The B Corporation Movement Rallies in Portland, Determined to Change How Business Works

Sustainable. Fair. But can a different kind of corporation make bank?

By Rachel Grozanick October 14, 2015


A photo posted by BCorporation (@bcorporation) on

What’s a B Corporation? Here, popular! Oregon has the third largest concentration of certified B Corporations in the United States; Portland has the second largest concentration among cities in the world.

Oh, but what is one? A business calling itself a B Corporation has been certified by the non-profit B Lab, a rigorous process that requires businesses to change their by-laws to value stakeholders (employees, community, and suppliers) not just shareholders, and commit to high levels of transparency and environmental sustainability. Among advocates of progressive business practices, the B Corp label is something like the equivalent of a “fair trade” or “organic” certification.

Given the popularity of the five-year-old standard (the “B” stands for “Benefit) here, it make sense that Portland hosts this year’s B Corp Champions Retreat, a gathering of the movement’s heavy-hitters and leading thinkers. On Thursday, the retreat’s major public events, B Inspired, take over Pioneer Courthouse Square and the Crystal Ballroom, with speakers talking about what exactly B Corporations are, what exactly they do, and why, exactly, people should care.

Included in the list of speakers giving talks at the Crystal Ballroom are Wendy Collie, the CEO of local grocery chain New Seasons, and David Griswold, President and Founder of Portland-based specialty coffee importers Sustainable Harvest. If you can’t make it to the talks, there will be a speakers’ corner at the Pioneer Square street fest where you can meet the business owners and CEOs who gave talks. You can also partake of some B Corp collaborations at the street fest, such as Ben & Jerry’s coffee-flavored ice creams, all of which use Sustainable Harvest coffee.

Sustainable Harvest’s Griswold feels that many consumers still aren’t familiar with not just B certification but business certifications in general. But in his opinion, B certification stands out from the rest as being something consumers can trust because it’s not easy to attain. It requires that businesses change their by-laws to value stakeholders (employees, community, and suppliers) not just shareholders and commit to high levels of transparency. For many business that’s a hard (or impossible) step to take but for Griswold it was a natural, albeit not an easy, one.

“It was a pretty rigorous certification of the sustainability claims that we were making,” he says. “We were already fair trade certified, we were already organic certified but this one was how we ran our business, how we treated our employees.”

Helping businesses reevaluate their business ethics and introduce better practices into their employee handbooks is one of the things Griswold feels the certification process is particularly effective at. “That’s one of the powerful elements of this tool,” he says, “because it really gets people to be on a continuum towards trying to be a more sustainable business. And you’re never quite there…It’s really hard to get to 80 points [the number required for certification] and it takes a long time to go through the assessment. And it’s good that it’s rigorous like that.” 

 “We wanted folks to get a chance to be exposed to B corps,” said Vale Jokisch, who works for B Lab and helped organize the event. “Highlighting companies like New Seasons or Sustainable Harvest [and] national companies that have locations here in Portland, like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, gets folks to kind of get to know a little bit about what’s behind those businesses in an effort to speak to consumers’ interests in buying from companies that are making a positive impact or worker’s interest in looking for jobs at companies where they have an opportunity to make an impact.”

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