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Organizational Change
Leading the Change:
Takeaways from the B Lab Champions Retreat

What if we centered our work and lives around showing up for ourselves, others and the planet? Here are three takeaways from the recent B Lab Champions Retreat on how we can turn talk into action.

Around this time last year, we Vancouverites braced ourselves for “unusually high” spring temperatures. Some areas in the Pacific Northwest saw daily averages of up to 30°F above normal. Then, a few months later, we saw the biggest die-off in living memory of young salmon and trout as wildfires ripped through the area and across North America.

Climate events such as these were once considered rare — historic, even. In 2024, a year predicted to be one of the warmest years on record, they’re considered normal — but I refuse to accept it as the new normal.

While the planet is burning, workers are burning out. According to recent data from Mercer, eight in 10 workers say they feel like they are at risk of burnout. For those working on climate, burnout rates are even higher. Talk about feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Clearly, business as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Jorge Fontanez, CEO of B Lab US and Canada, said it best: “We are entering an age where individualism will fail. It’s only through community we can end human suffering and break the cycle of exploitative and extractive practices for years to come.”

I was privileged to hear these words in person and connect with bold, innovative, diverse voices in the B Corporation (“B Corp”) community — a mighty group of 7,000+ companies leveraging business as a force for good — right in my own backyard of Vancouver for the recent Champions Retreat. I was struck by everyone’s commitment to safeguarding the planet and human dignity, but I was even more struck by the insurmountable obstacles that lay ahead of us — both as people and as leaders in responsible business.

With Fontanez’s words in mind and inspired by the gathering, I wanted to share a few takeaways from the retreat on how we can turn talk into action.

Our entire systems need to work and change together.

The first step to solving any social or environmental problem is understanding the system in which it exists. In terms of climate change, the system has many moving parts and is subject to myriad societal, cultural and economic fluctuations — including state, federal and global policies; corporate interests, social pressures to de-prioritize the environment, and fundamental inequities in helping underrepresented populations become more resilient to climate change.

It isn’t all dire, though — because there are many public, private and nonprofit individuals and organizations advancing progress in each of these areas. Reaching deep into their expertise, resources and networks, they are addressing each part of the climate system with economically viable, earth-friendly solutions supported by cross-sector partnerships and effective, results-driven action. This level of systems change must be rooted in education and engagement, and often it begins at the community level — inspiring those around you to understand the urgency of protecting the planet.

One example of a B Corp that bucked the system is The Body Shop: Through its Forever Against Animal Testing campaign, the company held meetings with the UN and with local and national government officials, educated its customers, and drove collective action through petitions and protests; policymakers, NGO leaders, industry partners and customers all came to the table. In Canada, the company just celebrated a federal animal testing ban.

Leadership sets the tone.

“I dreamed about a culture of belonging. I still dream that dream. I contemplate what our lives would be like if we knew how to cultivate awareness, to live mindfully, peacefully; if we learned habits of being that would bring us closer together, that would help us build a beloved community.”

I admire this quote from bell hooks because it applies to the world at large, as well as to our own communities. It also reminds me of trying our best to stay “judgment free,” as advised by Champions retreat speaker Anu Gupta.

It’s on leaders to set the tone, culture and environment in the workplace and to exemplify what a DEIB culture means. The ‘B’ stands for belonging, and it’s necessary for any justice movement. We must build inclusive, diverse and supportive workplaces where employees can learn, thrive and grow; and where all employees — regardless of background, zip code, race, sexual orientation, gender or other societal classification — are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work.

Wellness and wellbeing are not the same thing.

You hear a lot about “workplace wellness” these days, but wellness is a healthy lifestyle beyond acute illness. It’s the bare minimum. Wellbeing, on the other hand, is caring for the whole worker. Workforce wellbeing advocates from MaCher, Cultivating Capital and ZaaS made the case during a lively panel discussion for caring for employees’ wellbeing — social, mental, physical, financial, environmental and all.

Businesses hiring top sustainability talent need real solutions for stress, because the inherent urgency of our movement can easily facilitate burnout. We need to aim for sustainability in the literal sense of the word, so that people can continue the lifelong fight. Powerful solutions that were discussed include a four-day work week, sabbaticals for long-time employees and meditation spaces within corporate offices. The good news is that these ideas are working: Companies that have put in place four-day work weeks, for example, have reported happier workers, lower turnover and greater efficiency.

People and the planet are more important than profit. The B Corp community asks the question: What if we centered our work and lives around showing up for ourselves, others and the planet? Finding the answer couldn’t be more urgent.