So what exactly is a B Corp?

Published on 9/1/2010

In response to the need to fill a gap between non-profits and corporations, B Lab created the B Corp certification. This is part of a larger investment industry trend towards socially responsible investing: investment in businesses that considers social or environmental issues as important as making a profit. Organizations that are B Corps are often created by “social entrepreneurs.”

Ultimately, social entrepreneurs are driven to produce measurable impact by opening up new pathways for the marginalized and disadvantaged, and unlocking society’s full potential to effect social change. From Social Entrepreneurship Law

I think that’s what we’re trying to do with Couchsurfing, and becoming a B Corp will help us in achieving that vision. Our vision is that our community produce a measurable impact on the world by creating a shift in how people view each other. We want more and more people to explore and connect, and come to appreciate cultural diversity. Becoming a B Corp will allow us to use the power and resources of business to do that on a larger scale. In a way, every Couchsurfer who helps us reach our vision is a social entrepreneur.

A traditional corporate model doesn’t work for us. Normal corporate structures can only have one bottom line: profit, and are legally required to do whatever it takes to maximize profits for their shareholders, regardless of other factors. B Corps, on the other hand, are commonly referred to as “triple bottom line” corporations, where people, the planet and revenue are given equal value. Our priorities are our community and our vision, and B Corp gives us the protection so that we can keep it that way. As they explain on their website:

so what exactly is a bcorp

The B Corporation legal framework bakes your values into the DNA of the company.

Like any other organization that wants to become a B Corp, we had to take and pass a B Impact Ratings System test that sets the bar for the social and environmental impact of good companies. Once we passed that we then had to adopt the B Corporation Legal Framework. This is what helps us know we’re keeping the promises we’ve made. Lastly we had to sign a Term Sheet and Declaration of Interdependence where we promise to provide all the necessary documentation to prove that we’re honoring our B Corp requirements. That made our certification official.

And, we’ve got more strategies for us to demonstrate our transparency. We will complete a 200 point audit split across five categories, and we will have to score a minimum of 80 every year to keep our B Corp status. Jordan Chazin, Ratings Associate, part of the standards and certification team at B Corp says of their audit system:

We needed to develop a set of metrics and standards by which companies could measure themselves against themselves, their respective industries and other companies. We’re really trying to instill best social and environmental practices in companies. One way is through the self awareness of measuring.

At the moment we’re scoring over 106.8 which is above average for companies of our size and type. Not only is it really encouraging to hear that we’re already doing a good job, it’s also really inspiring to have a clear idea of where we can improve.

The breakdown of our score is available on our profile page on the B Corporation website for anyone who wants to see it, and we will be looking to improve it year after year. We will know which areas we need to proactively work on to become better and better.

To describe the value of these stringent terms that an organization has to meet to achieve and adhere to their B certification, B Lab explains on their website that:

B Corporation makes it easier to recognize a good company, and to tell the difference between a good company and good marketing.

Jay Coen Gilbert, one of the B Lab founders, goes on to explain, “B Corps are redefining success in business.” This is a really interesting statement if you pause and take a look at it. Here are two words, “success,” and “business,” that at least in my home culture in the US are generally used to talk about things like personal prestige and economic gain. Redefining those terms, as Jay suggests, to include the community, the membership, staff, and everyone else affected by a company’s actions can really cause change. It reminds me a lot of the idea behind CouchSurfing. In our community, we believe that every small interaction between human beings adds up to make the world a better place. At B Corp, they believe that every company should act just as conscientiously as CouchSurfers do. They want to create a structure that helps all of us that want to do good do even better, and they believe that the effects of this will add up one by one. I really feel that CouchSurfing has found a philosophical home with this movement.

There is an interesting TEDx talk where Jay Coen Gilbert discusses what a positive impact B Corps are having on the world, and if you want to learn more about B Lab and and B Corporation I encourage you to take a look at their website. You can see in more detail what it takes to achieve B Corp status, and see some of the other innovative socially responsible companies that have joined so far. I know we’re in good company.