The impact of commerce is felt at the global level, and many transactions shape areas for the better or worse. As more people are becoming aware of the footprint that capitalism leaves in an area, there are growing movements to add social values into the equation. These values of justice, equality, diversity, and inclusion (referred to as “J.E.D.I.”) reflect the concerns of employers, employees, and consumers alike for things such as climate change or how minority groups are treated.
One example of this societal trend toward socially responsible business policies is the B Corp movement. According to the B Corp certification entity B Lab, the B Corp movement involves “businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”
The power of a B Corp’s set of values, and how these values can help a community, is the prime topic for the BLD (B Corp Leadership Development) Back Better Southeast 2020 virtual conference, which will be held on Thursday, November 12, 2020, starting at 8 a.m. The one-day event will include over 50 speakers, interactive breakout sessions (problem-solving workshops), and chances for those passionate about social enterprise to network.
Coordinated by a group of B Corps in the region, the BLD Back Better virtual conference is sponsored by different businesses and organizations whose intention of supporting B Corps is part of their worldview. One of the sponsors for the event is Tennessee law firm Rockridge Venture Law, whose recent projects include research of legislation related to the legal structure of b corporations—which are called “benefit corporations” when referring specifically to the legal structure—in the State of Tennessee.
“We look at how companies can structure themselves in a way that ties corporate social responsibility into their legal structure [and] into their mission,” says Rockridge Venture Law Impact and Innovation Fellow Bruce Allen. Bruce tells Launch Engine that Rockridge Venture Law is also “hosting, sponsoring, and coordinating” events like the BLD Back Better virtual conference to expose others to the idea of a socially-responsible business. He says that some of the topics include differentiating a brand, putting J.E.D.I. into action, impact investing, how businesses can lead the fight against climate change, and the works related to corporate social responsibility that students are doing before they enter the field of entrepreneurship.
Bruce explains, “Overall, the goals of this are to bring together a community across the Southeast… The B Corp movement, this sort-of ‘business for good’ movement has been slow to creep into the Southeast. Areas like Portland, San Francisco, and New York have had conferences of this nature for years now [as a] regional celebration of community. But this is something that’s kind of new to the South.” He states that those virtually attending the conference will be given the chance to build a community that reflects their values of corporate social responsibility. In addition, the attendees will have a platform to lay the groundwork for the businesses they’d like to see in the Southeast.
Tennessee, in particular, is at the beginning of the country-wide effort to get more businesses signed on to the concept of being socially responsible. Bruce notes that Tennessee just formally began its B Labs organization last year. Whereas other communities around the country have enjoyed B Corps for some time.
But the lack of progress shouldn’t be daunting, Bruce asserts. From his perspective, the region’s later start means that the Southeast has had time to see how other regions have recognized their B Corps. “There’s a lot of potential for improvement,” Bruce says.
The panels in this conference will have “clear, actionable takeaways” for people to put into practice, with the conference itself acting to “break down geographic silos.” Instead of looking at the Southeast as a cluster of states, one wanting to incubate B Corps could reach across the region, and find that there are more people thinking just like they are for how a business should operate.
Fostering this change means building a slow fire. As the concept of what a B Corp is will likely still be a new concept to those in the Southeast, Bruce states that getting businesses to certify as B Corps isn’t the primary task of B Tennessee. He goes on to explain that it won’t be feasible to expect a mass of new businesses to follow this model since the certification for B Corp status is a lengthy process that requires extensive auditing by B Lab.
Bruce tells Launch Engine that B Corps represent an entrepreneur’s ability to engage forces bigger than they are. He says, “Throughout history, we as humans have seen other domains of life as ways for structural change—mainly government, religion, et cetera. But now, the goal of an organization like B Tennessee is to undermine that and to show that there are other forces, other domains of life… that have an obligation to enact large-scale change.”
With that in mind, perhaps the BLD Back Better conference should be seen as an introduction to something that could be (and how to do it) instead of a hard sales pitch for this way of doing business. The real task is getting businesses to rethink what they’re doing, and to ask themselves, “Is this the most socially conscious enterprise that I can create? And how can I use my business as an engine for the kinds of change and motion I want to see in the world?”
The BLD Back Better Southeast 2020 virtual conference will take place on Thursday, November 12. For further information about the BLD Back Better Southeast 2020 virtual conference, including how to attend, be sure to visit their website.