Danone doesn’t seem jealous of its position as the B Corp community’s largest occupant. It convened an advisory committee, chaired by Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario, to help facilitate its own transition and that of other big companies.

B Lab UK’s Turner notes that working on Danone has been a learning experience for the certifiers, too. “A big business like Danone certifying has enabled us as B Lab, globally, to develop some much more sophisticated, fit-for-purpose processes” to help others do the same, he says.

A natural step

Faber doesn’t plan to stop when the whole of Danone is a B Corp. His vision for the transformation of capitalism is much more radical.

In September, Faber was in New York for the United Nations Climate Summit, the event where teenage activist Greta Thunberg delivered a stinging rebuke to world leaders for failing to take action on climate change. Faber’s appearance got considerably less attention; he was there to announce the formation of a 19-company consortium pledging to protect the planet’s biodiversity through sustainable agriculture and a reduction in deforestation.

At the UN event, in a roomful of Quartz journalists he spoke with in New York later that week, and in multiple other arenas, Faber has talked seriously about a complete transformation of the way we produce food, moving away from the use of chemicals to crop and animal cultivation based on deep knowledge of soil, ecology, and the climate. He thinks we should eat less meat, and rebalance our diets based on the planet’s future health, as well as our own (which in some cases might mean eating less dairy, Danone’s core business, and definitely means cutting down on sugar, which Danone uses in large quantities). He rejects the use of genetic modification in food production, and enraged a segment of the US food market when Danone’s North American business made the pledge in 2016 to become GMO-free.

Becoming a B Corp was a natural step for a company with values like Danone’s, Faber insists. It’s a good line, but given how radical Faber’s positions are on many aspects of the business, it may also be true. 

For other companies, indeed whole other industries, it’s perhaps not so easy. B Corp certification isn’t realistically open to every corporation. An oil major—for example—would struggle to meet the necessary sustainability criteria. Having said that, energy as an industry is certainly represented in the B Corp community (for example with the UK’s renewable energy company Bulb) as are a host of industries we might not immediately connect with ethics and transparency, including finance. 

Crisis point

Capitalism has been popular in part, it could be argued, because it is simple: Make money, and that in itself will ensure that other needs are met, because money-makers pay taxes, for example, and create employment. Where it falls down is if we admit, as we are increasingly beginning to do, that the world’s resources are finite (only so much coal to burn), and that making money for one group can fundamentally damage the happiness of another (think sweatshops in the garment industry.)

Nettled by the climate-related drive to buy less, or to shift consumption habits to encourage higher-quality goods and more thoughtful purchasing, Karl-Johan Persson, the CEO of H&M, one of the world’s biggest clothing brands, recently lashed out against anti-consumerism, telling Bloomberg in October that people flying less and limiting their consumption of cheap clothing could cause “terrible social consequences.” To Persson, it’s a matter of prioritizing between climate goals and reducing poverty through job creation. To others, his statement is the frightened cry of a business built on the fiction of unlimited resources and cheap labor that now finds itself in structural decline.

The evolution of the B Corp movement, with its evangelists and its detractors, is indicative of this liminal time. Amazon, a holdout among big tech companies in the race to mitigating its impact on the planet, was essentially forced by its own staff to finally commit to a timeline for reducing its carbon emissions to net zero.

As the imperative grows stronger for companies at least to express concern for the communities around them—and to acknowledge the business case for happier workers, non-exploitative supply chains, and healthy customers—it could become less clear who are the true change-makers, and who is purpose-washing for the sake of better optics. Increasingly we’ll have to ask of companies, what are they really doing to try and make the world a better place, or at least stop it getting worse? How can they prove they are doing it? And is it enough? 

Right now, B Corp certification is one of the most rigorous ways for businesses to put themselves through a gauntlet and emerge—it is to be hoped—as companies that are better governed, more happily staffed, and less environmentally destructive.

If B Corps continue to grow, with more huge additions like Danone, the governing body will have an increasing responsibility to make sure its standards don’t slip. And CEOs like Faber will have a real chance at talking credibly about the sustainability of modern capitalism.

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