Strolling through the aisles of a health food store, what attributes do you look for in a product? Maybe gluten-free or paleo, perhaps the purity of ingredients or simply a cool-looking package. But as fresh-minded companies focus on much more than just profits, you can now purchase from companies whose products are a reflection of their values—and who are committed to improving your health, and the health of the planet, for the long-haul. A new day for business, conscious business, has arrived, and it should change how you view a trip to the grocery store.
Although not a new concept, conscious business hasn’t always been in vogue, nor been backed by a template such as B Corp certification, which started in 2006 and evaluates for-profit companies on social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. When it comes to the idea of “conscious business,” it’s a way for you, as the consumer, to get a better understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes at some of your favorite companies.
Sheldon Romer, former CEO of Rudi’s Organic Bakery, notes how much natural products brands have changed. When he joined Rudi’s in the ‘70s, he says “the notion of service was in the air.” But the focus was initially insular: improving staff conditions and wages. When a friend encouraged Romer to join the Board of Community Food Share, Rudi’s began to give the bread it couldn’t use to the organization. “The connection I felt to sharing our bread with people in need was instantaneous,” he says. “That was the first moment where I really had a sense that you can do something as a business and contribute to your community.”
Over time, the buzzwords “profit, people, planet,” have evolved, says Romer, who now runs his executive consulting business, SB Romer, Inc. He says when you hear “conscious,” you should think “awareness,” meaning that the companies you are purchasing from are becoming more aware of their impact. And ultimately, Romer feels that business should be about serving others. “To me, it’s the highest kind of business imperative, to be of service to others to make other people’s lives better.”
Fast forward a few decades and the way we shop and think about consumption has shifted dramatically—and we’re really starting to consider deeper values instead of just product attributes. “ e millennial generation totally gets it and [they] want to align their investments with their values,” says Kim Coupounas, director at B Lab, which does the B Corp certifying.
“It’s always about putting in more than what you take out, whether soil, farmers, employees. Our goal is to add more value than what we pull out.”
-Kyle Garner, Organic India CEO
“They see what’s happening to the climate and the racial and income divides. They are saying ‘I want to find a job that is meaningful for me and work for a company that is doing the right thing and not just making a profit.’”
When you vote with your dollars, conscious, mission-driven businesses can thrive—and they are doing just that, according to Kyle Garner, CEO of Organic India. “A lot of those early pioneering leaders, who were proving that purpose and profit could coexist, were hoping they could demonstrate that you can do the right thing, help your people and still deliver a profit. What you see from B Corp published data is that growth rates are astonishingly higher for mission-driven companies.”
As the former CEO of New Chapter, Garner helped New Chapter obtain B Corp certification after it was acquired by Procter & Gamble. He wanted to make sure all the practices New Chapter had put into place before being purchased were codified. Garner also notes that companies are increasingly working together toward a common goal (the betterment of the planet and of our health) and that being part of a group of B Corp companies helps him have a well-rounded mindset when leading his company. “It makes you conscious, mindful and aware of the good and bad at every stage and operate in a way that improves everything that is not optimal and improve those things that are,” says Garner. “It’s always about putting in more than what you take out, whether soil, farmers, employees. Our goal is to add more value than what we pull out.”