This week, my Sip Wines blog topic is the “B Corp,” which I shall introduce by enthusiastically engaging in plagiarism as I copy the definition of a Certified B Corporation straight from the B Corp website:
“Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”
Sounds good, right? But what does it really mean? If you’re anything like me before I started researching for this blog, you basically have no idea. So before I get into Sip Wines and our love of B Corps, let me give you some history. It’s actually really interesting, I promise, and it’s super relevant to understanding just how amazing our winery partners are--whether they have B Corp certification or no.
A day without learning is a day wasted
A Certified B Corporation is a social enterprise verified by B Lab, a nonprofit organization started in the early 2000s by two friends who wanted to find a way to hold businesses publicly accountable not just to their shareholders in terms of profits, but also to their workers, communities, the environment, and their customers—in other words, creating a standard for accountability to ALL stakeholders in that enterprise.
Actually, this is a really radical divergence from what have evolved to be standard business practices that prioritize profits, but not just profits across the board. Rather, the current structure of big business is to maximize profits that are funneled to an incredibly small tier of senior leadership and shareholders. CEOs currently expect, and see, compensation packages into the tens (and hundreds) of millions; just looking at 2019, the ratio of CEO-to-typical-worker compensation was 320-to-1 (under the realized measure of CEO pay), up from 293-to-1 in 2018, 61-to-1 in 1989, and 21-to-1 in 1965. CEOs are even making dramatically more—about six times as much—as some of the other highest earners under them. Businesses have to make more money just to keep up—and a depressingly high majority will cut all kinds of other corners to do so, including like, child labor laws, polar bear habitats, those kinds of inconvenient corners.
The current state of inequity is almost incomprehensibly staggering, and yet, we’re led to believe that things have improved in recent decades. Remember that 1987 movie Wall Street, with Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko? According to Wikipedia, “ the film has come to be seen as the archetypal portrayal of 1980s success, with Douglas' character declaring that ‘greed, for lack of a better word, is good.’” And that’s the major difference between then and now: it’s no longer cool (or acceptable, actually) to come right out and SAY that. (Unless you’re Michael Douglas, maybe he still would sound cool.) No, these days, it’s all about how much good the corporate world is doing, even as the pay gap basically blows up entire levels of our workforce.
Truly, it seems like it's the rare corporation NOT talking about their social and/or environmental initiatives. To listen to prime time commercials, businesses are working so hard to be good, we’re basically living in a utopian paradise. Except that I straight up laughed at myself as I wrote that, obviously we’re NOT, 2020 has been terrible and income equality in the US is greater than ever and the polar bears are all going to die because all the ice is melting, so what gives?
Enter a fun new marketing ploy: Greenwashing. In the same family as brainwashing and gaslighting, “greenwashing” means that a company basically pretends that their products and/or practices are environmentally friendly, when in fact, they are not. SHOCK AND HORROR I KNOW, that a company would mislead us innocent consumers! (I’m not completely sure if the term “greenwashing” also refers to similarly misleading representations about social responsibility, but whatever, let’s say it does for the sake of this blog post, because you know companies do that too.) One of the more egregious examples of this was back in 2015, when a well known German car company was DEEP into promoting its eco-friendly diesel cars while simultaneously, and quietly, directing its engineers to rig 11 million of those “green” diesel engines with software that tricked emissions tests. Now THAT had to be peinlich (which you could probably guess means embarrassing auf Deustch). (At least, I'm pretty sure it does. My German is admittedly a bit rusty.)
THIS TRAVISHAMOCKERY IS THE REASON B CORPORATIONS EXIST
Not just B Corporations, really, I singled them out in that sub-header for effect and because that’s my theme. In all seriousness, though, all these squirrely practices shine a spotlight on the number one reason that things like sustainability certifications, organic certifications, and B Corp certification are so important: transparency. If an entity holds one of these certifications, it means that an independent body has scrutinized that entity’s practices against a uniform set of standards and assessment tools and publicly affirmed that the entity meets those standards. It also means that you, the consumer, can look up a certification and have a very good understanding of what a particular business is doing.
In the case of a B Corporation, it’s a PARTICULARLY stringent assessment that is honestly quite difficult to obtain. And that’s deliberate: B Lab wasn’t looking to create a label that every company could ultimately slap on their products. B Corp certification is supposed to be deeply meaningful, signaling that a business so completely embodies social and environmental responsibility that they are willing to undergo the rigors and cost to obtain the certification. I’m not even going to try to summarize the assessment here, because it’s long and technical. You can look it up, if you’re interested. GREENWASHERS NEED NOT APPLY.
It’s important to remember how difficult it is to obtain certification, because the absence of B Corp certification does NOT necessarily signal a lack of desire. As of 2019, there were only 2,788 businesses in the entire WORLD that had obtained B Corp status, including only 25 wineries--and there are almost 9,000 wineries in the U.S. alone, to put that number in perspective. Many businesses work for years before they are able to achieve certification, and others may decide that they are able to achieve their similar sustainability goals without incurring the cost of certification. As far as movements go, this one is still pretty much in its infancy.
At Sip Wines, we care about the journey as much as the destination
The Sip Wines team places a high value on authenticity and transparency. In fact, it’s a big part of why we exist in the first place: we want to help you, the wine consumer, understand the small winery level of the wine industry and highlight all the amazing ways they strive for positive impact even as they also run their businesses.
If you look on our site, you might notice that not every single one of our winery partners is tagged with “B Corp” or “sustainable” or “renewable.” Most of them are. But--and this is really important--this is where our commitment to authenticity and transparency matter the most. We do extensive research into every single one of our winery partners. We build relationships not only with the owners, but with the winemakers and other team members. And we know, with certainty, that regardless of which particular certification(s) our partners have obtained, each is doing their part to make the wine industry, and the world, a better place.
One final note: Sip Wines intends to seek B Corp certification. We actually can't even start the process yet, because you have to be in business for at least a year before you can qualify, but it’s something that we’re passionate about. We don’t know when we’ll get it, but we’re confident that we will--so why wait to celebrate? Buy some wine and raise a glass with us, and know that you’re making a difference.