Oregon Senate passes B Corp. bill, Kitzhaber's stamp awaits

Karen Wolfgang hopes her new business venture will qualify as a B Corp. under pending new state corporate identifier rules.

Karen Wolfgang hopes her new business venture will qualify as a B Corp. under pending new state corporate identifier rules.

Oregon’s Senate has approved a measure that would allow companies to register under an identifier that touts their commitment to sustainability, as opposed to simply identifying the type of operating structure they use.

House Bill 2296A could encourage businesses to become state-recognized “benefit companies” if they meet certain social and environmental performance guidelines. The designation would cover much of the same ground as the B Corp. certification awarded by the nonprofit B Lab.

The 22-8 Senate vote follows last month’s House vote, which passed the bill by a 39-20 count. The measure awaits Gov. John Kitzhaber's signature.

"The governor thinks it's an important step, and he looks forward to signing it," said Tim Raphael, a Kitzhaber spokesman.

If Kitzhaber agrees, a company choosing the designation when registering with the state could register as a “benefit company” as opposed to or along with, say, a limited liability company. Officials are still working out some of the semantics over what the identifier will entail.

Existing companies could also add the label to their public identifiers.

Businesses would need to annually publish reports revealing ways they’ve contributed to the public benefit, as well as go through third party evaluations analyzing whether they’re worthy of the B Corp. label.

Karen Wolfgang, owner of Independence Gardens in Portland, said she plans to use the designation in filing papers for a new landscape consulting firm later this year.

“It’s a really good way to highlight our commitment to triple bottom-line sustainability,” Wolfgang said. “It doesn’t impose any additional headaches on us at all. LLCs are great, but now, we’ll be able to champion ourselves and tell our story a little better than we would otherwise.”

Lawmakers backing the notion, including Democrats Rep. Tobias Read of Beaverton and Sen. Jackie Dingfelder of Portland, said the designation could help attract socially driven business operators to Oregon. It also enjoyed broad business community support. Justin Delaney, vice president of external affairs and associate counsel for StanCorp Financial Group Inc. (NYSE: SFG) implored lawmakers to back the measure earlier this year.

“This is a very good thing to Oregon because it’s something that entrepreneurs can consider as they look into moving here,” said Read.

Pending Kitzhaber’s signature, Oregon would join 12 other states, including California and New York, in offering the designation. Oregon already counts 32 certified B Corps. through B Lab.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, whose office championed the measure, said the designation could provide ammunition for capital-seeking companies to help with their quest.

"It’s a valuable marketing and branding tool for companies that want to highlight their civic engagement and public services sides," she said. "It could also help companies that want to go public or seek investments to expand. We're pleased it passed with strong bipartisan support."

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