Best for the World 2016: Doing Good for the World and Your Wallet

(3BL Media/Justmeans) -Environmentalism and social activism are sometimes considered to be all doom and gloom, but the first annual Best for The World conference refused to comply with such stereotypes. The mood of the groundbreaking company leaders who gathered at UC Berkeley’s campus two weeks ago was celebratory, irreverent, and defiant. 

These B corporations, awarded “Best For The World” status by B The Change, have done the unthinkable: they’ve found a way to reap profits while remaining aligned with their core values. In a capitalist society where individualism is generally honored over community, that’s no small feat. The honored awardees, winners after going through a rigorous assessment process, have proven it’s possible to do well for the world, for your wallet, and for your soul.

Bryan Welch, organic rancher, writer, editor, entrepreneur and CEO of B The Change, is the brains and muscle behind B The Change, founded in cooperation with B Lab and the B Corporations. He is not only audacious enough to start a media empire based on the idea that businesses can change the world, he’s bold enough to launch B magazine at a time when print is going out of style. But Welch is determined to prove that you can buck the trend and win—if you’re brave enough to stick to your ideals, risk failure, and think outside the box.

All the top honored companies at Best For The World had achieved B corps status, certifying that they met the rigorous standards of environmental and social performance granted by the non-profit B Lab to more than 1,800 companies across 121 industries and 50 countries. B The Change delivered awards in the following categories: Best for Community, Best for Environment, Best for Customers, Best for Workers, and Best Overall.

New Belgian Brewing of Ft. Collins, Colorado, was awarded Best Overall. New Belgian is 100% worker-owned and recycles, reuses or composts 99% of the solid waste created by their manufacturing process, in addition to donating 5% of their proceeds to charity.

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream was lauded as one of the first companies to prove that you can combine social activism with profit. Furthermore, Welch praised Ben & Jerry’s as an example of a small company that was able to sell to a bigger company, Unilever, without also selling its soul. As CEO Jostein Solhein said to an amused audience, “We are ice cream nerds. We are a mission-led company, we are a B corps, we have our unique take on environmental humor.” This year, Ben and Jerry’s has taken on the erosion of voting rights by partnering with the NAACP to blend ice cream sales with voter registration, centering their efforts in the battleground state of North Carolina. The results of their new flavor launch (“Empower-mint”) combined with this social action? According to Jostein, $500 million in profits, so far. With slogans like “Savor a flavor as sweet as Democracy” and a flavor line called “for the people,” Ben and Jerry’s is unabashed about its efforts to blend fun, flavor and social justice.

Some of the other panelists had smaller but no less significant bragging rights. Revolution Foods brings healthier meals to schools across our nation, removing high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients from meals and offering sustainable meats. 

Jesse LaFlamme told the inspiring story of Pete and Gerry’s Eggs, his family farm which was begun as a small family egg farm by his grandfather, Les Ward, a World War II navy dive-bomber pilot and son of a dairy, cattle and hen farmer. LaFlamme, who currently runs Pete and Gerry’s, related how, in the 1960s, his grandfather was forced to go from free-ranging hens to caging them indoors in order to compete with the factory farm monopolies that had begun putting small farmers out of business. He recalled the decision that changed everything, “As a Hail Mary pass, my parents decided to try it [organic farming]…I remember the day our cages came out of our barns…For the first time in 20 years we were able to farm humanely again. We hadn’t realized how truly demoralizing it was to see all those beautiful birds in cages.” In 2003 Pete and Gerry’s became the first Certified Humane egg farm in the country.  Today, Pete and Gerry’s is not only thriving, but they train and nurture 125 other organic small family egg farms in order to meet the demands of a changing marketplace.

Rhino Foods was hailed as a company that reaches beyond normal boss/worker relationships in order to meet the needs of its struggling workers. Ted Castle, CEO of Rhino, noticed his employees struggling to come to work due to the typical struggles facing poor and immigrant families—car breakdowns, family in the hospital, lack of child-care—the kinds of crises that become insurmountable when you don’t have any savings in the bank. In response, Castle started a credit union offering employees small loans, with the payback being that a small percentage would be coming straight out of future paychecks. His workers now “bring their best selves to work,” according to Castle. Some employees have been able to improve their credit scores, open bank accounts, and even qualify for home loans. “It’s a simple idea,” Castle said, “that has led to . . . employee retention, and the kind of employee loyalty that money cannot buy.”

Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, summed up things in her talk with Robert Strand, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business at Berkeley: “I think this idea that business is somehow bifurcated from the rest of life—that it has no responsibility to the environment, it has no responsibility to social good—is total bullshit.”