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A New Era of Politicized Capitalism?

By 3p Contributor

By Melissa Schweyer

About a month and a half ago, the founders of B Lab — Andrew Kassoy, Bart Houlahan and Jay Coen Gilbert — published an open letter calling on all businesses to act as a force for good.

Founded in 2006, B Lab is a nonprofit organization, committed to a vision where businesses not only compete to be the best in the world, but also the best for the world. Most commonly, B Lab is known for driving systemic change with the certification of B Corporations.

In one of the first few paragraphs of the letter, the three co-founders declared their claims as nonpartisan, stating: “We speak now not to one political party, or one niche group.” They explained the urgency of their call to action based on the “current environment of rising insecurity, fear, hate speech and violence, and the absence of trust in our economic system.” Their open letter came just weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Regardless of how nonpartisan this open letter was intended, the response from one B Corporation has been loud and clear:

“[We’ll] never, ever stop doing the right thing and being a force for good. Never,” said Emily Lonigro Boylan, president of LimeRed Studio.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Emily Lonigro Boylan, president of LimeRed Studio, a creative services company that works with organizations that inspire positive change. Not only is the company B Corp certified, but it's also Certified woman-owned and it's the only UX agency in the United States with both certifications.

LimeRed also happens to be located in Chicago, a city that receives a lot of attention from the new president. The city is no stranger to Mr. Donald Trump’s tweets and the folks over at LimeRed are unwavering in their commitment to their local community, their colleagues and their clients, many of whom live and work in Chicago.

In many ways, Mr. Donald Trump’s entry into the White House has made this B Corp more politicized than ever.

Like hundreds of thousands of folks around the world, many of LimeRed’s employees participated in the Women’s March in the city of Chicago on Jan. 21, held just one day after the president’s inauguration. Beyond showcasing solidarity with the women’s movement, LimeRed puts its words and ideals into action. And the company does so by engaging in grassroots initiatives that work to strengthen its city.

The company works in partnership with a local nonprofit called I Grow Chicago, an organization that runs a Peace House, on the southwest side of town, in the Englewood neighborhood. I Grow Chicago aims to provide a safe, intergenerational haven to children and at-risk community members through sustainable farming as well as educational programs in nutrition, movement yoga and the arts. Each month, LimeRed collects and donates various supplies in support of the cause.

Authentic and meaningful employee engagement is also very important to LimeRed, which is why the company also offers many employee benefits and opportunities to its staff members. Some of these benefits include a child-friendly workplace, paid family leave, health care and a culture that values listening and learning. Beyond these benefits, Boylan said LimeRed also provides “a creative and fun environment, [with] a million days off…”

LimeRed isn’t the only company with benefits that exude a political stance.

Starbucks recently shared a message from its CEO, Howard Schultz, who not only committed to hiring refugees during these “uncertain times,” but also promised to ensure that staff with benefits always have access to health care while employees at Starbucks. The possibility of losing health benefits offered through Obamacare is an ongoing concern for many Americans, including Starbucks employees, though tensions eased last week when Mr. Donald Trump failed to repeal the healthcare law.

With a work culture invested in business with purpose, similar to that of Starbucks, combined with a new administration that’s making a lot of drastic changes, LimeRed’s Boylan admits she and her colleagues "can't help but talk about politics all day.” And their conversations go well beyond water cooler chitchat. LimeRed Studio’s prioritizes making time during business hours to call representatives and actively engage on social media with its reps and Alderman.

Looking a bit more front-facing, LimeRed also participates in a myriad of activities in partnership with its clients, many of whom seek to create positive change, regardless of who’s leading the country. Working alongside clients, LimeRed is designing a program to break down barriers for women in leadership, it's rebuilding a feminist publishing platform, it's communicating the benefits of arts in local communities and it's promoting a campaign to help neighborhood schools.

Similar to LimeRed’s politicized client-facing work, Eco Promotional Products is also providing benefit to its customers in the wake of a new administration. With a full-line of environmental and socially responsible promotional products, Eco Promotional Products has created a new line of branded items tailored specifically for this year’s March for Science, taking place on Earth Day. According to the March for Science website, the march is in direct response to “recent policy changes [that] have caused heightened worry among scientists.”

Though companies like Starbucks, Eco Promotional Products and LimeRed have been engaged in purposeful business for a long time, their impact has taken on an ever-growing politicized stance. And many of the initiatives these companies have been implementing for years would have historically been labelled as “corporate social responsibility,” but increasingly, such actions carry a political connotation.

Whether companies like it or not, they may have to adapt to a new way of doing business, skirting the line between a politicized mandate and one that also aims to ensure a nonpartisan position. Time will tell how purpose-driven companies will adapt to this newly evolving landscape.

Image credit: Kayle Kaupanger, Unsplash

Melissa Schweyer is a writer, people-person and change-maker with six years of progressive work experience in the not-for-profit sector. Most recently, she’s teamed up with Habitat for Humanity Hamilton, utilizing many of her past experiences to help break the cycle of poverty in Hamilton, Canada. A CSR enthusiast at heart, Melissa also manages a blog, www.csrtist.com, where she shares her thoughts, ideas and new ways of thinking about corporations and how they can make a positive impact on our world. In her spare time, you’ll most likely find her enjoying cheese and wine, planning her next travel adventure or writing.

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