Chances are good that you’ve encountered the “circle B” seal before... but, do you know what it stands for? Learn why businesses are lining up for a chance to B the Change, and understand just what it means when you choose goods and services boasting that capital B.
Ep 15: What's It Mean to Be a B Corp?
Hosted by: MegaFood | Podcast
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Announcer: [00:00] The statements in this podcast have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
[00:08] Welcome to Episode 15 of "That Supplement Show." Today, Abigail and Killeen are back to share how we, as shoppers, can level up our conscious consumerism thanks to a particularly unique certification. I'm talking about B Corp.
[00:20] Joining the conversation is Sara Newmark, MegaFood's VP of Social Impact, to dissect what it means to be B. Learn why businesses are lining up for a chance to be the change and understand what it means when you purchase a product with that bold capital letter B encircled on the label.
[00:35] I know how much you listeners like to read labels. I hope you're ready to be educated, because here we go.
Abigail: [00:42] Killeen, are you wearing lipstick?
Killeen: [00:43] Hey, Abigail. I am, as a matter of fact. Interesting of you to notice so quickly.
Abigail: [00:48] It's new for you, I feel like there's definitely going to be a good story behind it.
Killeen: [00:52] [chuckles] Yeah. It's true, there is a story behind it. It's kind of funny because it makes me think back to freshman year of high school. I used to wear all kinds of makeup and high heels as a totally different image.
[01:05] Now, I am returning back to those roots just a teensy tinsy bit.
[01:08] In our last episode, as you know, we talked about gummy vitamins and their epic rise in popularity. We had this fun debate. Spoiler alert for those who haven't listened to the last episode. Abby actually made a believer out of me. I'd never thought I'd become a gummy taker, but here I am.
[01:26] That reason why I became a consumer of gummies has to do with one very key importance. That is the concept of better.
Abigail: [01:34] I love that concept of better. When we applied it to the gummies, we came out with better gummies. This is traditional gummy vitamins versus gummy vitamins done right.
Killeen: [01:42] Exactly. We've discussed this concept of better a lot of times here on this show. Along with making those better choices comes our favorite topic of all. I bet you know what that is.
Abigail: [01:53] Mindfulness.
Killeen: [02:00] Yes, that's at the core of every conversation we have. Mindfulness is a huge reason why I like recording this show with you so much, Abby.
[02:07] Today, we're hitting the bullseye when it comes to being mindful because we're actually here to discuss...
Abigail: [02:13] Wait a second. You haven't explained the lipstick yet.
Killeen: [02:15] I completely sidetracked there, something else we do a lot. Sorry.
[02:19] I'm clearly pretty excited about our chat today. Here's the thing. At the end of the conversation, or really, honestly, in three seconds, you're going to be able to guess why I'm wearing this lipstick. There is a reason. I'm not going to tell you just yet.
Abigail: [02:33] Fair enough. I love the suspense, even if it's going to be short lived.
Killeen: [02:36] [laughs] You also love conscious consumerism.
Abigail: [02:40] I do, yes.
Killeen: [02:41] Yeah. That's what we're hitting on today. When it comes to our role as consumers, being mindful of the nature of our goods and services is this very layered situation. I feel like, beyond our own personal mindfulness, some of us, like you, like me, all the people listening that like to enrich their lives holistically...
[03:00] We want to take that to the next level. When we have wants, we have needs, we use goods or services to meet those wants and needs. People like you and I, we stop to think about who our suppliers are. When we consume as consumers do, we have this sense of curiosity.
[03:19] Maybe I should say it's more like a burning insistence to know what is this producer's approach when it comes to conscious, or ethical, or sustainable business practices? I know, for myself, I start wondering things like, "Is this product here safe for the planet? Is the existence of this product a benefit to the people who manufacture it?"
[03:41] Maybe it's not. Maybe it's bad for them. Is it good for me? Is it bad for me? What, essentially, does a product stand for? Those are the kinds of things that go through my mind at times when I'm standing in the aisle deciding if I want to make a purchase or not.
Abigail: [03:54] That's why I think being a conscious consumer can be tricky, too. All of those questions. It's time consuming and, honestly, it can be a little stressful. I use the phrase a lot, "Voting with your dollars," because I feel like that's what we are doing every single time that we make a purchase.
[04:10] If you look at everything you buy that way, I think it can become a little immobilizing. It's a lot of responsibility, but it is an important one as a consumer, I think.
[04:19] I'll admit, I'm not the best label reader. I never check something's expiration date before purchasing it. I never have. I really should.
[04:27] I know the things, though, that I like.
Killeen: [04:29] That's a whole another topic, but good for you. We won't go there today. [laughs]
Abigail: [04:35] I'm not looking with that eagle eye, but I know the things that I'm skimming for. I know what I like. I know what I don't want in a product.
[04:42] If it doesn't fit my needs and I'm including social responsibility in that list, then I'm going to just move on. It's not likely that I'll pick up the phone and call the company just to check in and see if they're checking off everything in my list, but the good news here is that more and more companies recognize this kind of consumer behavior. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
[05:02] Also, the fact that we want to vote with our dollars and we're seeking out third party seals to quickly allow consumers to determine if the product's right for them. Maybe they're looking for organic, or fair trade, vegan, gluten free. You name it, there's all kinds of seals out there for us.
[05:17] Social responsibility when it comes to buying a product is nearly as important to me as avoiding dairy due to a pretty bad dairy allergy. Finding a third party seal on my favorite product, that's going to reassure me that it was manufactured in such a way would be super helpful, very helpful.
[05:32] Because we're on That Supplement Show and we're all about providing healthful solutions, we have some good news on the subject. I thought, Killeen, you might want to share that with us.
Killeen: [05:41] It would be my pleasure. What you're alluding to is B Corporation Certification. B Corps, as they're known, are essentially "using business as a force for good." That's part of the promise a company makes when earning its B Corp status.
[05:57] Right there, isn't that great?
[05:58] Abigail It's really exciting. Using business as a force for good, I think that's exactly what I am looking for.
Killeen: [06:04] That's a big thing. Today, we're going to break that down and talk a little bit more about what that means.
Abigail: [06:11] I know I've seen the seal before, but I don't think it's all that common, is it?
Killeen: [06:15] Interesting point. About four years ago, bcorp.net shared over 900 companies for that Circle B seal. Today, four years later, it's over 2,400 companies. The list is growing. Actually, being somebody that spends a lot of time on social media for work, I'm seeing constantly within the natural products industry and other industries, too, that more and more companies are announcing this B Corp certification.
[06:43] I think this is great news for those of us who want to support companies doing it right, using business as a force for good and working constantly to improve upon the good that they are already doing.
[06:53] We need to understand a little bit more about what that means, and what the ins and outs of B Corps really are. What it means to be a B, and what that means for us as consumers.
[07:03] I have invited MegaFood's VP of Social Impact, Sara Newmark, to the show. She's not physically here. She's currently in Vermont but let's use fancy technology and patch her through, why don't we?
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Sara Newmark: [07:17] Hi, guys, I'm here.
Abigail: [07:18] Hi, Sara. It's Abigail. Killeen was setting me up for today's chat. You've definitely got a captive audience here. We're both constantly seeking ways to be very mindful there's that word again and conscious in our day to day lives. We're not here today to talk about MegaFood specifically, but I have to give the little side note that MegaFood did just achieve B Corp status.
Sara: [07:39] We did. We just announced it in March. We got a score of 91, which is super exciting for our first time out. We're really proud of it.
Abigail: [07:48] That is such exciting news. Just to use MegaFood as an example, I would love for you to explain to our listeners why a consumer might care to see that Circle B seal on the jar and why that should matter to them.
Sara: [08:01] You've already touched on it. There's so much out there when we go into a store, especially in the supplement aisle. There's so much information that we're looking for. We want to make it easy for people to understand the kind of companies that they're supporting, especially when you want your purchases to line up with your values.
[08:18] B Corporation certification, that Circle B on a package, makes it easy for someone to understand, "I'm supporting this type of company when I buy this product." From that perspective, it make our job easy to communicate to consumers what we stand for and our mission.
[08:36] Basically, B Corps are for profit companies that are certified by a non profit called B Lab that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. They do the work for us.
[08:50] I talk to it about...B Lab has their fingers on the pulse of the social responsibility community. They're out there engaging the stakeholders to understand what it means to be a better business. They're leading us with constant improvement over the years so that we can all up our game to be the best for the world.
[09:13] We envision a global economy where we are using business as a true transformational force. That's what B Corp allows us to do, to all come together for a common goal.
Killeen: [09:24] That's an interesting way to look at it. When you think about the different types of businesses that are out there, I felt like it's rare that, just for an example, a supplement company and then, let's say, a non profit could both share that Circle B seal. It's very interesting that we can categorize ourselves with a whole new group of businesses.
Sara: [09:49] I think businesses, we all have a role to play. We all touch a different consumer at a different time. If you are...Again, this is for profit companies because we all typically shared, in the old model, one bottom line and that's all that mattered.
[10:08] Now, we have multiple reasons that we are in business, multiple missions that we want to see achieved. To your point, we need all of us. We need clothing companies to speak to their consumers, and outdoor companies to speak to their consumers, and restaurants to talk about our mission when people are sitting down over food.
[10:27] There's nothing as culturally inspiring as sitting down, and sharing a meal, and breaking bread with people.
[10:33] We need all of these different touchpoints to communicate our message that businesses have a responsibility and have a role in leading us to a community and a society that we wish to see.
Killeen: [10:47] I just made a mistake there because the nature of this B Corp certification makes me think of non profits when I meant to say for profit. That's exactly what it is, is companies that are in it for a profit but they're stepping back and saying, "What good can we do?" Not just worry about the financial gain.
[11:07] Thank you.
Sara: [11:08] When we looked at B Corps, what are we evaluated on? The reason it is for profit is because we all know what non profits do. We all know that there's a mission, but there are also missions and impact that for profit companies can have.
[11:25] You mentioned, Abby, earlier, about voting with your dollars. Businesses have an extreme opportunity and responsibility to be the change. We're evaluated on different metrics of what it would mean to be a better company, be a better B. That's our environmental commitment, our commitment to workers, our commitment to our customers and our community, and our overall governance.
[11:50] All of those different metrics and different questions around those categories lead to an overall score which B Lab helps you identify whether or not you are, in fact, certified B Corp.
Abigail: [12:05] Let's talk a little bit more about that scoring in a bit. I do want to ask you to go ahead and describe this prominent piece of the B Corp puzzle that I came across, the Declaration of Interdependence. Can you explain to us a little bit about what that means and what that does? Let's just unpack that.
Sara: [12:30] Sure. When you become a B Corp, when you reach the threshold and make the commitment, there are a few things that you need to do. First and foremost, though, is signing this Declaration of Interdependence. We are all connected to one another. Our role is no separate than one others. What we do affects everyone else.
[12:52] Together, by making a commitment together, we have a real opportunity to make change. In that Declaration of Interdependence, we commit that we must be the change we seek in the world, that all businesses ought to be conducted as if people and place matter. That through their practices, products, and profits businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
[13:17] To do so, requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon one another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.
Abigail: [13:26] Chills.
Sara: [13:27] So powerful.
Abigail: [13:29] I think that's why the cross industry participation in B Corp is so striking to me. If you have them, as you say, in a range of industries talking to all these consumers and sharing the same message that is so powerful. Really, I got chills when you were talking about that.
[13:45] I know I have some more specific questions for you, Sara, but first, let's hear that quick word from our sponsor.
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Announcer: [13:52] Today's episode is brought to you by MegaFood's Balanced B Complex. It seems fitting as we're talking about B Corp certification, eh?
[13:59] Want more pep in your step? Megafood's Balanced B Complex supports your nervous system and promotes healthy energy levels with its balanced ratio of food state B complex vitamins combined with nourishing whole foods from our family farm partners like organic kale from Foxy Organic and brown rice from Lundberg Family Farms.
[14:15] Balanced B Complex can be taken any time throughout the day, even on an empty stomach. To learn more, visit megafood.com and search for "Balanced B."
Abigail: [14:22] Before that quick little break, we were talking about the Declaration of Interdependence and what that meant. That goes to show that when it comes to all of our product seals, clearly, B Corp is quite a unique one. For the case of MegaFood, it's speaking to not just what's in the bottle, but also what is going on on the outside of it.
[14:43] I'm going to tell you guys that one of the first things I asked when I was a new member of the MegaFood team, three years ago now, was, "Are we a B Corp?"
[14:54] I had just begun hearing about the certification and it was not an integral part of my job search, but it was this thing on the periphery that I was thinking about.
[15:03] It's safe to say that that's rising right now, just as people are looking to purchase from B Corps, people are also looking to work for B Corps. With a declaration like that, why would you not want to work somewhere that made those promises?
[15:17] I barely even understood what it was all about back then, but I knew it was a good thing. I had this great feeling about it. It gave me chills to think of businesses banding together for goodness.
[15:33] I think a lot of people feel the same. What makes that so? What is this prestigious test that has to be passed for a company to be able to achieve this status and put themselves on the list of those companies that are doing it right and that are aiming to do things not just for good, but also to look at their practices and continue to improve upon them?
Sara: [15:57] It is a deep review of a company's commitments, and work, and standards. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It is a really rigorous assessment. Like I said before, it looks at our commitments to the environment, workers, customers, community, and governance. I always say that if someone wants to know about a company, take a look at their impact assessment.
[16:25] The reason you can take a look at it, and one of the most important things I think about the B Corp certification assessment in general, is that it's transparent. It's all on their website. Every answer to every question that everyone answers is all right there for you to see.
[16:43] It celebrates what you do well and it highlights the areas of improvement, because we all need to improve. The beauty about the B Corp impact assessment is that it's not a static assessment. Every two years, we need to go through it again. Every two years, they raise the bar. The questions get more challenging. They challenge us to look at the work we do and improve on all of those areas.
[17:06] It is a thorough investigation of a company's practices and commitments. Everyone has access to it. That's what I think makes it so unique.
[17:15] The B Corp impact assessment is run and managed by a non profit called B Lab. B Lab runs the B impact assessment. To make it even more confusing, another requirement of getting to that threshold of 80 points, which is the threshold for B Corps to be certified, we not only have to do that but we also have to change our legal status.
[17:43] We, as MegaFood, changed from a C Corp to a benefit corporation, which meant we were legally required or had the option to consider not only the financial bottom line when making decisions, but our environmental and social bottom lines, as well.
[18:01] It is a really big commitment and one that I think consumers and anyone who cares about this type of work can feel confident in.
Killeen: [18:11] This is a big curiosity of mine, Sara. That is, this chicken or egg complex here. Which came first? Did MegaFood decide to be a B Corp and then did you, our social impact VP, get hired? Or, did it go the other way around?
[18:31] It seems like MegaFood has always been on the path of social responsibility. When did this B Corp piece come into play? Was having somebody in your role something that had to happen first, or something that had to happen to help us achieve that B Corp status?
Sara: [18:51] That's a great question. I think you hit the nail on the head in your positioning of that question. If you think about how arduous I said the assessment was, you can't just decide to do this overnight. A company has to be living these values for a really long time in order to become certified.
[19:12] Just for the community that's listening to know, I've only been at MegaFood for six months. Similar to your experience for years ago, Killeen, when I was in the hiring process I said, "I won't work for a company that's not a B Corp." That was a prerequisite for hire.
[19:29] Lucky for me that MegaFood was already in the process. They did just need someone to come in, and bring it all together, and fill out the assessment, and identify the areas where we were doing really well and that we needed improvement.
[19:46] In the six months that I've been here, it would be very hard for a company to come in, make all those changes, and become a B Corp right away. You have to be doing it for quite some time. That's the case with MegaFood.
Killeen: [19:57] That's really interesting. I feel like there could be some people listening out there that are thinking not just along the lines of a consumer, but also of an employee and thinking, "Gee, what is it going to take for my company to become B Corp?" It's an interesting piece of information to transition to for a moment.
Abigail: [20:16] I have one follow up question, Sara, about that score. You said there's a baseline of 80. MegaFood scored 91, correct me if I'm wrong. What happens if a company fails? We're all trying to band together here for good. What's going to happen if somebody wants to become a B Corp but doesn't hit that threshold?
Sara: [20:32] Great question.
[20:33] I think one of the most important things that B Lab has done with their B impact assessment is make it available for everyone. For anybody out there, I've been in the social impact sustainability profession for over 13 years now. When people ask me, "What is it? How can I start? What can we do?"
[20:54] My first thing is always, "Take the B impact assessment. Take the short version or the long version." Even if you're not going to meet an 80 threshold, or even if you don't want to get certified it is such a great road map for a company to know what they're doing, and where they want to go, and identify the areas of improvement that they need.
[21:11] If you don't meet an 80 threshold your first time around, keep at it. There's no one saying you have to do it by this time. We all just want to get on the path. There are companies out there, this is a newer certification. We have over 2,000 companies, but we need a lot more.
[21:29] We need people on the path. Go out there. Take the B impact assessment or take the shorter version just to see where you are to get a baseline and then use it as your roadmap.
[21:39] You're not going to get kicked out if you're not at an 80. You're going to, hopefully, keep trying until you meet that threshold.
Abigail: [21:46] Does B Lab provide support for that? It doesn't sound like, even in our case, we did it. We can celebrate that but it doesn't seem in the nature of an organization whose mantra is "Be the change," that we're just going to stop there.
Sara: [21:59] No, but that's the beauty of the assessment. It keeps getting harder. They keep raising the bar. The day that we're done with our assessment, we have a team that's working together to identify areas of improvement, identify areas where we're going to improve our score, to make things better.
[22:16] This is not a you're in and you're done type of certification.
Abigail: [22:20] It's like a living thing.
Sara: [22:22] It really is living. It's continuous improvement.
Killeen: [22:26] I mentioned to Abby earlier that the amount of...You just reiterated that the amount of companies obtaining the certification is on the up and up. That's great news. I'm also feeling rather curious about the fact that this is still a new buzz, feeling relatively new. It's different. It's kind of unique. It feels sexy from the business standpoint.
[22:47] Do you think, personally, that the B Corp buzz is going to last long enough to keep enticing other businesses to jump in, and to make these changes, and to be a part of that force for good? I'm curious if you think that the certification numbers are going to continue to rise at this rate.
Sara: [23:04] Absolutely. If you look at all of the measurements now, what people care about, especially that millennial community and the new generations coming into the market that are making choices about their own purchases. They care about transparency. They care about activism. They care about brands that have a commitment to values and mission.
[23:23] That's just starting. The more consumers are out there asking, the more consumers go into the aisle and say, "Hey." They may not know about B Corp just yet but they're asking the questions that mean B Corp the more this is going to take hold and grow.
Abigail: [23:37] Super exciting.
[23:39] What about from the standpoint of...Here's an example. The words, "All natural." In the beginning, when we saw those as consumers, we could put some stake in that. "Oh, OK. This is an all natural product." Then that became something that got diluted over time to the point where saying that a product was natural meant nothing.
[24:05] We had to put these bigger words in play. We had to say something wasn't even just organic because that could just mean it was a living thing. We had to say it was certified organic.
[24:17] The B Corp certification, because that's a certification, is that something that you think will uphold its meaning even though more and more companies are joining in? Do you think that that's still going to hold that same value even though it becomes more common?
Sara: [24:32] It's certainly up to us to make sure that that happens. The beauty of a third party certification is there's a stakeholder process. There's input from all of us of what is meaningful for us. It's a transparent certification where all the answers are out there.
[24:47] It is up to us to keep it that way. I invite everyone, this isn't just for the natural products industry or just for little niche markets. If we want to affect change, we need everyone involved. Everyone that joins the standard is required to have the same assessment as everyone else. There's not one assessment for a company that sells X type of products versus another.
[25:09] That's what I think the beauty of it is. That's what I think will keep it legitimate, and keep it transparent, and keep it, to your point, make people know that it's real and it's meaningful.
Abigail: [25:20] Sara, I think that's a beautiful and important point. To keep this alive, it is up to us. If these are things that are important to us, if those that are listening say these values ring true to me, then it's up to us. Because it's across all these industries, it's not just looking for that seal on the label which, coming soon, you will see on your MegaFood products.
[25:40] It's checking the website of your local services and different places that you frequent because anybody can be B Corp. I think that's a really great point.
[25:50] Sara, thank you so much for your time today. I think I can speak for both Killeen and I when I say we learned a lot and both got a bit of the chills. We'll definitely be keeping an eye out for that Circle B, wherever we go.
Sara: [26:02] Bye, guys. Thanks so much for having me today. It was super fun.
Killeen: [26:05] Yeah, thanks again.
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Abigail: [26:09] Killeen, adding that B Corp certification to MegaFood's existing lineup of impressive certifications gave me a fresh appreciation for what that little, small insignia can mean, not just for a product's ingredients, but for the entire company.
[26:23] This, to me, is far beyond just products alone. What it stands for and what kind of trust a consumer can put into said company just by the sighting of that seal.
Killeen: [26:33] That is why I'm wearing this lipstick today.
Abigail: [26:35] Oh, we came back to it. Full circle.
Killeen: [26:38] [laughs] I can't say I always come back around but I did right now. The company behind this lovely little raspberry hue that I'm wearing is quite well known these days. I have to say that when I learned they were a high scoring B Corp I felt much better about the thought of putting this on my face.
[26:55] I'm not much of a makeup person but it made me go, "Hey, I'll do that. That's fun." It took away this negative connotation of one more product and made me think, "You know what? Maybe I want to support this company."
[27:09] I'm going to be forthcoming. It was a sample that I received, but then, because of that B Corp seal, I said, "I'm going to put it on." Now, I'm officially a customer. I would not have been if not for the Circle B.
[27:24] That's pretty awesome, isn't it? From a business standpoint, they're doing something for the force of good. In turn, they're also causing me to vote with my dollars and support them. It's this cycle. It seems like it's got a lot of promise. I am quite excited that, like Sara said, it's up to all of us. I feel special about that.
[27:47] I might try to minimize the products I use, but let's face it, being a consumer at times is fun. I think we all want to have the fun sometimes of going out and shopping, and browsing, and saying, "This looks neat and interesting. I'm going to try it."
[28:01] Having that be there makes that so much easier for us to do. It makes me feel good.
Abigail: [28:06] I agree. It definitely does. It makes that shopping spree totally justifiable.
[28:11] This has been an exciting episode, Killeen. I know that I will definitely be reading labels with an eye out for that B moving forward.
[28:17] [background music]
Abigail: [28:17] I may not be there for the expiration dates yet, but I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for that Circle B.
Killeen: [28:22] That's a great idea. Thanks again, as always, for doing the show with me, Abby. Bye.
Announcer: [28:26] This podcast is brought to you by MegaFood, keeping it real and making vitamin and mineral supplements in New Hampshire since 1973. Committed to making products that use real food from family owned farms to make a real difference. They've produced some of the most effective and far out supplements available today.
[28:41] Fresh from farm to tablet, there's not psych about it. MegaFood is as real as it gets. Do yourself a solid and catch them on the flip side at megafood.com.
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[28:54] The statements in this podcast have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.