers of free market capitalism.” Just as I thought!

But while I can avoid playing “Monopoly,” I can’t avoid being part of the capitalist system. And the dangers of that system are far more serious than hurt feelings or overturned game boards. We’ve seen capitalism widen the gap between rich and poor, ruin many in the middle class, and devastate our planet.

So what can we do? Are we stuck with this system? I can’t answer that question, but glimmers of hope are appearing, in the form of what’s being called “the new economy” -- a more sustainable one whose overriding purpose is not to grow profit. And two important parts of the new economy are Certified B Corporations and Benefit Corporations.

What are B Corps?

You may have heard both of these referred to as B Corps. But while the two are similar, they have a few important differences. In a nutshell, B-Corp is a certification given by the nonprofit B Lab, indicating that a company meets a high standard of overall social and environmental performance. This certification is available throughout the United States and around the world.

Benefit Corporation, on the other hand, is a legal status administered by the state -- so far available in 11 states, with legislation pending in 16 more. In states where both are available, a majority of B Corps have both the certification and the Benefit Corporation status.

What’s revolutionary about a Benefit Corporation is that it’s a new corporate structure that puts people and planet on equal footing with profit. That’s not just a statement of intent. It carries the legal weight of protecting a corporation from being sued by shareholders for not putting profit first -- something that traditional corporations are subject to.

Many companies, like Mosaic, have opted to become Certified B Corporations. Whether or not the company is also a Benefit Corporation, that certification means a lot. It shows that a company has achieved a certain score on the B Impact Assessment, which verifies that it’s a purpose-driven, for-benefit company. And it requires legal protections to ensure a company stays true to its mission.

Why do companies become B Corps?

Whether a company goes for B Corp or Benefit Corporation status, the benefits are many -- to both the company and the planet. Both entities bridge the gap between traditional corporations and nonprofits, providing a means of doing well while doing good.

To ensure that a company benefits not only its bottom line but also people and planet, both Benefit Corporations and Certified B Corporations are required to consider the effect of their decisions on employees, the community, and the environment. And both must report their social and environmental performance according to a third-party standard.

As even traditional companies know by now, these days that can attract customers and investors, not to mention engaged employees. And the credibility conferred by B Corp status can protect a company from charges of greenwashing.

But companies that become B Corps are doing much more than all this. In voluntarily submitting to high standards of transparency and accountability, they are becoming leaders in a movement to redefine success in business. They are changing the capitalist game.

A new game

The Nation of Change article concludes that we’ve reached the endgame of capitalism and it’s time to start playing a new game. But it’s easier to overturn a gameboard than an entire economic system. And that’s the beauty of B Corps. Instead of overturning the system, they are revolutionizing and transforming it, one company at a time -- to the tune of over 600 companies so far, including well-known names like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s.

Unlike “Monopoly,” the B Corp game leaves room for more than one winner. And the best thing about B Corps is that whereas traditional corporations are beholden to shareholders, B Corps serve all stakeholders and allow us all to come out ahead. That includes me. It includes you. And it includes our home, this planet.

Rosana Francescato combines her passions for solar power and community as a community solar advocate. This began with her quest to install solar on her San Francisco condo complex and has evolved into blogging and solar analysis. She’s a member of the Local Clean Energy Alliance steering committee and has hands-on experience installing solar with GRID Alternatives, where she’s been the top individual fundraiser three years in a row. She’s excited about new ways for the 75% to participate in solar and has invested in several Mosaic projects.

3p Contributor

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