The new standard for balance and success in business

 Panelists at the B Corp Pubtalk

Last week the NW Lucky Labrador Beer Hall packed in more than 100 people for the B-Corp Pubtalk hosted by the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network. The enthusiastic panelist discussion echoed many of the lessons that come up regularly in our MBA coursework. It was valuable to hear it outside the academic setting from people who have literally lived the experience. Here’s what I gathered:

B-Corp is not just about the certification.

To be certified as a B-Corp, a business must go through rigorous evaluation in four key areas: governance, employee practices, environmental practices and community impact. To follow up, they must demonstrate their commitment to the triple bottom line (we’ll get to that in a second). Earning the B-Corp badge takes a lot of time and hard work, but it’s not just about the end goal of getting certified. As the panelist from the B Lab (the nonprofit responsible for assessing candidates) put it, “B-Corp is not just about the certification, it’s a roadmap for how to improve business practices.” Companies who start the process soon learn there is so much more they can do to strengthen their firm. They find as much if not more value in the journey than they do at the finish line.

Triple bottom line is the new standard for balance & success.

One panelist, the head brewmaster from Hopworks said, “I have a fundamental belief that single bottom line businesses are out of balance.”

The single bottom line is just one piece of the puzzle. Financial measurements are important and necessary, but they are not the only metric for a business’s health. What gets measured gets done, so if you’re focused only on profits, you’re missing the bigger picture. In addition to profit, the triple bottom line also incorporates people and the planet. From an economic standpoint, balancing the second two ‘P’s still comes back to revenues. In other words, by considering your stakeholders, your influence on employees and the community, and your impact on the environment, you are creating a more sustainable business model. A profit-driven model can often be short-sighted — what can we do to have a better second quarter? The triple bottom line is all about the long-term — what can we do now to ensure our success down the road?

Don’t view it as just dollars and cents.

Yes, getting B-Corp certification requires a lot of time, hard work, and some financial investment. It’s easy to look at the process and just see a bunch of added costs. One panelist said the accountant perspective is often that it’s all part of a marketing ploy. We call that “green washing” — adopting sustainable practices just so you can talk about them and impress consumers. While brand perception is definitely an added benefit, it’s not the only end goal. That same panelist responded to the question, “what’s the financial benefit?” by saying, “beyond what you’d think.” Those who have made the leap see the return on investment through relationships — not just with customers, but with staffers, recruiting and the extending into the community. Plus, even though you might spend a little extra up front, the savings from conserving the earth’s natural resources can really add up over the long haul.

Fully appreciating the world of B-Corps does require some shift in mindset from traditional business. The main point is that financial goals and metrics should not be considered independent from people- and planet-focused practices. Investing in sustainability is one and the same as investing in profitability. I’m still wrapping my head around this, but I’m starting to see the bigger picture.

Kyle Huck has a background in graphic design and web-based marketing. He graduated from The Portland MBA in 2018.

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