B Certification. What is it Good for?
I believe it was the great Edwin Starr who asked this question of "War," then answered it by declaring, "absolutely nothing." And so it is, I'm finding with B Certification. Folks who know me know that for the past few years, I've lauded B Corporations. As an educator. A promoter. A consumer who, when faced with the choice between a product that is made by a B Company versus one that isn't, the B product has won every time.
Never heard of a B Corporation? Well. Certified by non-profit B Lab, based in Wayne, PA, they're supposed to be better for the planet. To do well by doing good. To consider the impact their actions (all of their actions) have on all stakeholders. They are to be better employers. Better world citizens. Better businesses. Better than what I've witnessed... Which is honestly making me change my stance on the whole B Corp movement. And I say this because, through recent interactions with B Lab, I'm beginning to believe that the certification is nothing more than an empty marketing tool. Just another eco-friendly super green way to part me from my money.
Beautycounter's Ugly Truth
My suspicion first piqued when I learned that Beautycounter, a multi-level marketing company (aka pyramid scheme) had landed its way into illustrious halls of B Certification. I could not believe that a company with a questionable distribution scheme could be considered "better for the planet." Where their independent sales contractors have to jump through all kinds of hoops in order to simply get paid. And mostly earn said pay by recruiting people, not by actual sales. In my research, I learned that Beautycounter is able to essentially skirt the B Certification rules on being better for employees by ensuring that its entire sales force are not considered employees. As long as they're categorized as independent contractors, they're excluded from the "good for workers" section of B Lab's Impact Assessment - the application process for becoming a B Corporation.
Now don't get me wrong. Beautycounter has done good. They've brought consumer attention to harmful additives found in many cosmetics - and exclude these additives from their products. They've sparked lobbying initiatives to ban such additives. But, is it enough? In my opinion, no it is not. One shouldn't be able to be great in one area but absolutely terrible in another, yet still gain B Certification. When I see that little B on packaging, I want to know that this company is all around good. Not saying perfect. But also not perpetuating the cycle of poverty for which those at the bottoms of those pyramids are quite known for.
So how do they do it? Well, now... B Lab's Impact Assessment prepares companies to "be forces for good." Covering such areas as Being Good: to Workers, to the Environment, in their Community, for the Long Term, and to the Core. Based upon answers to a series of questions posed in each area, companies are then graded on a scale of 0 -200. And this where things get, how do I say it? Uhh, below average. Of the possible 200 points, a company only needs 80 points to brag to the world that it's great for the world. Yes. 80. Forty percent. Which would disqualify a student athlete... On the scale of bad to good for the environment, these companies don't even have to be mediocre! Wanna know Beautycounter's score? 81. And get this. No improvement is required to remain certified. Nope. Companies like Beautycounter can hang out at the bottom year after year and just be "a'ight" for the planet. Because that's where we find ourselves as a people.
Forgive me if I'm being the least bit facetious... but. How is less than mediocre (even with the high standards laid out by B Lab) better for the world? How is selectively choosing who to treat well in your "employee" pool better? I posed this question to B Lab and they replied that independent contractors aren't considered workers, but would be considered under the community section of the assessment. Oh. Community. But the questions posed in B Lab's assessment don't exactly consider the well-being of independent contractors. It's more about community involvement, volunteerism, support. Not so much about folks ponying up their last few hundred dollars to become a Beautycounter salesperson, desperately recruiting and losing friends while trying (usually in vain) to recover those last few hundred dollars. So in being better for the world, it makes perfect sense to exclude those who make up the largest part of Beautycounter's organization, because they aren't salaried. GTFOH.
All Downhill from Here
And Beautycounter isn't the only company on the list of over 3,500 (and growing!) companies worldwide who've attained the certification, yet demonstrate questionable behavior. Taos Ski Valley, just north of Taos, New Mexico, shocked the sustainable world by becoming the world's first B Certified ski resort back in February 2017. Other B Companies, from Patagonia, to New Belgium Brewing, couldn't wait to congratulate Taos Ski Valley for joining the movement and for demonstrating its commitment to among other things, the environment. LEED silver certification soon followed for The Blake, its newly opened slope-side hotel. Praise upon praise poured in for Taos Ski Valley's commitment to and involvement with the community. But there's another side...
Back in August 2017 (some six months after gaining B Certification!), Taos Ski Valley uncovered diesel contaminated soil, beneath a children's play area at the resort. Cool. They immediately took action to remove and remediate the contaminated soil. Cool. But in September 2017, Taos Ski Valley's plan became to dump the contaminated soil in an area north west of the Rio Grande Gorge, where many residents live off grid and rely upon rain catchments as their primary water source. Like hundreds of people. People living in sustainably designed homes. Homes like earthships, a type of passive solar house, made of mostly natural and upcycled materials, with one or more walls built into the ground to take advantage of Earth's natural geothermal heating and cooling abilities.
The community is concerned. As it should be. Taos Ski Valley has assured the community that the contamination won't leak deep enough to affect groundwater. But residents say that groundwater is not the issue. At issue are the winds. Winds that I've seen blow an actual camping trailer apart and clear across the mesa. Winds that will without a doubt carry the soil across Highway 64, directly into the path of the Greater World Earthship Community. Where the contaminated soil will surely contaminate the water filtration systems - as most catchments are placed just below the soil. Yet Taos Ski Valley isn't listening to residents. In fact, back in mid- September, they began trucking the contaminated soil to the planned site. This. From a B Corporation. Who's supposed to consider the impact of its actions on all stakeholders. And be the change... Right.
So in October 2017, I contacted B Lab's 'Support' team, advising them of the issues facing one of their own and inquiring whether they should be allowed to retain B Certified despite these hostile actions. I included a copy of Taos Ski Valley's application to the New Mexico Environment Department for a land-farm permit to dispose of the contaminated soil. B Lab's Satisfaction replied promptly, with the promise to respond upon reviewing the materials. A month passed. Nothing from B Lab. I learned that public comment had opened for the land-farm permit, so I forwarded that information along to B Lab, asking the same question I asked initially - how is this conduct becoming of a B Corporation? As you might have guessed, lowered expectations and less than mediocrity: Taos Ski Valley scored 90. B Lab has promised to respond upon review of the materials... Again. I won't hold my breath. But maybe I should.
So what exactly is B Certification good for, if companies like Taos Ski Valley and Beautycounter are only somewhat good for the planet?