Benefit corporations offer sustainable path

A nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania is working to spread acceptance of a new type of business corporation that emphasizes triple-bottom-line principles and good corporate citizenship: the benefit corporation, or B corp. for short.

But while the B corp.’s founding principles were influenced in part by some Oregon sustainable business pioneers — clothing company Nau Inc. and investment firm Upstream 21 — the certification hasn’t found a legal foothold inside Oregon.

"Our slogan is that we’ve never had an original thought," said Jay Coen Gilbert, one of the founders of B Lab, the nonprofit behind the B corp. movement. “These were two of the innovators we looked to for cutting-edge corporate governance work.”

What B corp. strives to do is formalize the requirements a company should follow to become a certified benefit corporation. Blended in with the legal requirements for standard business incorporation — such as S corps., C corps. and LLCs — are other requirements such as high standards for fair employment practices, benefits to consumers and benefits to the environment.

There are 327 companies that self-identify as B corps. nationwide, including 19 in Oregon. In order to spread the gospel of the benefit corporation even further, B Labs is working on the policy front on a state-by-state basis.

This spring, both Maryland and Vermont passed legislation to legally recognize B corporations alongside other types of business organizations.

Coen Gilbert said there’s no legislation in the works in Oregon to do something similar, but B Labs is working through other channels. This summer, the team met with staff from Portland Mayor Sam Adams’ office to discuss the possibility of setting up a tax incentive structure for certified B corps. The city could also implement a preference for B corps. into its procurement practices.

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christinawilliams@bizjournals.com | 503.219.3438

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