Environment | Sustainability | Ecotrope

"Benefit Companies" Focused On Sustainability Now Legal In Oregon

Ecotrope | June 18, 2013 12:29 p.m. | Updated: June 18, 2013 3:05 p.m.

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Gov. John Kitzhaber has signed a bill that allows companies to register as “benefit companies” in Oregon – businesses that offer environmental and social benefits in addition to making profits.

The designation recognizes businesses that conserve natural resources and provide employees with better quality of life, much like the B Corp certification offered by the nonprofit B Lab.

State Rep. Tobias Read of Beaverton co-sponsored the bill, which he said will legally protect companies that want to strive for more than just profits. Similar protection currently exists in only 18 states in the U.S.

“It allows people to bring their values to work,” he said. “B corp allows a company to say from the beginning: These are the values of our operation.”

There is no specific tax benefit for registering as a benefit company in Oregon, he said. But making the B corp legal in Oregon could be a draw for some companies, and it could keep others from leaving the state.

Karen Wolfing, co-owner of Independence Gardens, said she is planning to register a new business that will build edible gardens as a B corp because it will recognize her mission of helping people sustainably grow their own food.

“It’s just another option for incorporating,” she said. “It embeds our triple bottom line commitment as an eco-business. This is a way for us to have it in there from square one, and it gives us the opportunity to report back to the community about what we’re doing.”

Bamboo Sushi owner Kristopher Lofgren said his company has been a certified B corp for years but the bill will offer him additional legal protection in Oregon – particularly if he sells the business to someone else.

“It would make it harder for the new owner to unravel all the environmental and ethical benefits we’ve been adding over the years,” he said.

Lofgren said his commitment to social and environmental goals probably reduce profits by 5 to 10 percent, but he believes the benefits outweigh the costs. Having B corp status protects his right to make that judgment while running the business, he said.

“What a lot of people don’t realize when they look at the CEOs of companies as despicable people who make these decisions about money, money, money is that the laws are actually written so that’s all they can do legally,” Lofgren said. “They can be sued and lose their jobs, and the company can go under if they don’t. B corp is allowing another voice to come into that fray.”

Bamboo Sushi earns points toward B corp certification by offering health insurance to its management team, paying for staff meals, employee parties and time for employees to volunteer. The restaurant closes on holidays so all staff can have those days off, and it vets all of its seafood suppliers for environmental and social sustainability.

“We definitely have earned a great deal of customer loyalty,” Lofgren said. “We pride ourselves on being ethical and socially responsible. Making a profit is a good thing, but being able to do the right thing is more important.”

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