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#154 - Is Sustainable Capitalism Achievable Through The B Corp Movement?  With Chris Marquis, Professor in Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University

February 11, 2021

#154 - Is Sustainable Capitalism Achievable Through The B Corp Movement? With Chris Marquis, Professor in Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University
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Capitalism came into fruition when the world was full of seemingly inexhaustible resources. But as we know, this is no longer the case. Climate change is threatening how we do business, and some businesses are fighting right back.

Capitalism came into fruition when the world was full of seemingly inexhaustible resources. But as we know, this is no longer the case. Climate change is threatening how we do business, and some businesses are fighting right back. 

Consumers in today’s markets are increasingly aware of corporate transgressions. We’re tired of seeing an economic system that rewards corporate behavior at the expense of other people and our shared planet.

One way we’re seeing a shift in the global economy is through sustainable capitalism and the B Corp movement. Professor and author Chris Marquis is proving that capitalism doesn’t have to be all bad, it can be a force for good when adjusted through the lens of sustainable businesses.

Chris spoke on the Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast about how the B Corp movement is integral to shifting businesses towards social good and how much progress they’ve made in the last decade for a more equitable, livable future.

📄 Full Show Notes & Episode Bonuses:


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  • The B Corp Movement and how it changed Chris's perceptions of corporate social responsibility.
  • The differences between corporate social responsibility and a B Corp. 
  • The evolution and future of capitalism as it relates to the B Corp Movement and sustainability. 
  • How changing the way businesses operate can help change the world. 






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Cory Ames  0:07  
Hey y'all, it's Cory here with the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. As always, so excited to have you here. Today, we are talking about the B Corp movement, as well, its capabilities to potentially create a more sustainable form of capitalism. And to do so I am joined by Chris SmartKey, a Samuel C. Johnson, professor in sustainable global enterprise at Cornell University. He's the author of the book, better business how the B Corp movement is remaking capitalism. And I had the pleasure of going through Chris's book, which I think is a really wonderful chronicle of the B Corp movement, and and where it got started and what it has come to be, and I highly recommend you check that out. However, today, Chris, and I chat about the origin story of the B Corp movement, how a He himself came to, to be attracted to it. What drew him into this this community of businesses, as well, we talked about where the movement is, in the span of its trajectory of awareness and adoption, in the business community and as well recognition from consumers. And lastly, we talk about what's needed for the the B Corp movements and as well, the the B Lab, the nonprofit behind the certified B Corp. community, how what is needed to be done to achieve the gap between where it is now and in fact, achieving the ambitious goal that Chris proclaims it can do in his book, better business how the B Corp movement is remaking capitalism. Alright, y'all, it's a really interesting conversation here. I greatly appreciate Chris, taking the time as well. As I mentioned, I had the opportunity to go through Chris's book myself before our chat. And I highly recommend that you do too. It's it's a really interesting read if you have an interest for business as a force for good and interest in where a business needs to go to evolve to the times and truly face the crises that are facing us today. And I'd highly recommend going to Chris marquis.com, to check out Chris's book. But before we dive in to the chat, I want to recommend that you sign up for the better world weekly newsletter, which is our weekly discussion with our community of changemakers and innovators from all sectors all over the world here at grow ensemble. This is a newsletter that I write curate published and send myself every single Monday. So to join in on that discussion, go to grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter. Alright, y'all. Let's talk with Chris Marquis.

Well, Chris, I really appreciate you being here with me on the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. For folks who are unfamiliar with you and your work. Would you mind introducing yourself and sharing with us a little bit as to what it is that you do?

Christopher Marquis  3:41  
Sure. My name is Chris Marquess, I'm a professor at Cornell University. And I teach in research in areas of social entrepreneurship, social innovation, and also actually doing business in China. A lot of the research I do actually looks at environmental issues and sustainability of companies in China. I've been at this academic career for about 20 years now, before Cornell, I spent about 10 years at Harvard Business School, where I also taught on those same subjects. You know, I've written a lot of case studies on social entrepreneurship. Most recently, I pulled a lot of them together and did a variety of new interviews and research on the B Corp movement. And so this new book called better business, how the B Corp movement is remaking capitalism that I'm real, real excited about.

Cory Ames  4:31  
And that's a lot of the reason as to why we're here chatting today, Chris, I'm very grateful to have gotten through your book over the course of the last couple of weeks. And as I mentioned, as we were about to hit record, it's been hard not to see you since you publish the book among Twitter, LinkedIn, everything there so seems like you and your your PR team are doing some good work there. But I'd love to dive deeper into I guess the origins of your interest in the certified B Corp movement. What drew you to it? 

Christopher Marquis  5:06  
Sure, a couple of things. And it's been it's been sort of a long journey. So before sort of studying B corpse, I was studying a lot of companies corporate social responsibility programs. And when I was at HBS, I was teaching on that and, you know, teaching about, you know, companies like IBM timberland as PNC, financial, even Goldman Sachs as a really innovative, you know, set of work in the social space. And students, were telling me that they were not, you know, these large companies were doing, were doing great things. But they're much more excited about small companies that had social missions embedded at their core, like B Corporations. And, you know, I must admit, the first time I heard about this from students, I had actually never heard of B Corporations, or B Lab, or what any of the, you know, what any of those terms mean, but I very quickly got up to speed, you know, I find that I always am learning a ton from my students, and reached out to the, to the B LAB folks, and this was in 2009. And asked them, you know, hey, we'd love to actually study you and write a case study about you, my students are really passionate and interested in your work. So I, you know, I did that to 2010, published the first HBs case study on B Lab, follow that up in 2015. And then really started decided to write the book actually, also, you know, coming from my students are at Cornell, Jacob, Jacob Gilbert, one of the founders of B LAB actually visited, to take part in the class, one of the classes of teaching there, and we had a public lecture. And I was just amazed. I mean, it was, you know, standing room, only people sitting in the aisle ways. And I was like, wow, this is really amazing, the sort of interest among students on this, and, you know, it's actually right there, you know, as I was watching Jay interact with the crowd, I thought, I really should actually pull all this work I've done over a decade together and write a book. And, you know, that's sort of easier thought in one's head that actually done and it was a long process, it's actually the first book that I've done. And so it, you know, I, you know, had a lot of learning of book writing to do to do along with the process of actually writing the book. And so, and I really, after getting into it, I felt so sort of honored to be able to be part of like trying to, you know, for, you know, sort of do my little part to actually push forward this movement for better business for stakeholder capitalism for for big corporations. And so I just basically started over again and did all new interviews, to really capture the movement at its, you know, current day, and, you know, hope hope that I accomplished something of value for the for the movement.

Cory Ames  7:51  
It was, it was a lot of fun to come across. What have now become as a product of our podcast here familiar names. See, like, No, you know, I've talked with Eric Hudson, I've talked with John Bogle, and it's, it was great to come across that felt very connected to the book and the the folks feature. There's a few things you mentioned there, Chris, that I'd like to focus in on. I guess the first thing is what feels to be or what would you describe as the difference between something like this B Corp movement? And, you know, what has been, I guess, more traditional corporate social responsibility? And CSR? I mean, especially in the context of you mentioning their students took a particular interest in, in these more small, you know, midsize businesses as the B Corporations are today anyways, versus, you know, the more large traditional corporations that we can all recognize doing these these CSR initiatives. So I'd love to hear where we're, you know, where does the line get drawn there?

Christopher Marquis  8:58  
Yeah, I'd say there's, you know, at least initially, I'm thinking about sort of two differences. So one, you know, for a traditional company and CSR programs, there's a lot of great examples, I know, we want to sort of denigrate or, or, or not, sort of, say how respectful I am of the work that large companies are doing. But it's a usually to the side of the core business. So, you know, you have a company, you know, like IBM, I mean, it's a amazing technology services consulting company, and they do a lot of great things in the community in education, but it's not the core of actually their business and what they're trying to accomplish and with the, you know, leaders of it are trying to sort of accomplish is not social impact, so much as you know, selling products and services. So I'd say that the social entrepreneurs that I think are really characterized by the B Corp movement, like you mentioned, Eric Hudson and preserve. I mean, he started out with an interest in actually making products out recycled plastic, which is, you know, which people may not realize it's actually really hard. I mean, we all sort of are very conscientious recyclers, but actually, the extent to which what we recycle, what we actually put in the recycling bin in our house and gets transported away, gets trans transitioned into actually products is, you know, surprisingly low. And it actually takes a lot of, you know, sort of a lot of creativity and hard work, and, you know, engineering and all kinds of things. And so, you know, Eric really saw this problem, particularly with certain kinds of plastics, and he created a business around this. And so, you know, that's fundamentally different, we're actually the social impact is actually at the core of what the cup what the company is doing. So I think that's one different sort of it's, it's not to the side, it's not peripheral to the core, it's actually part of the core of the social impact. The second thing that I think is, is super, super important is that, to become a B Corp, you have to go through the B impact assessment. And that obviously, you know, certifies that you're performing at a high level, but what really I think sets it apart is the fact that you have to, you know, sort of measure track, and also be transparent on an accountable on social environmental, community, you know, workers, etc. And I'd say that's something that sets, you know, the corporation's offer from regular CSR, is that it's the accountability dimension. And I think that's something that, you know, one of the reasons I wrote the book is that, not necessarily that all companies should be B corpse. But what I talk about is that the tools, like the B impact assessment that has been created are some things that all companies can use. And I hope that, you know, as even the largest companies in the world continue to do their CSR, you know, they do it and actually work to be more accountable.

Cory Ames  11:59  
I think one thing that stands out to me or a question is maybe something that feels a bit assumed, but the word choice, you know, we're calling this the B Corp movement. And I'm wondering, and I'd love to hear your thoughts as to like, why is this Why do you feel this is defined as a movement as, as opposed to just a certification? Because we have fair trade certifications? USDA Organic? I wouldn't consider those Exactly. movements in the same way. I'd love to hear your thoughts as to why this is.

Christopher Marquis  12:33  
I'm very conscious in that. Hey, that's a great question. I mean, I'm very conscious and actually using the term movement, because it, you know, yeah, so fair trade is great. I mean, they're, you know, an organization that, you know, I guess cert certifies, and companies have to fulfill certain qualifications. But I think what sets actually the interest of big corporations apart, and maybe it's because it's a corporate level certification that the company entirely gets involved in it, but you know, you have entrepreneurs that are passionate about it, and want to connect up partner with, you know, meet other entrepreneurs and employees of companies that are B corpse. And so, you know, that sort of that unique thing, that actually the grassroots mobilization around the idea, but then also you have things like investors, so impact investors, even mainstream investors, now, they're sort of getting on board. And part of this, you have lawmakers, you know, the Benefit Corporation Law, you know, is has spread around the United States, and it's now spreading around the world. You have academics like myself, you know, there's this group B academics that I think has about 2000 members, you know, this is people that, you know, around the world are teaching about B Corporations. And there's many other sort of actors and sectors of society that are connected into this such that it's, you know, it's not just about a certification, it's actually about changing people that are passionate about changing different changing business and making a difference. And so I think that's, you know, why I really considered a movement.

Cory Ames  14:07  
I mean, I agree with you, I think that there is quite the ecosystem that you step into when you you began to even take an interest in the the certified B Corp community, in a really felt that as well. I'm not sure if you have the chance when the world was allowing it for the the annual events, the champions retreats. Right, a couple of years back, you definitely feel that as well. There's just so many different peoples from people from different sectors involved. And so I would certainly agree there's there's quite a presence that that has it differ for, you know, what feels to be just a certification. And so, Chris, you've been you mentioned, you've been chronicling this, this movement or following it and in studying it for the last 10 years now. And I know you get into this in your book and I hallway through going to encourage folks pick up themselves. But where can you Where are we in the movement? Can you pinpoint? You know, roughly what, where are we at in the trajectory of this this B Corp movement?

Christopher Marquis  15:17  
Yeah, I'd say, you know, if you visualize, like, I'm trying to think of like one of these, like exponential curves, where, you know, it sort of goes along at a gradual pace for a while, and then starts to go at a fast, fast, faster rate. I think we're very close to the sort of tipping point in this, and a couple reasons why I think that and I'm really super optimistic that these ideas are and are going to spread even faster rates in the future. So, you know, if you look over the past 10 to 15 years, the foundation and infrastructure has been laid in a really substantial way. I mean, you have the benefit corporation law, which, you know, when I first started studying this, there was, you know, no company, no, you know, the idea wasn't even, you know, around, I mean, it was, you know, only around 2010, when Maryland was the first were first country, or excuse me, first state. And then, you know, after Delaware passes it, which is that, you know, the sort of key state for US corporate law, I mean, other countries start to pass it, I mean, if you told me in 2000, you know, 2010 2020, like, there would be many countries in the world that had this had this new kind of company, it would just, I mean, I wouldn't believe you, investors are incredibly, you know, sort of coming on board. So you have not only the impact investment ecosystem that has has been developed, and really, I think the BIA the B impact assessment, you know, measurement tool has been so useful for a lot of impact investors to really, you know, conduct due diligence and actually, you know, understand the impact of the companies they're investing in, but also a huge number of mainstream investors. And now on board from, you know, on the private equity, venture capital space from, you know, Kleiner Perkins, Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia, all the big names invested B corpse. Now, a lot of B corpse are going public. So just in the last number of months, you had lemonade and vital farms and in app harvest, I'm not sure if they've announced they're going public, I'm not sure if that actually is gonna come through yet. So I see this, you know, this really, you know, in the last number of years, I've been starting this, it's starting to speed up, you know, particularly investment realm. And I think that, for it, to really hit that tipping point and grow at a faster rate, you need to have like, much greater consumer acceptance. There is consumer acceptance, consumer awareness, I guess, is what it's what I'm saying. And from what I've seen, that actually consumer awareness have started to really increase very quickly. And I think the reason why it'll continue to increase even quicker rate is that a lot of large companies are now coming on board, and more and more companies are putting the big logo on their products. So you know, the known is a huge supporter of the movement. To know North America, which is $6 billion business has is a certified B Corp, it's been the largest certified B Corp for a number of years, you know, a lot of their products from, you know, Dannon yogurt or yogurt, soy, soy milk from silk horizon organic milk, you know, have the b logo on them, people are starting to see the B logo. Some companies that actually did not initially have the b logo, have started to put it on their packet packaging. So So I see, you know, it's getting out in front of the consumers. So that's one sort of reason why I think consumers are going to become increasingly aware. There's also all this sort of discourse from leading mainstream actors from, you know, Larry Fink, the, one of the biggest investors in the world, that companies you know, writing annual letter as a company should be more purpose and sustainable, more purpose driven sustainable. The World Economic Forum, be right before the pandemic and January 2020, had a had the meeting focused on the stakeholders, the Business Roundtable. So there's like realization that we need a shift in capitalism. And then finally, I'd say sort of demographically as well, I think that the growing force of millennials, Gen Z's that are super focused on sort of purpose and values and wanting to work for good companies and buy from good companies, and as they get more more assets, invest in good companies. So I think all of these trends and let alone that we're coming out of a pandemic, and people have this idea that we need to build back better in some way. You know, I think all of these things are coalescing. You know, we've built a foundation, and now things are ready to really accelerate the growth of it. So I guess, yeah, they were sort of, I think, on the cusp of the tipping point, I guess what I'm saying

Cory Ames  19:58  
well in so You know, I mean, we've covered the the, I guess, where the movement is at? And why it exactly, you know, would be defined as one is, in our opinion here, I'm wondering, as well speaking to the substance of the B Corp model, why do you think it's, it's legitimate, you know, and does, in fact, have this capability to, you know, as your book title claims, remake capitalism, and perhaps make a more sustainable version of capitalism?

Christopher Marquis  20:29  
Sure. So I think there's a, you know, sort of, if you look at the model, I think, and it's something that's been, you know, refined now over, you know, a decade plus, like I mentioned, so many actors are saying, we need to be more stakeholder driven, you know, the Business Roundtable, you know, the previous statement on the that they had up until August of 2019, was, the company should be, you know, like, shareholders were the sort of key stakeholder for a company and leaders of companies should focus on profit, they should align their pay, and all these other things around short term earnings and profit. And that was the way to manage a company. And they changed that, and said, you know, companies should be stakeholder driven, they should actually be focused on, you know, their employees, their communities, etc. Because, you know, that provides sort of long term, you know, sustainability. You know, Larry Fink describes this, as well as it's sort of a risk management, you know, mechanism as well, if you're more stakeholder driven. But that's, you know, in many ways, easier said than done. You know, I think that, you know, maybe a company can start giving money away, or, or, you know, increase its community presence or, you know, some pollution abatement things, but actually to, to systematically, and, and in an accountable way, focus on stakeholders is hard. However, the B Corp model actually provides, like, sort of a toolkit and template to actually go about doing that. And so that's why, you know, in the book I really focus on, as I mentioned, you know, I don't think, you know, you know, again, I mean, I think is the more and more be corrupt currently in the world, the better. But the message of the book is that there are these tools and processes that exist, that to make all companies better, you know, it's why the book is actually titled better business, because I feel that actually going through this process, and it's what many entrepreneurs that have become the corpse have told me, you know, they got into it, because they were interested in committed to the social environmental impact. But really, they realize, they found that actually became a better business by going through it, because, you know, as part of it, you know, in addition to just sort of the networking with other B corpse and being part of the community and learning, you know, the B impact assessment is like a learning tool, you know, you it's a benchmarking tool, you learn about what best practices are, what other companies are doing. And it really provides a way to become sort of authentically stakeholder driven. And then because you're managing the measuring these items, you can actually also be more accountable and transparent as well. So I think that, you know, that that is one important aspect, I think the governance aspect is the second thing, you know, area where there's this benefit corporation type now, you know, alongside C, corpse, and LLCs, and sole proprietorships. There's now this type of company that has been passed in all these states and countries I've mentioned. And this, you know, in a fundamental, authentic way, puts purpose in the sort of chartering and foundational documents of companies. And so I think, you know, these two things, you know, sort of the playbook and accountability through the BIA, and then sort of putting it your DNA through the governance changes, I think are, you know, really would make this a substantial model.

Cory Ames  24:01  
I agree with you about the the assessment as we're working through that right now and working to achieve the score necessary to submit for certification here at GRE ensemble. We we do kind of consider it something of a course. It's like a curriculum. Questions. I mean, honestly, we've we haven't known how to answer it. It's it's Thankfully, there's, you know, a lot of supporting resources now, either through the lab or otherwise, the community is very generous, you know, in sharing how to work through the process and improve your business. So it is it's kind of a one on one, maybe an advanced version, not just but I it's rather rigorous and comprehensive. You mentioned that the consumer trends for one and younger generations, millennials and Gen Z, and as well, you you briefed on this in the introduction, it kind of stuck with me. And you can you know, correct me if I'm wrong, but you mentioned some substantial portion, I believe of of younger generations, you know, go so far as to even reject capitalism. You know, the term and and perhaps what, what it stands for, I guess, what I'm interested in is why would you know, these these demographics of consumers who are, you know, coming into being, you know, the most resource rich demographics, as you know, the transfer of wealth passes? Why would they accept and not continue to reject? What would be, you know, maybe seeming to them? Like just a better form of capitalism? Does the question make sense? Yeah, it

Christopher Marquis  25:37  
totally makes sense. And I think that it's easy to sort of throw around labels in some ways. And, you know, I'm, can't tell you, I'm like, sort of an expert on like, what socialism is, or, but I, but I do think that capitalism has been practiced as like shareholder primacy, has led to a lot of problems. And people see that. And so it's like, well, you know, that's bad. So, you know, the sort of opposite in some ways must be good. And, you know, even someone like, you know, Bernie Sanders, who is a self avowed democratic socialist, is actually not a real socialist, he's more like, I think people describe him is real, you know, a sort of ideology, like, sort of the Scandinavian, you know, social democracy, which actually has a market economy. And, you know, I would argue that, you know, a lot of innovation has been created through capitalism and market mechanisms, you know, and what the problem is that and, you know, hundreds of millions, maybe billions of people, a billion plus people have been lifted out of poverty because of markets. So, you know, what I, what I would say is that, you know, we just need a balance in some way, you know, I think things have gotten so out of balance with this focus on shareholders, that, you know, we, you know, we've sort of thrown the baby out of the bat with the bathwater might be, I don't know, the or we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, we want to sort of reorient things. So it's more stakeholder driven. And actually, you know, I think the benefit corporation, governance is tremendously important as well. And that's something that, you know, that, you know, having the government play a role in sort of, you know, setting guardrails in some way. And, you know, Rick Alexander, who, you know, headed up the policy park for B Lab for a long time. He has this new initiative called the shareholder comments of shareholder, I think it's called shareholder comments. I don't know a lot about I just actually get his newsletter, which is very good. And he refers to sort of policy as guardrails in there. And I think that's a really useful way to think about it. You know, I think we need to have robust market economy where there's innovation, but also it needs, we need to actually have ways to protect employees protect the environment. And I think that the government should play a big role similar to I think, actually, what's where he Sanders is talking about in the Scandinavian countries, or, you know, Elizabeth Warren, actually promoting the Accountable capitalism Act, which actually had a lot of overlap with the Benefit Corporation. legislation. I think that some of the folks from Delaware involved in the, in the benefit Corp legislation and B LAB were involved in that as well. So So I think it's, it's a little more complex than saying just capitalism or socialist, but I think that we do need to have sort of a balance and the strengths of both.

Cory Ames  28:43  
Yeah, I mean, it wasn't a very straightforward question, but but definitely one, being a member of the millennial generation. That is, has had my curiosity for a while. And I guess, Chris, we've talked about being at this, this tipping point in the B Corp movement in the trajectory of it. You mentioned factors, you know, greater consumer awareness of being one what, what are the elements that are needed for the B Corp movement for the lab, that nonprofit behind it? What are some of the missing components to you know, hit that that tipping point and surpass it?

Christopher Marquis  29:22  
I think there needs to be more tension on. I don't know if it's more coordinated, I'm not sure right, what the right term is around consumer awareness. I mean, this this is something that was one of the few areas of a little bit of frustration from some of the B corpse that I had talked to in doing the interview. So people sort of expressed frustration. I mean, there's, you know, I wasn't going to characterize you express your frustration, but you know, sort of going through the BIA is rough. I mean, it takes time. It probably is a little frustrating and annoying at times, but you know, But people actually describe that as something that they got a lot out of, and and actually made their company better. And they learned and so, and totally worthwhile. And I think that, you know, I mean, one of the reasons why I ended up doing all new interviews for the book is that when I started, and so the passion of the folks involved, the entrepreneurs, just was so amazing to me that I'm like, Well, I really, I felt like sort of obligation to really try to try to be as comprehensive and capture things as much as possible. But the one area where people I felt, expressed some that there was a need for more work was on sort of trying to trying to create a message that would serve encapsulate the movement in a way that could serve energize people outside the movement, like consumers. And people felt a little bit that, you know, it's a little confusing, because, you know, it's easy to like, Patagonia is about the environment, or, you know, you see someone like, you know, Grace a bakery, you know, it's about open hiring and bringing in marginalized populations and giving them you know, great job. But the a B Corp, there's such variety in because maybe some are great new environments, some are great employees are great consumers. And that, and also, then you have the benefit corporation idea which some, it's, it's tough to, you know, be corporate a benefit corporate different things. And once a certification ones a lot, I think, I mean, it, I think has to be, it's a complex thing, but I think that, you know, finding a way to sort of really crystallize this for consumers, and getting that message out, I think is something that, you know, is, I think, would be really helpful to the movement. And I wish, you know, it's easy to see criticize in some way. And and, and I do think that with folks like the known and a lot of bigger brands on board that, that there'll be sort of a more organic type of wareness. But I think that also, you know, the lab could potentially do more around that as well, I know that they that's on their agenda, and they're doing thing, but, you know, that's just something I've wanted to report from, from some of the B corpse I talked to. Sure.

Cory Ames  32:23  
And I mean, you mentioned some of them have their, their particular focuses the environment, you know, workers or otherwise. And it's like some of them do all those things pretty well. Yeah. And then it's just general, it's like, yeah, that's a really well run business, you know, in all all aspects of, of how you might define it. But you mentioned that detail in attracting some of these, these larger multinational companies like the known. And you mentioned this, as well in the book is being one of the few areas that will really continue to spread this further. And this is something that has been of interest in conversations with a lot of folks who are members of the B Corp community, either on this podcast or otherwise, I guess, wondering through, you know, what, what, what that does to the B Corp movement, like why why you believe it as well is, is a positive thing and an unnecessary thing for the movement. And if there's any, you know, I guess, cautionary notes or concerns with it?

Christopher Marquis  33:23  
Yeah, no, that's something that it's so interesting. You know, so yeah, I've been teaching on this for 10 years now. And we would, you know, when I first started teaching on it, I think there were under 300, B corpse. And all, you know, there are some well known names, they want the names, but not any sort of giant companies. And we would talk, you know, have a sort of a section of class, talking about how to really scale the B Corp movement, and always will come up like getting like large companies, and then students would dismiss it, because one of the things that really is compelling about the B Corp movement is that it's rigorous. And that actually, there are standards and people in the students thought to get a large company on board, you have to lower the standards, and then that would really it would be like lose the secret sauce of the rigor that so many companies have have gone through. And I actually am it's interesting, I saw this I attended one of the recent be the champions retreat. So there's one in New Orleans that I attended, and I went to a session discussing this and some of the B corpse actually, you know, the folks from B Lab that we're talking about a gate gave them a hard time, like, you know, this will create problems, because there's no way that large companies can actually meet the standards. So I think that, you know, one possible downside in some way is that, you know, there might be a perception that the standards have gotten easier or maybe corners are cut to get these large companies which then bring visibility. I must say, you know, the process I mean, I as part of some of the case studies I've done and also the book. I have interviewed a lot of people epi lab and studied the they was called the mpma. See the multinational public. And and I'm not sure I forget what the exact acronym stands for a bad with acronyms but the process they went through and I looked at the documents they they ended up producing. And they actually believe that for large companies that should be more rigorous, actually. And there's actually additional, like, you know, all the subsidiaries have to be certified, the headquarters has to be certified. There's a variety of sort of checks on lawsuits and various things that happen before the company can even become, you know, sort of start going through the certification. So, so So I think that people may not realize this, but actually, for large companies, it's it's a more rigorous process. So that one concern, I think, you know, it's been alleviated. I think, another concern, and this isn't a concern, so much as

wonder if the movements going to change some, you know, one of the really positive things I think the lab has done to try to bring bring large companies in over the past number of months is, is a program called be movement builders, which is, is sort of one of the folks that's involved in it described it to me is like a slower on ramp for large companies, because just respecting the fact that these are, you know, companies that are in, you know, scores of geographies and have good scores of legal subsidiaries, to actually go through the rigor of it is like mind boggling, like, where do I start, so it gives them like, a path, you know, start by certifying different subsidiaries, or using the BIA to manage part of your business and then increasing that over time, and also having like a cohorting type of effect, where a number of companies go through this at once, and so they can learn. And if you look at the first set of companies that is that is coming to this, so to known as one, you know, another really impressive company that's part of the movement is net Torah, as you know, a Brazilian based natural cosmetics company, which recently has purchased Avon and also owns the body shop. And so those are two. So we have one based in Paris, one based in Brazil. Also, there's two other Brazilian companies, there's a steelmaker and a retailer, and there's a fragrance company from Switzerland. And a, I think vegetable farming company from France. And sort of you think about the nationality of those companies, there's none in the non None from the US. And you know, the B Corp movement started in the US. And it's been very successful and globalizing. And I wonder if, as these large companies come on from other countries, you know, Europe and Latin America in particular, I mean, the center of gravity of the B Corp movement, I think, I think will become more European and Latin American, which I think is, you know, it's not concerned. I mean, I guess we started off, I think, talking about concerns. And that's not the way to think about this. It's it's a, it's a change that's going to occur. And I think that the movement will need to sort of rethink its global character, and how it relates to different regions and the role of the US. And I hope that US companies can really learn from this as well. Because, you know, even though I think there's been all this tremendous movement from the Business Roundtable, and Larry Fink and all, away from shareholder capitalism, shareholder primacy, you know, I don't think it's an accident that no large companies from the US have signed on to this yet. And so, I think that, you know, there's lots I mean, I think it's a lots to learn from different different varieties of capitalism that exist in the world. And I think that, you know, if the B LAB movement is well positioned for that,

Cory Ames  38:51  
yeah, that's I didn't realize that, that that was the makeup, everyone was outside the US. It because that's, you bring up an interesting point, you mentioned briefly there, that there might be some evaluation for, like, a historic track record of as to what these businesses have been involved in as far as, you know, lawsuits or whatever, previously, because that's the thing that I reasoned through as to like, oh, you know, if all of a sudden, and you know, a US company with historic, you know, worker abuse it like Nike or something in their supply chain, child labor, like that would really dilute I think, the potency of that certification. Totally certain, you know, these companies that you see, like, hey, they've they've done some, some ill in the past, but you know, I don't know, I think that that's something interesting to keep tabs on. So I didn't I didn't know that.

Christopher Marquis  39:44  
Yeah, and that's something that my understanding, I mean, not sort of being a worker to be Corp. I haven't actually gone through the assessment myself, but my understanding is, I mean, yeah, to get an ad, obviously, but also there's this thing called the disclosure questionnaire where, you know, it's like You know, not just the positive things, but actually the bad things, you know, and some of those things will even if you get over an 80, you know, you won't be able to get certified because of, you know, what you've done. And so my understanding is, I mean, for regular, the regular process is is not the end. But for large companies that's actually brought forward to the beginning. So that, you know, the folks at B Lab, and I guess the company can get a sense of, you know, is this just a no go from the beginning? And so I think that's a very useful thing, it probably saves people time as well. But, you know, given your right I mean, there are, you know, many things that, that, potentially, just from the gate out of the gate would disqualify companies.

Cory Ames  40:46  
And so I'm wondering, Chris, with, with all the interviews that you conducted, collected, and folks you talked to in the certified B Corp movement, were there were there any consistencies among the people behind these companies, you know, some of the folks we've mentioned, the Eric Hudson's or, you know, whomever, but speaking to, like, their, their character, or who they were, you know, did you find anything that was maybe a common pattern amongst, how they acted, how they thought about things, how they thought about business? You know, I've,

Christopher Marquis  41:20  
in my, I guess, I mean, I 20 year career, although the first five that were doing a PhD, so I wasn't sort of out and about very much, but, you know, particularly for my time at HBS, and Cornell, you know, I've interacted with tons of leading business leaders, and, you know, not just be corporate leaders, but, you know, variety of, you know, like, sort of, yeah, they're very well known sort of entrepreneurs and CEOs. And I think the thing that really consistently sticks out, at least from B Corp leaders, as compared to other leaders, is an interest in sort of changing the world, beyond their company. So, you know, it's not like, you know, you know, many business leaders, I mean, they want to, you know, make great products and sell great things and great services, etc. But, you know, the B Corp companies, they want to change the world. And part of that sort of change strategy is through the products and services of their company. But there's a bigger goal beyond just the company. And I think that's something that, you know, it's really been very inspiring to me, I think, why I kept talking to so many of them, because it's, it's, you know, and I think it's why there's so much interaction in the community, because people realize that they're all in this together, you know, maybe some, some companies have different, you know, missions and different interests, but everyone is actually about something bigger. And that's really, really inspiring.

Cory Ames  42:52  
Yeah, I certainly agree with that sentiment, I mean, coming from previously, digital marketing agency, I worked in a really single bottom line, just just profit, you know, as, as that company operated, and sort of move into this, this space, this style of business, you know, these people are really extremely generous, and as well, it's just not a zero sum, you know, at your success is not something that that's, you know, potentially threatening narrows in any sort of regard. We're all in a sense, you know, fighting for the same things. So it's very generous community. Without a doubt. Well, Chris, I really appreciate your your time here. But before we wrap up wind if I hit you with a couple rapid fire questions,

Christopher Marquis  43:39  

Cory Ames  43:57  
Hey, y'all Cory here super quickly. Before we finish up today's chat with some rapid fire questions, I want to briefly tell you about our Better World Business Growth programs as it's our mission here at grow ensemble to promote and highlight the exceptional work of social entrepreneurs. We want to use these Better World Business Growth programs to do more of the same. So if you are a change maker or leader in this space of sustainable and socially responsible business, and you want to build an audience of customers and advocates around your brand and mission to help drive forward your purpose, profits and ultimately sustainable and healthy business growth. And I want to invite you to head to grow ensembl.com backslash B WB to check out some of our free trainings and resources as well as our newest program, the roadmap builder program that we've just opened up a few slots for where our team does a complete audit on your online performance and ultimately uses that and your goals and objectives to build your complete growth and marketing strategy. The next six to 12 months. So again, that is grow ensembl.com, backslash B WB to check out our Better World Business Growth programs. Alright, let's get back to the episode

well, so outside of your own, of course, we're gonna recommend that have you read a book recently that that's impacted you? Or is there a book that you always come back to you that you'd like to recommend to our audience here?

Christopher Marquis  45:40  
Yeah, I've recently she's been in the news recently. I don't know how to pronounce her last name. It's Maria. Moses Kado. She's written a book.

Cory Ames  45:48  
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Christopher Marquis  45:51  
I have one, I think it's called the entrepreneurial state, which I'd read a bit ago. But I read her recent book, I think it's called the value of everything, where she really sort of challenges, you know, how things are valued. And, and her idea, it's that, you know, so much of the innovation that the government is done is actually not accounted for in the value of products. So you look at something like, you know, the iPhone, my sort of phone here, you know, all of this sort of funding, fundamental innovation that has gone in underneath the products is not really quantified, or patented, and companies are somewhat standing on the shoulders of giants. And that's not recognized. And one of the reasons why that's really resonated with me, and I read it is that I've been doing a lot of thinking about externalities, and how, you know, so much of like, the costs of companies is not valued. So, you know, pollution that is sort of spewed into the air, you know, is, you know, that's that's that should be accounted for in the price of companies products. But this is another kind of value. And so I've been, I think my next book is going to be looking at how this sort of like externality problem and how companies are addressing it. And I think that reading her book about sort of the value of everything, and it's been really helpful from thinking about that. I'm sorry, no, this was Rapid Fire Ice i No,

Cory Ames  47:15  
no, no. Yeah, no, I, that's, it's interesting, you bring that up. I mean, in we, as you know, consumers, just thinking about products we buy or services we use, we don't often take those things into consideration, you know, what all background components have played a part in that, you know, and especially in the context of your book recommendation there. This is particularly important now, you know, as the time of our recording here with the development of these COVID-19 vaccines, cuz you better believe those aren't just, you know, private industrial, exactly. Innovations. Rather, there's, there's been so much groundwork laid that

Christopher Marquis  47:56  
Pharmaceuticals is an example she uses in the actual Yeah,

Cory Ames  47:59  
definitely. And next one for you, Chris, do you have any particular morning routines or daily habits that you absolutely have to stick to?

Christopher Marquis  48:08  
Yeah, so I, you know, I don't know, any sort of really firm routines, but you know, I'm a very much morning person. And that's like, actually, where my most productive work is done. So, you know, usually I'll get up and, you know, work, you know, do some sort of administrative stuff very early as I drink my coffee, and then spend a few hours actually, you know, sort of trying to write or think about, you know, some, you know, sort of research problem that I'm working on. And I usually try to keep my morning, clear up meetings, or at least early morning clear meeting, so I can really spend that time focusing on my work.

Cory Ames  48:44  
I tried to do that. Certainly, you know, maybe maybe during this this pandemic age right now, it's a little bit more challenging than the normal to keep the space feeling clear, but, and I share that ambition with you. Next one for you, Chris, are there any particular companies or organizations that have recently inspired you in any particular work that they're doing that you think are worthy of a little

Christopher Marquis  49:12  
plug here? Yeah, recently, I, I talked to the leaders of Allbirds. And they continually, you know, they're, they're one of my go to examples. So I hate to actually continue to plug them but they I keep learning new things about them. So so, you know, the thing that I would frequently talk about is their development of sweet foam this material for their soul, which is carbon negative. And, you know, unlike so many companies that would patent that they actually open sourced it because the idea was that so many other companies would find that value that but that's actually wasn't what I was thinking about. I may actually take this idea of externalities super, super seriously. And again, this is something that's really you know, on my mind this And so they put the sort of carbon score now on shoes that they have. So, so people are aware of it, and actually are developed and continue to refine, develop KPIs for different managers, you know, sort of p&l and business units, that that factor in the externalities into their, into sort of the accounting. And so that's something that I think, you know, is really, really fantastic.

Cory Ames  50:27  
Yeah, I mean, just spending a few moments on Allbirds his website and their, their, the quarter of their website where they document all their sustainability efforts from product production materials, it's it's really rather extensive. So an example may be worth repeating for sure. Yeah. All right, Chris, last one for you. Where should people go to to check out your book, better business keep up with you and, and perhaps anywhere else to follow along with the B Corp movement?

Christopher Marquis  50:55  
Yeah, sure. So my name Chris Marquis, Chris Marquis dot com is my website and there's a tab on there. For the book, people can read about it there I did a bunch of, I guess guides for the book. So if you're an instructor, you know, there's a teaching guide, a couple of guides for entrepreneurs that might be interested in like, why the BIA pays or how to future proof your business or other some stakeholder capitalism. So, you know, people can go to my website and learn about the book. You know, I freak people ask me frequently about, you know, probably your listeners don't need to know the, you know, B Corp dot net. And to learn about being a B Corp, and I find myself almost every day going to the B Corp finder tool, which is super useful if I'm, you know, researching a city or even new products, I actually, you know, you know, sort of, Oh, is there a shoe company that's a B Corp that I that I know about that you know, I need to get a new pair of shoes. So it's,

Cory Ames  51:52  
that's that's a useful resource, but I think your your readers, or listeners probably know about that one. Always good to add it in one more time. All right, Chris. Well, thank you so much for taking the time we'll have everything linked up at the show notes at girl ensemble.com. Super, thanks so much, Cory, really fun to talk. Okay, that is a wrap another episode of the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast in the books. I hope you enjoyed it. As always, your host your Cory Ames. I always really enjoy knowing that you're you're out there and listen to this episode engaging with the content, perhaps the folks that we featured doing this exceptional work in the world. If you enjoyed the show, and you haven't already, please leave us a review wherever it is that you get your podcasts. And hit the subscribe button if you haven't already that really helps other folks like yourself, discover the show. And lastly, if you have not yet, sign up for the better world weekly newsletter this is our weekly discussion of building a better world with our global community of changemakers and innovators from all sectors and all walks of life. So go to grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter to get the next Better World weekly in your inbox. Alright y'all, we'll talk next time.

Christopher MarquisProfile Photo

Christopher Marquis

Professor, Author

Chris Marquis is the Samuel C. Johnson Professor in Sustainable Global Enterprise and Professor of Management at the Cornell University Johnson College of Business. Prior to joining Cornell, he worked for 10 years at Harvard Business School and has held visiting positions at Harvard Kennedy School, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Peking University, Fudan University, and Shanghai Jiaotong University. Marquis received a PhD in sociology and business administration from the University of Michigan.

Marquis’ current teaching and research is broadly focused on the two areas of social innovation and change and doing business in China. Under these themes he has examined entrepreneurship in China, the triple-bottom line and building sustainable businesses globally, and business competition in emerging markets. These research projects build on Marquis’ earlier research on how business can have a positive impact on society and in particular how historical and geographical processes have shaped firms’ and entrepreneurs’ social and environmental strategies and activities. His latest book, Better Business: How the B Corp Movement Is Remaking Capitalism, focuses on the potential for stakeholder governance models to reform capitalism.