B Lab Envisions a Global Culture Shift

Co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert outlined B Lab’s strategy to grow “a global movement of people using business as a force for good” when he spoke on campus as a Leader in Sustainable Global Enterprise.

by Giorgi Tsintsadze ’17

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After graduating from Stanford in 1989, Jay Coen Gilbert founded a sports apparel brand, AND 1, and served as its CEO for more than a decade, overseeing the growth of his startup into a $250M company. Today, Gilbert applies his entrepreneurial expertise as a co-founder of B Lab, a nonprofit organization that serves “a global movement of people using business as a force for good.” To become a Certified B Corporation, a business must thoroughly evaluate its corporate practices in triple bottom line terms — consideration of the environmental, societal, and economic impacts of businesses on a global level. Further, as B Lab’s website states, a Certified B Corporation must “meet the highest standards of verified, overall social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems.” More than 1,900 businesses have successfully completed the process and B Corporations can now be found across 130 industries in 50 countries around the planet. Change.org, Breckinridge Capital Advisors, and Ben & Jerry’s are a few examples of well-known B Corps.

Gilbert spoke to students at Sage Hall on Oct. 24 as a guest speaker for Leaders in Sustainable Global Enterprise, a speaker series hosted by the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and led by Mark Milstein, director of the center and clinical professor of management and organizations

“We are at a critical moment,” Gilbert said in his introduction. Pointing to the turbulent political landscape throughout the world and looming ecological threats, Gilbert expressed his fear that social and environmental crises are eroding public trust in the market forces. At this “critical point in history,” Gilbert went on, “what we need is a fundamental rethinking of the way we do business.” He suggested that, like all comprehensive social changes in history, this shift will require both the recognition of systemic failures and the existence of viable alternatives, adding that B Lab is committed to acting on both fronts.

B Lab works across the board, adopting a holistic strategy and targeting not only the supply side of the market but also the consumer and regulatory dimensions in order to bring about the change it deems necessary. Certification is only the first step in creating an impact chain that includes building a pioneering B Corps community that others will emulate and aspire to join. “Not all companies will be B Corps,” Cohen said, “but B Corps will be the new North Star that others will orient themselves to.” B Lab works closely with B Corps to develop effective storytelling strategies via B the Change Media and better inform consumers around the world about how they are using business as a force for good in the world.

At the same time, B Lab helps businesses and institutions develop new ways to measure and improve their businesses’ positive impact on the environment, their workers, and their community via B Impact Assessments, a guided process. B Analytics, a digital platform, further equips businesses with interactive tools that help to integrate and interpret data collected and compiled in the B Impact Assessment. Together, B Impact Assessments and B Analytics enable companies to quantify values that were only approximations before. “The act of measurement makes you think,” Gilbert said.

By empowering businesses to measure, transform, and expand their impact, and by facilitating constructive communication between business and the society at large, B Lab hopes to align business owners’ mission with those of the general public. This multi-faceted approach amplifies B Lab’s efforts, creating ripple effects that resonate throughout the economy.

B Lab hardly stops there. It also works with policymakers in Washington, D.C., and globally to help create new regulatory and legislative frameworks that could push businesses in the right direction. B Corps work together to develop governance instruments that can help socially and environmentally conscious brands persist and grow. Through collective action, B Corps have already managed to pass more than 30 new laws and regulations and helped benefit corporations attain distinct legal status. Now, members are working with a G8 task force to inspire even greater global policy changes.

In the concluding parts of his presentation, Gilbert reflected on some of the key challenges that lie ahead for B Lab. With scaling come new obstacles: How do you make standards applicable to a large number of potential members without lowering the bar? How do you make sure the process remains accessible to a diverse set of businesses of all sizes without compromising integrity? These are some questions B Lab will have to answer as it expands its portfolio.

Ultimately, B Lab anticipates a “global culture shift,” a dynamic that Gilbert and his team are working to promote.

“There are far greater drivers of human behavior than making money or the accrual of profits,” Gilbert said, arguing that what the economy and the world need today is a move from the “shareholder-based” business models to a “stakeholder-based” one. Articulating the vision behind B Lab, Gilbert called for a redefinition of success and shared his hope that, “One day, all companies will compete to be best for the world.”


Giorgi Tsintsadze ’17 is an intern in Marketing and Communications at Johnson.

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