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Organizational Change
As Stakeholders Demand More from Business, B Corps Rise to the Occasion

Here, Lisa Geason-Bauer, founder of Evolution Marketing, discusses the importance of diversity, inclusivity and employee engagement; as well as how B Corps are ideally placed to meet the rapidly changing needs of businesses today and in the future.

Many businesses today strive not only to make a profit but also to do so in a way that makes a positive impact on society and the planet. The growing number of successful B Corps shows that concern for the environment and the welfare of communities can underpin a successful business model. Perhaps this is why the B Corp movement is expanding across a whole range of industries and types of business from bakeries to marketing and even dentistry.

We recently spoke with Lisa Geason-Bauer, founder of Evolution Marketing — the only advertising agency in Wisconsin that works within the environmental, socially responsible and sustainability space. Drawing on her background in sociology and her experience of building her own B Corp-certified business and advising others, Geason-Bauer talks about the importance of diversity, inclusivity and employee engagement; as well as how B Corps are ideally placed to meet the rapidly changing needs of businesses today and in the future.

As interest in the B Corp movement grows, what would you say to companies who might want to incorporate some of the principles but can't make the changes right away?

It takes time to become a certified B Corp. If you start the organization using either triple bottom line or quadruple bottom line thinking and make your decisions through the lenses of those frameworks, that will help to put you on the path to someday becoming a certified B Corp.

Or, they could start by putting in place an employee engagement program. Big companies have the resources, but even small ones could do a simple survey to find out what your workforce is interested in. For example, ask them what project they are interested in working on, or what they think the company could do better.

Another good start is to look at the employees you are recruiting. I would argue that the more diverse and engaged the workforce is, the more engaged and successful the business is. The B Corp movement’s Inclusivity Challenge helps businesses to be part of a more inclusive economy.

A lot of big companies have been putting sustainability programs in place in the last few years. But small to medium-size companies can do that, too. For businesses who aspire to become B Corps, it's all about engaging your employees and working towards creating a more holistic system.

I think this was very relevant pre-COVID, and it is going to be even more relevant post-COVID — as we try to negotiate how to move businesses forward in an equitable and just manner.

What role can B Corps play in meeting the needs of the next generation of workers?

The youngest Gen Zers are now 20-25, and they entered the workforce a couple of years ago. We see that their value system is very different, even from the Millennial value system. Millennials were more progressive than Generation X. For Millennials, it is really important to work for a company where they were able to give back. In the last ten years since the Millennials entered the workforce, there has been an increase in corporate social responsibility programs. We see that both in Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller ones.

The Millennial generation moved us in one direction, and Gen Z is taking us even further. Some say they will only work for a company where they feel they are doing some kind of work that benefits society and impacts the world in a positive way. They want hands-on opportunities to give back and to become better leaders within their companies. So, there is this bigger shift — that you don't just go to work to make money; you are going to work because you want to make the world a better place.

What about the role of education? How can colleges and universities ensure that students learn the skills they need to lead and support the sustainable, ethical businesses of the future?

The first thing is that, if someone is taking a four-year degree, it is important that the student gets a chance to interface with the business world or with the community — for example, through internships. This is particularly important because the business world is changing so fast. Businesses are getting more innovative and the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us how innovative business can be. It is really important for students and young people to see businesses pivoting and making strategic decisions in the workplace.

The second thing is that, when businesses take someone straight from school, they are more and more likely to ensure that they provide opportunities for young professionals. This could be through on-the-job training or some sort of certification that is relevant to the job. Many young people don't want to run up huge debts to pay for a college education. So, companies are bringing in programs to help grow the workforce. And that is part of having a robust employee engagement program, where the business is investing in the workers and the worker is then investing back into the business.

There also needs to be flexibility in courses, such as opportunities to do the program online. That is the future of what education is going to look like. We see that happening, for example, at the University of Wisconsin. They have flexible degree programs; as well as a more holistic, balanced approach which means more diversity of classes as well as opportunities to engage with the world of business.

There is also interesting work going on in high schools, where students can get the chance to intersect with businesses working for good. One example was a project where high school seniors worked at a nonprofit that provided utilities advice. The students translated guides and information about saving energy and avoiding scams into Spanish to help people make better choices. It also involved shadowing staff in the organization. Students saw business for good being modeled; and as a result, when they go to college or into work, think that is the norm.

How do you see the B Corp movement developing over the next five to ten years?

One big change is that in the future we will see fewer jobs that require a four-year degree. Research by the Wisconsin Policy Forum predicts that by 2024, 60 percent of jobs will not require a four-year degree. Many will require just high school, with some level of on-the-job training — such as a vocational program and certificate. Only 10 percent will require an Associate's Degree and 30 percent are expected to require a Bachelor's or higher.

B Corps will adapt to these changes because they are more flexible in how they look at their workers and the organization.

Instead of looking for a four-year degree for any job, employers are beginning to realize that is not necessary or even realistic anymore. What we need are a lot of very specialized skills that come from certification or on-the-job training.

B Corps are very good at thinking that way. They are also good at asking how we can work with individuals in the population who don't have opportunities. A good example of this is Greyston Bakery in New York, which has an open hiring program — anyone can walk in and can get a job for that day. One of the things they found was that many of their best workers are ex-offenders, who had a hard time finding any other type of employment because they have a criminal record.

B Corps want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to make money to support their family in a sustainable manner. In the future, social sustainability is likely to become just as important as environmental sustainability.