Ball of confusion
This article is part of the Building a Sustainable Business series about starting and running a sustainable business. Read all the articles here.
Bellwether Materials is proud to announce that we are now a GIIRS Pioneer. GIIRS stands for Global Impact Investing Rating System which is part of the B Lab group. We have an almost perfect five-star rating, dented a bit by not using a local bank [see "'Cool' cash, cold heart," May 8, 2012] and because we don’t support nonprofits (the topic of a future column).
It’s our first certification of any kind because it’s so difficult to figure out what’s essential, what’s nice to have, and what is just spending money.
When I first started thinking about my own business, my ideas were based on anti-typical-business. Sort of like evaluating how your parents raised you, then doing the opposite with your own kids. First, I wanted a socially responsible business. This idea came from an old book I picked up in front of a bookstore in Oakland, years ago ("Social Marketing" by Lazer and Kelley, 1971). I think it’s the first to explore the concept of corporate social responsibility and since I was working at Chevron at the time, the messages in the book were especially powerful. Secondly, I was determined to have a deep green product that wouldn’t harm the environment or people. I was interested in proving that you could have a profitable business without sacrificing ethics.
While these ideas were percolating in my brain, I had no idea that there were thousands of groups that were certifying socially responsible businesses and another bunch that were certifying green products. In a casual conversation, I was told I had to have certification to prove our company was socially responsible. So I browsed though the companies that were certified and was puzzled to see that many of them made products that can kill you.
Then someone told me I also needed certification to prove my product is green. I called the most reputable local group to see about it and they told me it would cost me $20,000. $20,000! When I regained my power of speech, I said, “It’s wool! How could it cost $20,000 to prove it’s natural and safe?”
As soon as I started checking out the certifications people told me I had to have, I was shocked to discover they were everywhere. There aren’t one or two green product certifications, there are thousands. I asked people in the industry which one I should get and I didn’t get one answer, I got a list.