Creating positive change is never easy. Being a Certified B Corp does take a lot of work but with that work there’s a lot of reward.
Ben & Jerry’s is one of the most well-known brands with a social mission.
Rob Michalak, Director of Social Mission at Ben & Jerry’s, answered a few questions about what becoming a B Corp means for the company, and what other businesses can learn from their experiences. In conversation with the B Lab's Katie Kerr.
How do you define success in business?
A successful business is one that creates prosperity for all stakeholders.
Ben and Jerry’s wrote a book on values-led businesses and sustainability. Why then become a certified B Corporation?
Certified B Corporations codify what being a progressive, socially conscious business is all about. By becoming a Certified B Corp we are supporting the movement for business to play a leading role in providing social as well as economic benefits to society-and of course great products and services.
Why do you think B Corporations are important?
I think we’re seeing in society right now the need for corporations to stand for something more-think of the Occupy Movement and people speaking out against the divergence of wealth and corporate greed. The B Corp movement is an answer to that. It’s a model that can ensure companies provide benefits to society in a way that’s transparent, balanced, and people can believe in.
What is the “change you seek”?
Ben & Jerry’s overall mission is to make the best product we can, be economically sustainable, and at the same time, create positive social change-specifically to advance new models of economic justice that are both sustainable and replicable. The B Corp model is a great one to provide the rigor and standards to ensure that we are living up to our own mission and that we push further.
What do you hope to accomplish by being part of the B Corp community?
We want to constantly challenge ourselves to be better. The B Corp community is made up of organizations that share similar goals and have high standards that we can use to challenge ourselves and improve.
To define true success in business, we need to learn from each other. We are all trying to find a path for business to contribute to society on many levels. I hope that Ben & Jerry’s can provide insights and experiences that can benefit other organizations, and we look forward to other companies providing lessons to us.
How do B Corp standards help further your objectives to transform business?
The B Corp standards provide a very comprehensive framework for us to review our progress against our own goals and to establish new ones. The B Corp standards are shared by other organizations, so we can be part of and use a more universal baseline to measure our progress.
Was it difficult for Unilever to approve Ben & Jerry’s B Corp Certification?
Unilever has always expressly supported Ben & Jerry’s progressive business model by ensuring it continues in perpetuity through a unique governance structure that is, essentially, a benefit corporation structure. Unilever knows that the value of the Ben & Jerry’s brand is linked to Ben and & Jerry’s being a values-led business. Sure, there were lots of meetings to review legal and operational aspects of becoming an official B Corp, but B Corp certification helps build trust with out consumers that Ben & Jerry’s remains a values-led business.
Is there anything you learned by going through the certification process?
Going through the B Corp certification process reaffirmed those things we have been measuring internally and gave us confidence that this business model can serve society the way progressive economic models should. We also realized there were areas that we weren’t looking at that deserved our attention and needed to improve.
What would you tell someone considering becoming a Certified B Corp?
I would applaud their decision to become a certified B Corp.I would tell them that it’s not easy. Creating positive change is never easy. Being a Certified B Corp does take a lot of work but with that work there’s a lot of reward.
Ben & Jerry’s hopes that the B Corp becomes the standard and the norm for businesses in the world.
Sidebar: How Can Ben & Jerry’s be a B Corp if they’re owned by Unilever?
While divisions or individual brands within larger corporations are not eligible for certifications, subsidiaries of larger corporations are eligible.
Subsidiaries, including Ben & Jerry’s, must meet the same social and environmental performance standards as any other Certified B Corps. However, because Ben & Jerry’s is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever and therefore has no meaningful shareholder accountability, Ben & Jerry’s is required to meet additional audit and transparency requirements, including a mandatory audit and disclosure of its full B Impact Assessment, not simply its B Impact Report.
In addition, because of the unique governance structure between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s Company Board, which has responsibility for its Social Mission, Ben and & Jerry’s must make public relevant excerpts from the acquisition agreement between Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, which demonstrate that Ben & Jerry’s is legally required to consider the impact of its decisions not only on Unilever as sole shareholder, but also on all Ben & Jerry’s stakeholders.
For more details, check out bcorporation.net/benjerry.
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