The climate crisis coupled with rising inequality has made business leaders question what success looks like in the 21st century. And with the UN 2030 Agenda in full force, engaging society in a universal endeavor to promote prosperity while protecting the planet, the movement of B Corps – or Benefit Corporations – is hitting the pulse. Hence a recent partnership with the United Nations Global Compact, to help companies chart progress in tune with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
This chimes in powerfully with the overarching aim of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, explaining why it has pursued a close alliance with the B Corp movement since 2013. Sandra Ortiz Diaz, then representative of the BMW Foundation for Latin America, was instrumental in this, building early partnerships with proponents of a nascent ecosystem. Now in full bloom, the movement’s dynamism in Latin America is part of a worldwide trend echoing back in the United States, where it all started.
The most emphatic signal of this happened in August, when 181 CEOs of the largest US companies announced business should be not just for shareholders, but for all stakeholders, meaning customers, employees, suppliers, communities as well. Among the signatories of this statement were the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, BlackRock, IBM, JPMorgen Chase and Walmart.
Whether this was lip service or a real change of heart, B Corp leaders did not miss the opportunity. They took out a full-page ad in the New York Times urging the group to “get to work” and adopt benefit corporation governance structures. The ad said the model offers “a way to combat short-termism and the freedom to make decisions to balance profit and purpose.” The call was signed by CEOs of nearly three dozen major US B Corps, from Ben & Jerry's Matthew McCarthy to Patagonia’s Rose Marcario.
Within a few years, the movement has gained global momentum. The claim? Being the best for the world, not the best in the world. Thousands of companies worldwide have completed B-Corp certification process, with British chef Jamie Oliver recently revealing his ambition to follow suit. And now the growing achievements of B Corps will be celebrated this autumn.
B CorporationsCertified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, in order to balance profit and purpose. B Corps aim to accelerate a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. The community works towards reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs. Some publicly-traded companies have achieved B Corp Certification, such as Natura. Many other certified B Corps are subsidiaries of publicly-traded companies, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Sundial Brands (owned by Unilever) and New Chapter (owned by Proctor & Gamble).
September’s major events in the United States, Europe and Latin America will draw upon this shift away from shareholder to stakeholder. The upcoming gatherings aim to provide a space for inspiration, exchange, integration, and transformation. The 2019 Champions Retreat in Los Angeles (September 16-18) and the B Corp Summit in Amsterdam (September 23-24), will bring together B corps, business leaders, changemakers, and companies, committed to using business as a force for good.
The roster in Amsterdam includes Blandine Stefani, B Corp Director of Danone, Douglas Lamont, CEO of Innocent Drinks, and Anuradha Chugh, managing director of Ben & Jerry’s. BMW Foundation board member Markus Hipp will also be taking the podium.
While the movement in Europe, and especially in Germany, is growing steadily, but slowly, Latin America – represented by Sistema B - has been embracing the idea of an economy that can create value for our civilization and our planet with arms wide open. Kicking off on September 11 in Mendoza, Argentina, Encuentro+B will see the biggest gathering of the global community so far. Designed as “a transformative experience that can bring about a market-driven cultural change with the goal of mitigating inequity and the climate crisis”, Encuentro+B could be a defining moment. The goal is to take it to the next level, expanding globally and attracting even more mainstream players.
By now, there are 3,000 certified B corporations in 60 countries – several run by BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders: OnPurpose, founded by Tom Rippin, Festival Internacional de Innovación Social (fiiS), founded by Nony Herzfeld, Paintbox, owned by Chris Klugman and Allison Gibson, Abury, founded by Andrea Bury as well as Triciclos, founded by Gonzalo Muñoz, to name just a few.
Many BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders will drive the agenda of Encuentro+B. The festivities are co-organized by Guillermo Navarro Sanz, a Responsible Leader from Mendoza, the first City +B in Argentina. Navarro Sanz believes the process to be more important than the event itself. “It will provide the sustainability and deep transformations we need to transform our shared home”, he says. And he has the numbers to prove it: 95 companies, 21 organizations, 80 volunteers, 50 social leaders and 26 local companies have collaborated to make Encuentro+B possible.
Sistema BSistema B is a movement that strives to engage businesses as new players in the search for solutions to social and environmental issues while creating a convergence of interests. It is based on the belief that governments, citizens, businesses, investors and the knowledge-based community can come together to build an economy where success is measured by the well-being of individuals, society and nature. Since its creation in April 2012 there are already 10 national Sistemas B in Latin America. There is also a community of over 350 B Corps in the region. Together they account for more than 3 billion dollars in annual revenues and promote legislative projects to create a new corporate option.
A strong commitment in Latin America is no surprise. The B movement started in the US in the mid-2000s, but quickly leapt abroad. The BMW Foundation has played a part, especially in Latin America, in making the movement strong and sustainable – with the strong engagement of regional organizer Sandra Ortiz Diaz and an energetic regional network of Responsible Leaders. Sistema B was created by María Emilia Correa, Gonzalo Muñoz, Pedro Tarak, and Juan Pablo Larenas. They are all members of the network, who joined with the US-American B Lab to expand the movement in Latin America under a systemic vision.
Early on, the BMW Foundation became a strategic partner and has worked to support the development of Sistema B, especially in the continent’s biggest country, Brazil. “The BMW Foundation has been a key player in developing an ecosystem for an impact economy in Latin America”, says Responsible Leader Marcel Fukuyama, president of Sistema B Brazil. “Starting by seeding the B Corp movement in Brazil, the Foundation has resourced the whole region through a network of Responsible Leaders and has supported Sistema B in building a global community of people using business as a force for good.”
“Starting by seeding the B Corp movement in Brazil, the Foundation has resourced the whole region through a network of Responsible Leaders and has supported Sistema B in building a global community of people using business as a force for good.”
The collaboration quickly went beyond financial support. More importantly, it included assistance in business development, institutional development, communication, and capacity building – with Sandra Ortiz Diaz regularly commuting between Germany and Brazil and ultimately moving in 2014 to Rio de Janeiro for one and a half years. Sandra Ortiz Diaz was born and raised in Mexico and had moved to Germany at the age of 19. “Sistema B became my home. It brought me back to my roots, cherishing the strength, beauty, and creativity of the people in Latin America and our culture”, she says.“ There is so much to learn from working here in terms of being humble, full of life, and at the same time super professional.”
The love is mutual. During the last Encuentro +B in Puerto Varas, Chile, Sandra Ortiz Diaz received an honorary recognition; the first time this was given to a person, not an organization. This honored her extraordinary commitment to Sistema B in advancing the B-spirit, building bridges between individuals and organizations, and putting vision before self-interest. At the ceremony, Juan Pablo Larenas pointed out that “many of the global alliances that Sistema B could make were only possible through Sandra's leadership.”
Also thanks to Sandra Ortiz Diaz’s networking skills and the support of the BMW Foundation, many Responsible Leaders will actively shape the upcoming Encuentro+B in Argentina. Among the speakers, contributors, and facilitators are Luana Génot, Araceli Campos, Florencia Estrade, Tomás de Lara, Leonardo Maldonado, Ricardo Gravina, and Pablo Handl. Guillermo Navarro Sanz has called these fellow Responsible Leaders “the backbone of this event”. The BMW Foundation also made the connection between Sistema B and Otto Scharmer, founder of the Presencing Institute, which this year will help with the event’s design.
In its origins, Encuentro+B was held by Latin America, for Latin America, but it has evolved into being by Latin America, for the world. From September 11-13, more than 1,100 participants from over 30 countries will arrive in Mendoza to redefine the meaning of economic success and help advance the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda. Perhaps this worldwide wave will even convince the US business giants to follow their statements with concrete action. Which is exactly what the the UN Global Compact is all about: A call to companies everywhere to align their operations and strategies with the universal principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.