You might not have heard, but there is a growing trend in the business world for businesses to get B Corporation certified. Once certified, these B corporations operate as for-profit companies that can boast their achievement of reaching the “gold standard” for sustainability and ethical business practices. Many are located right here in Georgia — and in Athens. 

As more businesses strive for certification, local Athens business Creature Comforts and the nearly certified Condor Chocolates have partnered with the University of Georgia for further support and guidance under UGA’s B-Collaborative program. 

Through individual business efforts guided by B Lab’s Business Impact Assessment, with the additional assistance from UGA students, B Corps in Athens and beyond help promote sustainability in capitalism and allow certified companies to serve as role model businesses focused on paving the way for a sustainable future. 

What is a B Corporation?

B Corporations, also called “B Corps,” are for-profit companies that use the power of capitalism to bring forward a more inclusive and sustainable operation of business and work to promote sustainable economic practices. 

These companies must meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability to achieve their verification, standards which are outlined in B Lab’s Business Impact Assessment, and must go for recertification every three years. Companies also have to be in business for at least a year before they are eligible to start their certification process.

B Lab is a collective action nonprofit platform that creates standards, policies and tools for businesses who work in association with them to achieve B Corp certification status, built around the idea that businesses of the future will leave lasting positive impacts on their stakeholders and their communities, with an emphasis on sustainability.  

The design of these standards and policies is to shift the structural systems of business, and of capitalism, toward more sustainable practices, and aim to influence other companies to do the same in the process. 

Currently, B Lab includes over 6,300 certified B Corps in more than 85 countries across 160 industries, with over 2,000 of those located in the U.S. and Canada. Over 100,000 companies worldwide use their programs to manage their companies’ footprint and community impact.

The B Collaborative program offered to graduate students in Terry College is working to increase the amount of these B corporation businesses in Athens. 

The program is a part of UGA’s Project-Based Learning Program, and graduate students pursuing their MBA to help local businesses either currently certified as B Corp companies or working toward certification to improve their B-Impact Assessment score, a point system process that allows a company to gain and maintain their B Corp status under parent company B Lab. 

Hearing from a Local B Corp: Creature Comforts

Creature Comforts started its certification process in 2018, and became a Certified B Corporation in 2021, reaching the BIA standard for certification of 80 points or higher. For them, certification and the standards required helped to quantitatively measure their ambitious ethical business aspirations which were already central to their business’ mission. 

“I would say that Creature was almost a B Corp before we even had our B Corp certification. The way that we were operating, the way that we were giving back to our communities, the focus we had on sustainability, and how we put our people and our customers first were already our company’s core values,” Ally Hellenga said, Creature Comfort’s community impact manager.  “What the B Corp certification did was really just formalize a lot of the things that we were already doing.”

This was a feeling that Jacob Yarbrough, Creature’s sustainability manager, emphasized as well. But said that even with the company’s prior emphasis on sustainable practices, securing the certification itself was, even for them, an involved and lengthy process. 

“This certification is not easy to get,” Yarbrough said. “It takes work…so we were very proud of having this B Corp certification.” 

Creature Comforts regularly opens up its taproom to partner with Shakti, a local Athens yoga studio, for the pair’s bi-weekly donation-based yoga classes. Open to all community members, this photo shows a group of yoga students after their class on Feb. 19, 2023. (Photo/Mackenzie Carr)

For Creature Comforts, their certification process took three years and was successful largely due to some key changes they made in their business. In order to accomplish these changes, Creature placed additional focus on sustainability by hiring new staff whose responsibility would be to increase company sustainability by designing policy implementations that would get Creature to meet the requirements for as many of B Lab’s checklist goals as possible. 

Creature turned its attention to five major categories of sustainability efforts to earn points toward its sustainability certification. These five groups of water, electricity, natural gas, carbon dioxide and waste all focused on narrowing down a specific process within each of the categories to lower the impact the company’s beer-making processes were having on the environment. 

While they have earned their certification through these efforts, Creature Comforts does not plan to stop with their current levels of improvement and has outlined the next phase of goals for each of these categories as well

These goals include further reducing the amount of water required for each six-pack of beer production from its current amount of 5.5 gallons of water per six-pack to 4.5, reducing the amount of electricity required to produce one six-pack of beer from an amount equal to charging a cell phone to 50% down to 40% and lower the amount of CO2 produced per six-pack down from an amount equal to driving a car a quarter of a mile down to the equivalent amount of driving a car about 1,000 feet. 

While these processes are time and resource intensive for Creature, the company is committed to continuing to plan, implement and achieve its sustainability goals, and continue to make new goals as they meet its old ones. 

Yarbrough said, overall, the certification is “a good way for a company that wants to demonstrate that they are trying to be a force for good to prove that, not only do they have this mission, but that they’re also willing to take the time.” 

While Creature continues to be focused on striving towards being a “better business,” they hope that achieving B Corp status will provide a guide for all businesses to achieve higher standards of ethics and sustainability. 

Hellenga and Yarbrough also stress that in the modern age, businesses have a responsibility to go beyond striving for sustainability solely for its marketing benefits, especially as younger generations can spot the difference in business motivation behind their sustainability practices. 

With a B Corp Certification, a business can no longer just say they have sustainable practices, they actually have to be doing it and being sustainable to a quantifiable degree of intensity.  

“Millennials and Gen Z really believe in their power to drive change,” Hellenga said. “These generations are looking at businesses and are able to tell if a business isn’t walking the walk… This certification and its rigor, will inspire even more businesses to be that force for good… and produce some lasting effects locally that can create ripples into something bigger.”

Creature will go to re-certify in April of 2024. In the meantime, they’re working to become a better business for the Athens community, and the planet, by factoring the B Impact Assessment standards into company-wide policy choices, achieving as many of the standards as they can.

Talking with Nathan Stuck: CEO of B Local Georgia

While B Lab is the parent company that oversees B Corporation development at a global level, B Local Georgia is an organization focused on growing the B Corporation movement in Georgia and throughout the Southeast. 

Nathan Stuck, co-founder and engagement committee chair of B Local Georgia, is passionate about getting the South involved in the B Corporation movement, and how the certification separates the true leaders in sustainability. 

“In today’s landscape, everybody has a commitment to the environment, but most of them aren’t saints,” Stuck said. “Most of them say ‘we care about serving our community’, But how?… For a lot of companies [the certification] helps them break through the greenwashing clutter… it means they’re actually doing a lot.”  

Stuck has worked firsthand with the local brewery Creature Comforts throughout its journey to certification. For Stuck, a common theme he has found between all of his clients is their desire to be better businesses, regardless of any benefit they may receive from gaining certification status. 

His hope as more B Corps begin to form is that many of the standards B Corps have to achieve will become “standard operating procedures” where B Corps help to “build a capitalism that works for everyone, for the long term, and works equitably and for the environment.” 

While getting a B Corp certification can be time-consuming, labor-intensive, or an additional area of focus that companies will have to dedicate time to, Stuck emphasizes that there is a return on investment to a B Corp certification. 

Generally, the standards outlined by the BIA guidelines are better for the business’ profitability long term as well Stuck said. So even for businesses only in the game for their bottom lines, B Corp certification still makes sense.  

For Condor Chocolates, this certification process is one they have been undergoing for a while, and they are now close to becoming Athens’ second officially certified B Corp. To Condor, B Corp certification is more than just a certification of sustainability, but additionally, a stamp that adds to the notion of “small luxuries” inherent to their brand and products.

New B on the Block: Condor Chocolates

Treating yourself to chocolate candy is one of life’s little luxuries according to the owner of Condor Chocolates, Peter Dale. Dale sees sustainability throughout the making of these treats as an added benefit they can provide consumers of their goods, who are already in the market for a “treat yourself” moment to now be able to treat the environment in the same way. 

“I think for us, in particular… we could all survive without our chocolate,” Dale said. “Because we’re definitely something we consider a small luxury where you can treat yourself…we want to make sure that we’re not having a negative impact on the environment or on any part in the supply chain. It’s important for us to leave this little mark as little as possible.”

The brothers Peter and Nick Dale opened Condor Chocolates in 2014 with the intention to center their business model around sustainable and equitable practices, understanding how cacao can impact not only the environment but also the community. But even with this initial intention, Dale didn’t realize how intensive it would be when he first started the process.

“The making of chocolate is very labor intensive in itself…it’s just a lot of work to grow the cacao, and it has to be harvested by hand,” Dale said. 

Their cacao beans, sourced from Ecuador, pay homage to their heritage, as their Ecuadorian mother often took them back to her home country to visit family. As a part of their equitable business model, the brothers buy their cacao beans from local Ecuadorian farmers, at a price that accurately reflects the labor that goes into growing and harvesting the beans.

The Condor Chocolates storefront as it appeared on Feb. 18, 2022. Condor is a local Athens business going after a sustainable and ethical future in its pursuit of B Corp certification. (Photo/Lauren Minnick)

“Because there’s not a middle man who’s taking a cut, the farmer gets a higher income, which we feel really good about. And then they’re also incentivized to produce a higher quality product,” Dale said. 

The brothers have also made an effort to reduce their waste by removing plastic from a majority of their packaging and composting any natural materials they can. Although these efforts have helped in their journey in becoming B Corp certified, Dale explains there is still more work to be done.

Although Condor has already implemented sustainable practices in their day-to-day operations, they still have more to learn as B Corp encompasses all aspects of a business. 

“We are probably around three-quarters of the way done, but it’s a big, big thing,” Dale said. “We’re not subject matter experts on finance and HR, and all the different components that make up a business… They really help you position your business so that you’re doing the best things in finance, and transparency, and in HR and sustainability… [the certification process] gives you a roadmap on how to be a good business.”

Trained in the making of sweet treats, Dale has learned the B Corp Certification process at times can be sour. It is not for the faint-hearted, but after years of work, Condor Chocolates is finally close to completing its process of becoming B Corp certified. 

“B Corp is awesome because we’re a small business and we want to use the best practices in all areas of the business….they [B Corp] really help you position your business so that you’re doing the best things in finance, transparency, HR, and sustainability,” Dale said. 

Dale has also replicated these sustainable practices in his other business endeavors such as Maepole, a local Athens restaurant that strives to serve whole foods with locally sourced ingredients, and also composts or recycles nearly all their waste.

How to Find and Support B Corporations

B Local Georgia provides a platform for Georgia certified companies to come together and make their communities better. In the state of Georgia alone there are currently 34 companies that have completed their B Corp Certification.

Locations of B Corp Certified businesses in the state of Georgia are provided by B Local Georgia’s Directory and are represented here by a map of where clusters of B Corp Certified businesses are headquartered. (Graphic/Marion Kronauge)

B Local Georgia has a board of 11 members who hold businesses to the B Corp Certification standards as well as help interested Georgia businesses get started with their certification processes. 

A list of B Corp Certified businesses is available through the B Lab’s “Find a B Corp” page. For B Corps local to Georgia, a list is available on the B Local Georgia directory

The best way to support B Corp businesses, and the communities and consumers they support, is to purchase from B Corp-certified brands whenever possible, which will help to keep dollars within the B Corp circle and potentially influence other consumers to shop similarly.

The signature B Corp certification logo on a product or brand’s packaging or website is also a guaranteed way to know you’re working with a B Corp. 

So to businesses who are thinking about becoming B Corp certified, and for consumers looking to invest in a more sustainable future through their investment in B Corp businesses, follow the words of Creature Comforts’ Jacob Yarbrough and “Go for it…If you think you can do it, you can do it.” 

Marion Kronauge, Lauren Minnick, Lindsay Morris and Katie Tong are journalism majors at the University of Georgia.

 

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