Business as a force for good: why we’re pursuing B Corporation certification
Marybeth Alexander | November 5, 2020
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that today, this week, and much of 2020 has been a difficult time for many of our teammates and customers, both in America and abroad.
In a time of uncertainty and anxiety for the future, I've been comforted and inspired by stories of people out there doing good. When the world of tech, business, or politics feels selfish or evil, I find people and organizations who are choosing to do things a different way. A kinder, more caring way.
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers
I love the quote from Mr. Roger's mother about looking for the helpers. The helpers give us hope and show us we can choose to act with love and care towards others, even in the hardest of times. At the end of the day, I want to be one of those helpers. And I think most people do too.
Helping others makes us feel good and helps us feel connected to others. And those are both things we could use more of in general, but especially in 2020. I hope sharing our story of why we are pursuing B Corp Certification shares some joy and is helpful in some way :)
Over the years, I've often been asked what the end game is for KnowledgeOwl. Are we profitable? Are we looking to grow or sell the company? Are we considering expanding or pivoting away from knowledge base software? What happens if we decide we don't want to run the company anymore, or we get hit by a bus?
While we lacked an official company mission or vision, I hope I have assuaged fears and concerns by telling the truth. We have been focused on slow, sustainable growth. We are already profitable and we haven’t spent more money than we made. We aren’t in this to get rich or flip the company. We have always wanted to create a place where people love to work and people love to do business. If we decide to shut down the business, we have promised to make it open source so people could continue to use it.
I’ve never wanted to follow the traditional business or startup path. We never put profits over people, and we have strived to create and foster a place where people would be proud to work. I am drawn to and inspired by stories of businesses who chose a different path. I have looked for the helpers for the business world.
Learning about B Corp
KnowledgeOwl was founded in June 2015, and we have been a remote company since day one. Like many who suddenly find themselves at home (or who stumble across the wonders of the The Great British Bake Off), I suddenly found myself baking bread at home. And it was during this time that I learned of King Arthur Flour (now King Arthur Baking Company) and B Corp Certification.
From their packaging, I learned that not only was King Arthur Flour 100% employee-owned (which I love), it also had something called a B Corp Certification. B Corp Certification is a new type of business that balances people and profits, that sees business as a force for good. And thus began my love affair with B Corps.
B Corp Certification is a private certification for for-profit companies that want to balance purpose and social, holding themselves to high social and environmental standards. You can visit the Certified B Corp website to learn more, but you can probably get the gist from reading their Declaration of Independence:
We envision a global economy that uses business as a force for good.
This economy is comprised of a new type of corporation - the B Corporation -
Which is purpose-driven and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.
As B Corporations and leaders of this emerging economy, we believe:
- That we must be the change we seek in the world.
- That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
- That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
- To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.
They put into words and actions the ideas I've been dreaming of. I've been talking about wanting to become a B Corp for years. I've found out that companies I love and respect, like Help Scout, are B Corps. And it seemed like something we would do eventually. Maybe some day later. When we were bigger.
The path to B Corp
Back in the beginning of May, someone asked me again about our plans for KnowledgeOwl, what success would look like to me. And I brought up B Corp again.
Something changed this time I mentioned it. We weren't that much bigger, and in some ways it didn't feel like the best timing given a global pandemic and a ton of uncertainty. But it also felt like something actionable we could do right now, to have a positive impact on the world. To be a helper.
We started our path to B Corp Certification in May 2020. And it's been a transformational time for us at KnowledgeOwl, as so much of what we've improved has been a result of this ongoing process.
Here are some highlights on what we've done so far.
- Mission Lock: We updated our business operating agreement to legally commit to taking into account all stakeholders (employee owners, contractors, customers, vendors, and community members along with the planet) when making decisions.
- Customer Service Feedback: We launched our first customer service feedback survey, to measure how our support team is doing.
- Customer Survey: We launched our first-annual customer survey to measure customer satisfaction along with metrics related to positive outcomes as well as social and environmental goals.
- Impactful Banking: We moved our savings fund to a local credit union.
- Black Lives Matter: We started a #blacklivesmatter channel in Slack, using B Corp responses to BLM helped us shape our internal conversations and learning. You can read more about this in our post on Black Lives Matter from July.
- Support Local Communities: We launched our 2% for People and Planet Program, donating 2% of our profits to one of our local communities each month.
- Virtual Office Stewardship Policy: We documented how our team works towards helping the environment, and we started a dedicated #environment channel to discuss environmental stewardship.
- Team Survey: We launched our first team survey to measure engagement, satisfaction, and diversity
- Supplier Diversity: We documented our supplier diversity policy and began tracking supplier ownership diversity as well as social and environmental impact.
- Internal Documentation: We documented a bunch of policies regarding internal hiring and promotion, diversity in hiring, and learning and professional development.
- Employee Handbook: We created our first employee handbook, clearly documenting our mission, vision, and values along with setting clear expectations about how we work.
- Company Vision: We've created and shared a five-year vision for the company with internal stakeholders, so everyone knows where we are headed and what success will look like when we are there.
- Job Descriptions: We've started creating role-based job descriptions to outline our purpose, key responsibilities, and a vision of success for each of us.
A defined and documented mission
We plan to apply for B Corp Certification in January 2021. We hope to proudly join the ranks of other businesses who are focused on a global movement of business as a force for good.
As part of this process, we have created a mission statement, which we have been using to inform our decisions and actions as individuals and as a group. I think the mission was always there in spirit, and our desire to become a B Corp helped us put it down on paper. This is why we are pursuing B Corp certification:
We share the KnowledgeOwl experience
Making valuable knowledge base software
Giving great service to everyone we meet
With the belief that business can be a force for good
Being helpful and kind in all our actions
To make life better for ourselves,
Our teammates, our customers,
And our communities too.