Update: HQ Raleigh achieved B Corp status in March 2016, joining 31 other B Corps headquartered in North Carolina. It continues to work to make the certification process easier for the 140+ companies in its space.
The story below was originally published December 10, 2015.
The paper towels at HQ Raleigh are made from recycled material. Members stir their fair-trade coffee with uncooked spaghetti noodles. The toilets use as little water as possible. And the amenities for members include bike parking, showers and free locally-made beer.
It’s all part of a two-year quest to earn certification from a growing national movement called B Corps and recognition for valuing profit equally with how the startup campus treats people and the planet. And unlike the top-down approach societies and governments typically use to force positive business practices, the B Corp movement is led by the businesses themselves.
That’s why HQ Raleigh is partnering with the non-profit agency that certifies businesses as B Corps to train more local companies how to implement the practices, and why it’s helping to bring a national gathering of B Corp members to the Triangle next year to celebrate the movement.
The message is resonating and North Carolina is positioning itself to become a leader of the burgeoning movement. Besides the startup hub, Seventh Generation’s Raleigh-based CEO, the insect repellent maker Murphy Naturals, a restaurant known for its beers and burgers, and nearly 30 other seemingly unaligned businesses have coalesced into an active community of B Corp companies. And more than 300 people interested in the movement gathered over the summer to advocate for and eventually win a bid to host B Lab’s annual conference retreat, the “Champion’s Retreat,” coming to the Triangle next October.
He says the team is proud of its certification and “shouts it loud and proud.” While Murphy’s hasn’t seen an increase in sales from the B Corp certification yet, Freeman says that’s only due to timing. Sales rise and dip seasonally and B Corp certification was finalized at the tail end of the 2015 busy season (June).
Freeman offers benefits like paid volunteer days, a wellness stipend and funds for employees to contribute to charitable organizations. The company also donates two percent of its gross revenue to 12 charities including 1% for the Planet, Activate Good and Triangle Land Conservancy. Freeman cites the company’s mission and these benefits as the primary attraction for a recent key hire.
HQ Raleigh is still completing the certification process, but that hasn’t stopped it from spreading B Corp values and information to members. HQ has hosted several information sessions and launched a pilot B Corp clinic in February 2015. The clinic matched students from UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State and Duke with four HQ Raleigh member companies—Pendo, Learn Trials, Vaporware and Vital Plan. The students received course credit in exchange for helping the companies determine how to best accomplish different requirements found in the B Labs assessment.
For example, Pendo—which recently announced a major Series A raise—is working with the students to determine the best benefit plan to attract and retain employees as it rapidly scales.
Since HQ Raleigh has made B Corp-friendly choices about its real estate and amenities, members can earn points on the assessment just for being in HQ’s space. Vital Plan—which Tracy says is close to reaching the number of points needed to become a certified B Corp—was able to earn points because HQ uses local vendors (for products like beer and coffee) and implements sustainable practices like composting.
Similarly, Freeman says his team has already begun the assessment process for his forthcoming co-working space—Loading Dock Raleigh. He hopes the space will become the region’s hub for socially conscious entrepreneurs, non-profits or individuals and sees the B Corp certification as an essential part of that distinction.
How far and how fast the movement can spread is up to the companies that have signed on as champions and allies. And with competing interests like making sure your business operates day to day and staying ahead of competition, businesses in the movement certainly will face challenges in maintaining their own certifications and spreading the movement.
But they see it as critical to any future for their business, despite the pressures.
As Tracy says, the movement is “not just a hippy environmental thing, it’s (thinking through) how do you roll these better business practices into creating a better business to work for.”
*This story has been updated to reflect a change in dates for the Champions Retreat.