"Treating your employees morally right and treating them legally right isn’t always a parallel purpose."
Editor's Note: This is part four 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 Channel Islands Outfitters (CIO), a guided tour outfitter and paddle fitness center that operates on the Santa Barbara coast and at the Northern Channel Islands.
- Two main products are kayak and snorkel trips in sea caves and kelp forests at the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary and the Paddle Sports Center’s Adventure Co-Op, which provides convenient and affordable access to kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and surfboards year-round.
- Since 1993, the company has served people of all ages and from over 60 countries around the world.
We chatted with CEO and Cofounder Garrett Ritter Kababik. Excerpts:
What motivated you to start your company?
Our company has been through several transformations but survives on providing the community with unforgettable ocean experiences. In 2010 we abandoned a 17-year retail business model and replaced it with the “Adventure Co-Op.”
Prior to the Adventure Co-Op, our company would sell over 150 plastic kayaks to hopeful enthusiasts each year. We witnessed these new kayak owners struggle with storage, transportation and launching issues. A large portion of those 150 plastic kayaks would sit on a concrete driveway and slowly photodegrade. As a company with an environmental mission, participating in the consumption model of these plastic kayaks was hypocritical.
We created the Adventure Co-Op so the hopeful enthusiast could have access to a variety of equipment without the burdens of ownership. Since then we have engaged 2,000 people in leasing rather than buying new equipment. We believe the community-leasing model is the future of recreation in the U.S.
Why did you become a Certified B Corp?
We became a B Corp in 2013 for two reasons. We wanted to “walk our walk” of having a socially and environmentally responsible company. We also felt the B Corp movement needed more leaders, companies that took the leap, not for any initial financial benefit, but to prove that tax incentives are not the only reason to have a charitable company with CSR goals.
How has becoming a B Corp helped grow your business and brand?
It’s too early to know the total impact that being a B Corp has had on our brand/bottom-line.
So far it has been great for generating a meaningful discussion about our company and its founders. We have received nonprofit pricing for merchandise from fellow B Corps such as Klean Kanteen, and we have been developing closer relationships with our nonprofit partners and clients.
We also have been receiving more employment applications than ever before. It is our belief that the foundation of a B Corp is its greatest opportunity. Having checks and balances within the organization and allowing every employee’s voice to be heard is important for a company that is growing, especially a where our employees are the product!
You were named among the ‘B Corp Best for the World’ list. What were some of the challenges you faced in meeting your CSR goals?
Wage and labor laws in California are constantly changing and difficult to be compliant with. We have always been sympathetic to our employees, being employee owned and operated. Treating your employees morally right and treating them legally right isn’t always a parallel purpose. The process of establishing good CSR goals makes the company stronger and more resilient to challenges (both external and internal).
CIO is one of the only outfitters currently certified as a B Corp. Our supply chain is non-traditional. We use ferry companies and third-party educators to provide our services. Since we attempt to lower the amount of equipment we consume, our kayak and SUP vendors don’t make up for much of our annual spending.
However, the kayak and SUP industry is spread-out, closed-door and operating on very thin margins. This means we cannot always align with a vendor because our options are limited. One of our suppliers, BIC SUP, does have a CSR initiative, but they are a French company, which isn’t very local!
What is one critical area that you're challenged with because of lack of industry participation or government regulation?
I would love to see grants open to B Corps.
This would allow us to provide services to the underprivileged segments of our community while maintaining our CSR goals. As it is, our prices have to be slightly higher than that of our competitors because they don’t spend the extra money on employees, community and environmental initiatives. B Corps are transparent and very similar to nonprofits. Obtaining scholarship/financial-aid support from foundations and trusts would help the community in numerous ways.