What a great article about B Corps by Tommy Wood with BizWest Media, we are honored to b mentioned!
Gary Nickell thought the company he owns and founded, Scott’s Roofing, would score well on the B Impact Assessment, the rigorous test that asks 200 questions about a business’ effect on its employees, customers, community and the environment. Companies that score 80 or higher on the assessment can become Certified B Corporations — businesses that achieve high, independently verified standards of social, environmental and legal accountability to balance profit with serving a greater goal.
Scott’s Roofing, which Nickell founded in Lafayette in 2011, already tried to operate sustainably before Nickell took the assessment in December 2019. It even donated 1 percent of its revenue to environmental nonprofits. But when Nickell took the test, Scott’s Roofing scored a 48.
“That was a little deflating,” Nickell said. “But that’s the high standards they have. You can’t just fill out an application and write a check and become a member. It’s not just sustainability. It’s how you treat your employees. It goes down your supply chain, what kind of suppliers you use.”
In the year after taking the assessment, Nickell and his team at Scott’s Roofing dedicated themselves to achieving the standards needed to become a B Corp — something they finally accomplished in December 2020, making Scott’s Roofing one of the newest B Corps in the Boulder County-area, and the only roofer in the country double checking it’s truly country and not county to attain the certification.
There are 3,821 B Corps in 74 countries. Fifty-four of them are in the Boulder area: 42 in Boulder, four in Broomfield, four in Lafayette, three in Louisville and one in Lyons, according to B Lab, the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that administers the B Corp network. The rest of Colorado has 49 B Corps combined. B Corps emerged in 2006 as a way for-profit businesses could make a positive impact in their communities and be held accountable for it.
“People really care about picking brands and buying from companies that are not doing harm, that are doing the right things,” said Kim Coupounas, global ambassador for B Lab and a longtime Boulder entrepreneur. “Becoming a B Corp is about separating your brand and your company from the pretenders that do window dressing when it comes to sustainability.”
Ten percent of all B Corps are randomly audited every year, and every B Corp must recertify every three years. There are also no tax benefits for becoming a B Corp.
“They want people that don’t do it for a monetary reason,” Nickell said. “They want people that are motivated by entirely different things.”
Taking the B Impact Assessment is the first step for a company that wants to become a B Corp. Its questions examine many aspects of running a business:
- Governance: “Does the company have a formal process to share financial information (except salary info) with its full- time employees?”
- Employees: “What percentage of full-time workers were reimbursed for continuing-education opportunities in the last fiscal year?”
- Environmental practices: “What percentage of energy used is from renewable on-site energy production?”
The assessment is free for any business that wants to evaluate itself; more than 50,000 companies have taken it. Once a company has achieved the necessary 80 points on the assessment to qualify for B Corp certification, B Lab will verify the business’ answers. When verification is complete, the company can certify.
“Certifying is a significant undertaking,” said Brian Lichtenheld, adviser at BSW Wealth Partners Inc., a Boulder-based wealth-management firm that became a certified B Corp in 2017. “It requires a level of communication across departments, across different stakeholders in the company. The outcome is absolutely worth it.”
Some businesses can clear the bar almost instantly. Upslope Brewing Co. in Boulder began to formalize its own sustainability program in 2016, said Lizzy Waters, the brewery’s sustainability coordinator. The process included measuring its resource use and comparing its energy efficiency to other like-size breweries. It also included the B Impact Assessment.
“We heard it was really hard, but we thought it would give us a good picture of where we were,” Waters said. “It gave us a step-by-step roadmap for improving our energy efficiency. We were able to certify pretty much right away.”
Upslope took the assessment at the end of 2017 and certified in April 2018.
Change Sometimes Necessary
Other times, becoming certified takes some changes. Some of the questions in the assessment deal with the contents of a company’s employee handbook. Scott’s Roofing didn’t even have an employee handbook when it took the assessment, Nickell said. As the company worked to improve in that area, its push for certification was helped by other practices. For example, it uses an employee-owned supplier. It also uses shingles that recapture carbon equivalent to the effect of planting two trees per year per roof.
“It’s more expensive, but we think it’s the right thing to do,” Nickell said.
Now that Scott’s Roofing is certified, the company will have three years before it must complete the process again with more-rigorous standards. Upslope is up for re-certification at the end of the month — fitting, as March is B Corp month. After certifying so quickly the first time, Waters said, the brewery had a lot to improve for this assessment.
Efforts included more-aggressive goals for reduction of energy use, formalizing Upslope’s charitable-giving policies and improving training and internal communication, Waters said.
“The big value is the accountability piece,” Waters said. “It can be really easy to get caught up in things and put sustainability projects off. When we have external deadlines from B Lab, it’s really helpful.”
BSW Wealth Partners had to recertify in 2020, and the firm, which helps its clients create unique, targeted charitable-giving funds and is employee-owned, increased its B Impact Assessment score by 50 points.
“We were very motivated to create an authentic impact and put into practice different operational policies that would position us to increase our positive impact,” Lichtenheld said. As the number of B Corps worldwide continues to grow, the Boulder area, which has more B Corps than the rest of the state combined, should remain a hub.
“This is a natural incubator for mission-driven businesses,” Coupounas said. “It has all the right ingredients for an innovation-focused and mission-focused ecosystem. There are a lot of elements that make Boulder County unique: mountains, weather, lifestyle, entrepreneurs, MBAs, business leaders. There’s a really aligned city council, chamber of commerce and government players, from our state representatives to our governor. All these different sectors have a point of view around what it means to contribute to a healthy economy in the county. They understand the critical role that mission-driven businesses play.”
And local B Corps play that role in ways big and small. For the past year, Nickell has been lobbying the Lafayette City Council to mandate the use of Class 4 impact-resistant shingles, which are more durable, more sustainable, and less wasteful than other varieties; that change is going into effect later this month.
“You try to use your business as a force for good in the community you live in and the planet we all live on,” Nickell said. “I have four grandkids. I don’t want them asking me 10 years from now why I didn’t do anything.”