"Subjecting ourselves to the rigor of the B Lab assessment identifies ways we can do better. There are some costs, but in the end it benefits our firm, our team and everyone."
Editor's Note: This is part two of a new weekly series aimed at learning more about the 92 B Corporations who won the 'Best for the World' title earlier this year from nonprofit B Lab. Through short interviews with company founders, CEOs and directors, we'll dig into their motivations, missions, challenges and what makes them truly Best for the World.
Through their stories, we'll search for best practices, tips on aligning mission and profit, and identify gaps where better regulation can help or private-private partnerships can play a role. Becoming the change is an ambitious order – and one that over 1,000 companies have accepted already. Let's learn how they're doing it.
Today we spotlight Beartooth Capital, an impact investment firm created in 2005 to generate strong investment returns, real conservation results and community benefits.
- Founded by Carl Palmer, former President and CEO of Greenbridges, a real estate investment firm making agricultural investments and Robert Keith, an investment partner at Greenbridges.
- Acquires ranches in the American West that have great potential but need their creeks, rivers, wetlands and upland habitat restored to support thriving fish and wildlife.
- Works in partnership with leading conservation, sportsmen and community groups to make the necessary improvements and resell them to private and public buyers who want to own and steward an important part of the West.
- Key customers: investors, ranch sellers and buyers, and a wide array of private, non-profit and government organizations.
We chatted with Beartooth Capital Founder Carl Palmer. Excerpts:
What motivated you to start Beartooth Capital?
"I came to this business from the non-profit conservation world where no matter how hard we worked, the scale of impact was limited by hard-to-come-by philanthropic funding. I wanted to bring more financial tools to the table to have greater conservation impact.
"My partner Robert came from a traditional Wall Street investment career. He also cared about the West and was searching for a more specialized and meaningful financial market."
Why did you become a Certified B Corp?
"It’s really about showing the world who we are – walking the talk. Conservation, community and corporate responsibility are our core values – the drivers behind the creation of our business. We want to be recognized for that as well as support the community and encourage other businesses in this direction."
How has becoming a certified B Corp helped grow your business and brand?
"Our B Corp certification associates us with a growing community of businesses sharing our values. It brings us inquiries from students, job seekers and journalists wanting to learn more about what we do. It gives us credibility with conservation organizations and other certified businesses we wish to do business with, like Patagonia and Kleen Kanteen."
You were named among the Best for the World by B Lab. What were some of the challenges you faced in meeting your CSR goals?
"The primary challenge was describing and documenting the positive impact of our work within the structure of the B Corp assessment. Our primary impact as a firm is environmental yet on the B Corp assessment we barely outperformed the median score in the environment category. We recognize there needs to be standardization and verification, but within the process we lack the ability to count much of what we do.
"A secondary challenge was formalizing some of the practices that were part of our small company culture but had not been officially adopted. For example, this year we updated our employee handbook to include exactly which holidays employees get, how much time off we can take for community service, and our maternity, paternity and domestic partner policies.
"Both of these challenges speak to the value of the exercise. Subjecting ourselves to the rigor of the assessment identifies ways we can do better. There are some costs, but in the end it benefits our firm, our team and everyone."
What is one critical area that you're challenged with because of lack of industry participation or government regulation?
"Impact investing has been met with resistance in the financial world. There is a fortress mentality and attachment to the status quo among wealth advisors and investment managers. Similarly, conservation organizations often approach private capital interests with suspicion and caution.
"We address this obstacle through collaboration: we bring together interested parties and show them the potential. Then we do what we say we’re going to do.
Our greatest impact may not be directly through our work but in educating investors and demonstrating that the model works and helping the field of impact investing achieve its potential."