From its fair trade practices to its eco-conscious facilities to its locally sourced ingredients, Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry's ice cream is synonymous with the concept of socially responsible business.
And on Monday the company, now owned by Unilever (UN), became the first corporate subsidiary to be named a Certified B Corporation, joining a network of companies expressly dedicated to "doing good" for the world while making money for their shareholders. Unilever, for its part, said it backed the move 100% as part of its own company-wide sustainability goals.
"We are pleased to join the community of Certified B Corps because responsible business is what the world needs and increasingly, what consumers want, so it's just good business," said Ben & Jerry's CEO Jostein Solheim. "There is a tremendous upside to being linked more closely to other companies on the socially responsible journey."
More Than Just Profits
The idea behind the B Corp program, which was founded by the nonprofit B Lab in 2007, was to create a certification standard — like LEED certification for green building or organic certification for meats and cheeses — that would encourage companies to consider social good as part of their business and financial plans. It is, according to Fast Company, a "new kind of corporate entity," and one that includes real, legal protections to allow directors and officers to "consider the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, when making decisions."
And, as of 2012, the B Corps roster includes more than 600 companies in 15 countries operating in some 60 different industries. It's a long list that includes small but notable firms like Bhakti Chai, Etsy and GoLite, but Ben & Jerry's is far and away the program's biggest get to date.
"Ben & Jerry's has always believed that a successful business creates prosperity for all stakeholders," said B Lab co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert. "Meeting the rigorous standards to become a Certified B Corp demonstrates that Ben & Jerry's cares about more than nice beliefs, it cares about verified and transparent performance."
Among the highlights of Ben & Jerry's B Impact Assessment, which is part of the vetting process that each potential B Corp must go through: 45% of the company's cost of goods sold go toward supporting small-scale suppliers, 100% of its U.S. pint containers are made with FSC-certified paperboard and its lowest paid hourly worker makes 46% more than the living wage.
A Big Step
So what's the big deal? Really, it should come as no surprise that Ben & Jerry's is now "officially" a socially minded business.
That may be true, but the hope is that, by welcoming a corporate subsidiary like Ben & Jerry's into the B Corp fold, more publicly held companies will now be willing to go through the B Lab process and incorporate sustainable goals into their own businesses.
What do you think? Is B Corp certification a noble corporate goal or just a waste of time and money?