From a Place of Truth

by Alexa Weilein & Joshua Ferguson

We asked five ethics-based organizations how their values influence the way they communicate with their customers and their community.

Meliora Cleaning Products, Chicago

Kate Jakubas, founder and COO

Interview by TimeZoneOne Chicago

We’re focused on manufacturing cleaning products. The whole point of the company is to be next-level transparent with ingredients and how the products are made—anyone who wants to come in and do a tour of this factory is welcome. Our competitors are typically super opaque about what’s in their products… there are a lot of secrets.

Our approach is that anything that you’re bringing into your home, breathing in your air, or wearing on your body shouldn’t be a trade secret. Hidden ingredient lists have a health and environmental impact, and we’re not willing to accept that trade-off—it just doesn’t work in the long-term. In the age of information, it’s only a matter of time before people go digging and learn what your company is all about.

The B Corp community is an awesome way to find like-minded companies. We don’t have to explain our intellectual property strategy to them, or why we set ourselves up for the greater good. B Corps get that right away. Networking with B Corps helps you narrow it down and find people who are really going to help you.

Although people are starting to recognize what B Corp is, it doesn’t have the recognition that, say, organic labels do on food, or fair trade on coffee. We have to educate people a little bit and add an elevator pitch like: “We use business as a force for good,” or “We’re third-party accredited to have this standard.” Our main customers are grocery buyers like Whole Foods. The B Corp symbol is a shortcut to saying that we do all the right things. You get a lot of legitimacy all in one little package.

Here in Chicago, it seems like there’s a big trend toward sustainable enterprises. B Corp imposes a structure and forces us to check up on ourselves. And it helps weed out the pretenders. Anyone can say I have a social impact business. Having an assessment weeds out businesses that say they’re doing these things but aren’t walking the walk.

One of the big keys of the whole B Corp movement is having legal language that not only allows your company to consider triple bottom line but also requires you to do so. We don’t have to take the lowest bid. Instead we have to consider environmental and social impact when working with suppliers and distributors. We’re generally more disposed to hiring a B Corp. There are a million SEO companies, so when we’re considering contractors, we think, is there a B Corp that can do that for us? We make sure we support our community in that way.

Meliora became B Corp certified in 2015. They are the 2016 recipients of the Compass(x) Strategy Jetpack Award.

Eagle Protect

Lynda Ronaldson, founder

Interview by TimeZoneOne Christchurch

We aim to be completely transparent. This puts us in a good position. now we’re exporting to the US market. We import and distribute single-use consumables, disposable gloves, and protective clothing. These are essential products in food processing and in medical use. They cannot be recycled. Due to contamination, they go to landfill, so we’re always looking for new, less waste-intensive ways.

We know exactly how our products are produced. We visit our suppliers regularly and we know how they treat their staff, their environmental impact, and what’s in our products.

You can save a lot of money if you use cheap raw materials in glove manufacturing, but these materials have been linked to an increase in skin irritation and allergies for glove wearers, so we don’t use them. There are other considerations. We know our products are packed in clean, sealed packing rooms, which is by no means universally the case. We’ve been to plants where gloves are packed outside, with insects flying around. Yet these are supposed to be examination grade gloves used for food prep, or for medical situations.

We definitely see the 80/20 rule in action. 80% of our revenue comes from the businesses that we have the best relationship with. We’re happy to work with our clients to see if there are ways they can use our products smarter to make less waste. We’re not just here to make money. In several instances we’ve audited our clients’ requirements and ended up saving them money by selling them less of a different product, more suitable for their requirements.

But some of our customers have been more like that high maintenance friend that never gives back. They want cheap product, delivered fast, with great service. We try to educate them that they can’t have all that in one package. You can have cheap and fast, but it won’t be quality, and you probably won’t get great service. We prefer to work collaboratively, and form partnerships based on shared values.

Food processing companies really value our transparent supply chain. We’re trying to educate US food producers on how our product works for them in the context of the FSMA Act. We’re mitigating risk for them.

We do try to engage with other B Corps. That’s our number one focus in the US market. We’d like to work with food producers that are B Corps. Some organisations do care about doing business with companies that do things right. Becoming a B Corp didn’t change the way we worked, but it formalised things, because we needed to put policies in place to become certified. We’re not perfect as a company, far from it, we’re not holier-than-thou. But if something is wrong we try to fix it. And we’re open about how we work. And we’re open about how we work.

Eagle Protect were the first New Zealand B Corp, and became B Corp Certified in 2012.

Compass(x) Strategy, Chicago

Nancy Goldstein, founder

Interview by TimeZoneOne Chicago

We’re a brand strategy firm in Chicago. Marketing gets a really bad rap. It’s viewed as manipulative. I think that can be true, but I also think that you can have the most awesome product that does good in the world, but if people don’t know it exists then it might as well not exist. We use our skills to help those companies.

We’re a brand strategy firm in Chicago. Marketing gets a really bad rap. It’s viewed as manipulative. I think that can be true, but I also think that you can have the most awesome product that does good in the world, but if people don’t know it exists then it might as well not exist. We use our skills to help those companies.

When I started Compass(x), I was having a midlife crisis. I was tired of using my skills to sell terrible beer and fake food. I feel like the consulting industry is pretty predatory and parasitic. My original idea was, we were only going to work with social and environmentally responsible 
companies. Back in 2009 it turned out that that was a noble idea, but an unsustainable idea. There just weren’t enough companies that could afford us.

So we said how can we make sure that no matter what work we do, some good comes out of it? We give 2% of our fees to charity and we let our clients pick where the money goes. If you’re a smaller nonprofit, you get a 30% best friend discount. We do that because we think nonprofits get the caliber of advice that they can afford, which means they get terrible advice. Once a year we do a big pro bono project, $25,000 worth of brand strategy work for a local nonprofit, certified B Corp, LC3 or someone who’s gone through some sort of impact-based accelerator. We love doing it and it is the best marketing we do. The number of people that refer work to us and talk about us and engage with us because we do this grant is kind of amazing.

When you’re in consulting, you’re selling your brains and your creativity. It’s a weird thing to sell, because you’re “Hi! Let me tell you how smart I am” or “Let me tell you how talented I am.” And that’s just obnoxious and uncomfortable. Selling B Corp is a really great way to talk about how awesome Compass(x) is, without having to talk about me or my brain power.

You know the trustworthy professions survey? Only 11% of people surveyed think that advertising professionals are trustworthy. That’s 1% higher than members of Congress. Not good. But because of all the things we do to be a B Corp, we’re trusted. People believe that we are working in their best interest. You don’t normally assume that about consulting firms. So that works out really well for us.

Once a year we look at the B Corp assessment and pick things that we can do better. This year I’ve been focused on learning and development. The world is changing so fast. I want to make sure we have things in place so that we’re always learning, growing and challenging ourselves. And not just so that we’re better at our work, but to be better people. I don’t ever want us to get soft or stale. Our job is to make things better for people and we want to make sure that we’re doing that for ourselves as well. As a result, we serve our clients better and we’re happier.

In my perfect world, where there’s ponies and unicorns and everything is fantastic, I want B Corp to be the norm. Businesses would lose points if they’re not operating to that standard. Our B Corp culture is everything. It’s how we do what we do. It’s how we think about work. It’s how we talk to our clients and our prospective clients. It’s the voice that we put out in the world. It’s everything.

Compass(x) became B Corp Certified in 2011.

Beyond Green Partners, Chicago

Greg Christian, founder

Interview by TimeZoneOne Chicago

What matters is being a strong leader, authentic and 100% accountable for the things I’ve promised.

I want to move the food system to one that works for everyone. I think the biggest lever is school food, so we do local food, from scratch, on a budget, for schools and pre-schools. I want to be a part of a world that works for everyone. The world doesn’t always do that. It works for some of us.

I ran a B Corp, before B Corp was invented. I heard B Corp talk in California right when they started, but I was already operating as a B Corp. My intention for the company is that we head towards the deeper end of the sustainability pool. I want to walk with an open heart. So whether I’ll get more places with B Corp or not, whether my business grows into a multi-million-dollar business or not, all of that stuff’s up to God. I can only have that pure intention of a world that works for everyone. That’s why I became a B Corp. I’m doing it for the structure, for the support to go deeper and deeper. What matters is being a strong leader, authentic and 100% accountable for the things I’ve promised. It’s not about tips and tricks, it’s about being authentic. It’s about being.

What works for me is asking people questions and finding their pain. I’ve found better luck with independent schools and smaller public schools. The food directors of the bigger districts, the people in charge at a state level, in general their hearts are closed and they’re not willing to be open or vulnerable at all. They can’t look in the mirror at what they’re really doing. It’s too hard.

And I know how they feel. I used to drink a lot, do a lot of drugs, you know, your typical chef. More than typical, a wild man. I had to stop but I wasn’t able to look in the mirror for a bunch of years. I couldn’t face myself. So I know where they’re at. It takes really asking questions and having them feel safe. Which sometimes I’m not good at, because when they start with the bullshit, I just want to shake them and tell them to listen. Are you really going to tell me that you’re feeding young kids high quality food? As I get better at forgiveness and just loving people no matter what they say, then my values can come out in the answers to their questions. I try to be my values so I don’t have to talk about my values.

Beyond Green Partners became B Corp Certified in 2012.

Ronald McDonald House South Island, Christchurch.

Ricki Jones, fundraising and communications manager, and Phillipa Webb, communications advisor

Interview by TimeZoneOne Christchurch

So many organisations focus on the what and not the why when they communicate. Sure we provide free accommodation for families with sick children, but our why is that keeping families close helps them heal better.

Focusing on what we do can make us lose sight of the bigger picture. We could focus on delivering five star facilities with self-contained apartments—but that’s not what we’re about. Our goal is to provide a communal space for families to connect, share experiences and support each other. Isolating families removes that supportive community. If we thought more commercially we could accidentally ruin what we set out to do. We are more than just a roof over your head. We provide a home away from home. A home is more than four walls and a bed, it’s the experiences we have, the laughter, the tears and everything in between. It’s a place where we create lasting memories.

Recently we were asked what our strategic plan looked like over the next few years. One of our goals is to build an apartment for families in the hospital. We were challenged on this. We were asked, are you focusing on the what, rather than the why? Could you keep your families close with an Air BnB-style model instead? That might not be the solution, but it was a good reminder for us that focusing too much on what we will deliver can limit our thinking.

People use cognitive and emotional thinking to make decisions. Keeping our families close is both a cognitive and an emotional driver for us, which is why what we do is so rewarding. We’re reminded why we exist every day. You go into the communal kitchen to make a cup of tea and meet the families and understand why we do what we do. We really want our supporters and volunteers to feel appreciated. The volunteers do so much work. It’s incredible. And our other supporters are always welcome. By hosting them we are giving them the opportunity to come and see and hear how their contribution makes a difference to people’s lives.

When we fundraise, or ask businesses for support we share our families’ stories. We talk about the experience that people have with us, instead of what we do and how we do it. There’s emotion in everything we do, and the way we share our story. Because we’re touching people’s lives, our stories are very real and relatable. The families involved could be your neighbours. Unfortunately, they could even be you. The reality is that you hope that you never have to use our services, but you’re glad we’re here, if one day you or someone you know does.

Ronald McDonald House South Island is a registered charity that provides accommodation for families with sick children undergoing treatment in Christchurch and Invercargill.

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