Certification shows that companies have met certain standards of social and environmental responsibility.
From banks to coffee roasteries to broadband providers, a growing number of Maine companies are joining the ranks of what are known as B Corps. Like the Fair Trade label for food, B Corp certification shows that companies have met certain standards of social and environmental responsibility.
Globally, more than 4,000 companies from more than 153 different industries have become certified as B Corps since B Lab, a nonprofit organization based in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, launched the certification program in 2007. In order to become a B Corp, a company must complete a rigorous business impact assessment, which tallies the impact of its decisions on the environment, the community, customers, and employees. A company must seek recertification every three years. The B Impact Assessment is shaped by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Although certification is rigorous, costly, and can take more than a year, companies are increasingly lining up for it. “More business leaders realize that people want to buy from, work for, and invest in companies that are really good — not just good at marketing and saying they are,” says Fiona Wilson, director of the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire. “It’s no longer enough for a company to just say, ‘We care about people and the planet.’”
Dirigo Collective, a Yarmouth-based independent-media company, is one of the many local companies now working toward certification. “It offers a way to measure the impact we’re having in a meaningful and accountable way,” says Benn Marine, a content director for Dirigo. “Our hope is that if consumers knew the rigor of B Corp certification and shifted their spending habits to prioritize B Corps, we could see huge changes in protecting the planet and building a more equitable future.”
The number of Maine companies certified as B Corps: Allagash Brewing Company, Androscoggin Bank, Coffee by Design, Cornerstone Financial, Great Works Internet, Insource Renewables, Luke’s Lobster, MaineWorks, ReVision Energy, Tom’s of Maine, and Wicked Joe Organic Coffees. Many more are in the process of applying.
The number of companies certified as B Corps worldwide, including Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, WeTransfer, Eileen Fisher, Athleta, Warby Parker, King Arthur Flour, Arbonne, The Body Shop, Cabot Cheese, Stonyfield Organic, Grove Collaborative, and many more.
How many questions are included on the business impact assessment, which B Corp applicants must answer about their governance structure and how they impact workers, the environment, customers, and the community.
The factor by which B Corps’ sales growth outperformed other companies in their categories, according to CircleUp, a San Francisco–based data and insights firm.
To be inspired and learn more about B Corps, tune in to the Responsibly Different™ Podcast. Available on ResponsiblyDifferent.com or your podcast platform of choice.
Cornerstone Financial Planning
For this financial-planning firm, B Corp reflects a commitment to the community.
As a child, Susan Veligor spent summers at a family cottage on Bustins Island, in Casco Bay, where she’d while away her days hopping barefoot from rock to rock and rowing around the island in a pram. At night, she’d sit on the beach and gaze at the moon shining down on the ocean. “I always felt like the salt water is part of my cellular makeup, and I always knew I wanted to live here one day,” she says.
Veligor moved to Maine from the Boston area in 2003, and when she and fellow Certified Financial PlannerTM Jill Boynton launched Cornerstone Financial Planning, they set out to do business in a way that would strengthen the community and landscape they treasure.
“We always felt like we need to think about the human impact and consider the environment in any decisions we make in pursuit of financial success,” Veligor says.
That ethos informed big decisions Veligor and Boynton made, like giving one percent of revenue away annually to causes they care about, offering clients options for socially responsible investment funds, and providing their 10 employees with paid time off to volunteer in the community, plus $250 a year to make donations to charities of their choice. The philosophy shaped little decisions too, like having linen hand towels in the bathroom to reduce the use of paper products and buying office supplies and client gifts from local businesses and fellow B Corps instead of national chains.
“You want to be living in a thriving community where everyone has a high quality of life and small unique businesses are able to survive,” says Christina Traurig, a financial planner with Cornerstone. “If the local community isn’t there to support local small businesses, they aren’t going to be there.”
The process of applying for B Corp certification prompted Cornerstone to track and expand practices designed to benefit employees, the community, and the environment. “Becoming a B Corp gave us an opportunity to think about how we’re doing,” Veligor says, “and ask how we can continue to improve going forward.”
Great Works Internet
For a company helping Mainers get connected, B Corp certification was a perfect fit.
Over the last 25 years, internet access has become as essential to day-to-day life as water, electricity, and heat. But in many rural areas of Maine, broadband access — necessary to run a small business, get an education, or consult a doctor — has been hard to come by.
Great Works Internet has been working to remedy that since its founding, in 1994. “It is a question of inclusion, equity, and complete participation in the 21st century,” president and chief operating officer Kerem Durdag says. “If Maine is to prosper, broadband has to be one of the anchor points.”
GWI has played a leading role in expanding access to technology across Maine. In 2001, when then-governor Angus King provided free laptops to hundreds of middle-school students across the state, GWI provided free or reduced-cost internet connections for many of those students. In 2009, GWI founder Fletcher Kittredge helped write the initial grant for the Three Ring Binder project, which made broadband available to more than 100,000 households in more than 100 rural communities across the state.
Today, GWI continues to focus on making fiber-optic internet services accessible to as many Mainers as possible, despite the state’s relatively low population density, especially in its more remote corners. Recently, for instance, GWI won a state grant to build a high-speed fiber-optic broadband network for 500 potential customers in Northport.
GWI earned certification as a B Corp in 2020, making it the first broadband carrier in the country to gain that recognition. While the certification process didn’t require that GWI change much about its day-to-day operations, it did inspire the company to buy shares in a solar farm to offset 100 percent of its electricity needs. Most importantly, says Colin Haley, manager of marketing and external relations, B Corp status has made the company’s 46 employees more conscious of the firm’s values-driven approach to doing business.
The company has also banded together with the other Maine B Corps to raise awareness of the benefits of certification. “At the end of the day, business can be just about profit, or it can be about something bigger than that,” Haley says. “We want more companies to believe that they can do more.”
For the Lewiston-based financial institution, B Corp certification reflects its growth from within.
Shortly after Stevie Youland joined Androscoggin Bank as an online-banking representative, she became itchy to advance, and with banks expanding rapidly in Maine, she had plenty of opportunities to go elsewhere. But thanks to Androscoggin’s Individual Development Program, which helps employees map out their career paths and connect with mentors and training opportunities, she found the growth she was seeking by staying right where she was.
“It’s reassuring to feel like the bank truly wants to help me achieve my goals,” says Youland, now a commercial loan quality assurance specialist. In seven years, she has been promoted four times and earned her associate’s degree in business administration, and she’s now working on earning her bachelor’s degree. “This program made me feel like I’ll have opportunities as long as I put my best foot forward. Some people jump from bank to bank, but I’ve got a lot more going for me here.”
More than half of Androscoggin Bank’s 185 employees have an Individualized Development Program, which is just one of the initiatives that helped the bank earn its B Corp Certification in April. The bank was already taking many measures that met the B Corp standards, and the certification provided a framework to guide its efforts, track its progress, and translate its mission into concrete policies and practices that positively impact its workforce and clientele, the community, and the environment.
“Certification was really to signal our commitment to our values and to let the world know that we’re going to continue down this path,” CEO Neil Kiely says.
The bank recently brought on a corporate impact officer to oversee its B Corp initiatives and instituted new measures to reduce its carbon footprint, including contracting with ReVision Energy, a B Corp based in South Portland, to buy shares in a solar farm to offset 70 percent of its electricity needs. It’s also working to amplify its impact on local nonprofits by lending its talent and expertise, in addition to financial support.
Kiely sees all these efforts as critical to the bank’s long-term sustainability. “With all the upheaval we experienced over the last year, people want to work with, and for, companies that are thinking beyond the short-term focus on financial returns and are working to advance a greater good,” Kiely says. “Companies that step forward to answer that call will thrive.”
Number of U.S. banks, including Androscoggin Bank, certified as B Corps
Given by Androscoggin Bank to 133 local nonprofits
Hours Androscoggin Bank employees volunteered for local organizations