If not now, when?
There's a new way of doing business gaining ground nationally, one which uses the power of for-profit enterprise to solve social and environmental problems. The idea behind Benefit Corporations, or B Corps, is that when companies have a legal responsibility to all relevant stakeholders -- not only shareholders, but also employees, consumers, the environment and the community -- their impact is strikingly more positive, and even more profitable.
Four states have already passed legislation to create B Corps as a legally recognized form of business incorporation. Buffalo First! is working tirelessly with the help of the American Sustainable Business Council, Local First initiatives throughout the state, B Lab and our local elected officials to get similar B Corp legislation passed in New York.
The bill (S.79 - Authorizing the Incorporation of Benefit Corporations) has moved through the Senate Corporations Committee, but now sits on the Senate floor. The next hurdle is convincing Senate leadership to put the bill on the floor agenda for a vote.
It's not that the for-profit sector of our economy is shortsighted, evil, or inherently detrimental to the environment and local communities. Rather, publicly-traded companies are often hamstrung by their legal responsibility to maximize shareholder returns, and the ensuing effects on such things as the environment, employee well-being and the community at large can be less than ideal.
A group called B Lab is out to change that. They believe that the private sector must be allowed to lead the way to a more just economy, a new level of transparency, and socially and environmentally-friendly business practices. B Lab's solution is a new kind of company: the B Corp, which has a legal responsibility beyond shareholder profits. In a case study by the Harvard Business School, B Lab co-founder Coen Gilbert explains: "There are tons of individual companies that have managed to effectively balance social and business impact. Still, we need to institutionalize the values, standards, and accountability that allow companies to do that."
Business leaders are beginning to realize the importance of meeting the needs and the desires of their consumers. While shareholders and the financial bottom line are crucial aspects of business, they should not be the only consideration. The idea behind B Corps is that business has the power to create and strengthen positive material impacts in both community and the environment without significantly disrupting -- and indeed, actually enhancing -- the strength of their business and profitability. B Corps take a new-style business approach that aims to meet a triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.
B Lab also looks to build incentives -- aside from the obvious social and environmental benefits -- to encourage businesses to join the B Corporation community, and to reward the organizations that are already making positive impact. These incentives include over 40 service partnerships which can save companies up to $1 million per year. More information on B Corps can be found at the B Lab website.
B Corps maintain the altruistic values that so many companies today are essentially forced to forget about. They thrive off of community involvement, and in giving back to the people and the community around them, promote a healthier local environment. Our mission at Buffalo First! is to build a just, sustainable and environmentally-friendly local economy in Western New York. We strongly believe in the power of B Corps to strengthen our local fabric and promote a lasting, sustainable economy.
It is up to us to make B Corps a reality in New York State. The bill has garnered both Democrat and Republican support in the Senate and Assembly, but with a deeply divided and meandering state government, nothing is guaranteed. Let's flood the in-boxes and the phones lines of Senate Majority Leader Skelos as well as our local State Senators, Mark Grisanti and Timothy Kennedy, and voice our support of S.79 Benefit Corporation Legislation. Call the numbers below, go to their websites, or send a copy of our draft letter of support. The benefit to Buffalo's burgeoning new economy is a large one, and the benefit to all is worth the fight. Benefit Corporations are a better way to do business.
Contact Information for NY State Senator Mark Grisanti:
65 Court Street
Buffalo, NY 14202
Phone: (716) 854-8705
Room 902 Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Contact Information for NY State Senator Timothy Kennedy:
Legislative Office Building, Room 506
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2426
2239 South Park Ave.
Buffalo, NY 14220
Phone: (716) 826-2683
Contact Information for NY State Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos:
55 Front Street
Rockville Centre, NY 11570
Phone: (516) 766-8383
Legislative Office Building, Room 909
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-3171