On Thursday evening last week, Jack and I attended a local event called Green Drinks in Bend, Oregon. Green Drinks is a very loose confederacy of self-organizing groups that meet in various communities around the world. The idea is to gather people together who have a shared value of environmental sustainability, add beer (or kombucha…or vegetable smoothies) and let the conversation flow. I have been to a number of Green Drinks events in other communities, namely San Diego and Fort Collins, but I had not yet been to the any Bend events.
This month the event was hosted at the Pacific Superfood Snacks headquarters, makers of the world famous Kale Chips. Pacific Superfood Snacks is a certified B-Corp. B-corps are a type of company that hold social benefit goals alongside profit goals. To become a B-corp a company must register with the state and then get certified by a 3rd party that dives extensively into the company’s practices, supply chain, corporate governance, and environmental footprint before putting their stamp of approval on the company.
Sarah Pool, the Founder & CEO, gave us a tour of the factory and even let us taste some onions right out of the dehydrator – they were incredible by the way. During the tour, Sarah was sharing the amazing story she has lived over the last four years from founding the company in a garage with a tiny dehydrator to today where she has 50 employees. Sarah’s smile generally masks the entrepreneurial pain and suffering she experienced. She joked about “just about having to live on the streets” to get the business going and then with a solemn look said, “no really, there were some tough times.” She went on to say they now pay employees well above minimum wage and they offer benefits including a 401k retirement plan.
Being the financial guy in the room the mention of the 401k immediately caught my attention. I was curious if the third party B-Corp certification process looked at both company investment assets and retirement plan assets and encouraged (or required) those assets to be invested in a socially responsible manner in line with the company’s values. Think about a company whose products and values are all around organic food but their investment assets and retirement plans are invested in the processed food industry.
B-Lab is one of the third-party certification organizations. B-Lab does ask a number of questions related to retirement plans giving companies higher scores for 1) offering employees retirement benefits of any kind and 2) even higher scores if those retirement benefits have SRI or values-driven investment options. B-Lab is quick to note, however, that these are certainly not required items and if a company scores high across other categories (supply chain, etc.) then they can be certified as a B-Corp without SRI options.