Long before any talk about becoming a B Corp, this one venture's journey all started when New Orleans-based environmentalist and industrial designer Tippy Tippens kickstarted The Bird Project in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010. Out of Louisiana clay and biodiesel glycerin — among other locally-sourced ingredients — she created a “product of poetry" no bigger than the palm of your hand. Inspired by the minimalist and modernist art she loved as a kid, Tippens’ brilliantly conceived black bird-shaped soaps contain a treasure within. “Through the daily act of washing, you will eventually free the clean, white, ceramic birds inside — potent symbols of restoration and recovery.” The product was meant to symbolize the impact of the disaster and her community’s resolve to help local ecosystems rebuild.
Structured initially as a low-profit limited liability company (L3C), within a few years Tippens’ everyday design goods business became the first benefit corporation in the state of Louisiana, and it is now on track to becoming a certified B Corporation.
The B Corp movement is a collective of more than 5,235 companies across 156 industries around the globe committed to making “business a force for good.” Earlier this year, Tippens took part in the B Impact Clinic at the University of New Hampshire — a program founded by Dr. Fiona Wilson of the University of New Hampshire's Sustainability Institute and funded by a grant from Henry David Thoreau Foundation. The Clinic charges students from across majors and disciplines to assist companies in completing the B Impact Assessment, a rigorous environmental and social impact assessment that is the first step to becoming a certified B Corp.
Over a period of four months, a handful of students serving as researchers, project managers and consultants, in conjunction with a team leader, helped Tippens complete the assessment. The experience was invaluable to her and allowed students the opportunity to “experience and influence a more socially and environmentally conscious version of capitalism,” Wilson said in her description of the clinic.
A company must score at least an 80 on the assessment in order to be certified as a B Corp. Goods That Matter received a score of 123.2 — a testament to its low-impact business model based on a number of factors. Already a B Corp in terms of business structure, Tippens is committed to ensuring diversity and racial equity in her company’s suppliers, board members, employees and partners. Products are manufactured locally in New Orleans. Recycled materials are used in all products and shipping materials. The company uses carbon neutral shipping online, and its brick and mortar shop is powered by 100 percent renewable energy. It had also contributed more than $58,000 to environmental and social causes at the time of the assessment.
Everyone starting and growing a successful business faces challenges, and committing to becoming a B Corp in a state with a top producing oil industry comes with its own unique set. Right now, Tippens feels that every single environmental and social cause she is passionate about and every nonprofit her business supports is under attack. When asked how she remains optimistic under current circumstances, she paused.
Her answer: “Nature.”
Tippens plans to spend time in nature. She will take time off to visit the ocean. Walk among the trees. Look up at the stars. And then she will get back to work.
Image credit: Goods That Matter