What if all business in our community was consciously conducted as a force for social change and justice?

We—the private sector—not only have the ability but the responsibility to shape our communities and decide what we want our city to look like. This vision of Columbus can not be achieved without us

Inequality, racism and injustice are ills that long have plagued our Central Ohio community, and for just as long, the public sector has sought to make a difference through philanthropic efforts. But recent events—the challenges of Covid-19, our national awakening to systematic racism and the continued generational shift from boomer and Gen X to Millennial—have fundamentally changed expectations of how business can and should be involved in social issues.

What if all business in our community was consciously conducted as a force for social change and justice?

We believe businesses and their leaders, employees and investors are in fact best positioned to address issues like inequality, racism and injustice.

This piece of thought leadership is part of 11 Moonshot Ideas to Move the Columbus Region Forward: A Future 50 project.

THE IDEAS

The need for a civic renaissance

The private sector should fight inequity

Closing the digital divide

Driving equity by funding women-owned businesses

Designing a more equitable region

Using data to guide public policy 

Customer-centricity in social services

A radical recalibration of education

ISO: Ambassadors for science

Finding true work-life balance post-Covid

Reimagining community-police relations

Why we did this project

It’s the right thing to do. Despite ever-present attempts to make these issues political, they are not inherently so. Approaching them through a political lens not only robs these ethical and moral issues of the attention they deserve, but it serves to impede and sometimes reverse progress when political tides shift. As the Business Roundtable said in its 2019 updated “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation,” businesses play a vital role in supporting their communities and share a “fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” not just shareholders. The concept of “multiple bottom lines” is becoming the new norm as companies are held to a higher standard, judged not only for financial success but for what they do, how they do it, and who they help along the way.

It’s the smart thing to do. More people not only want to see companies do well financially, but do good for the community. There is an acute awareness that everything we do in the operation of our businesses has either a positive or a negative impact. Being thoughtful about when, how and why businesses deploy their resources and expertise has a direct impact on a company’s ability to recruit and retain employees, customers and investors. Our employees and our customers no longer accept neutrality or the notion that business operations are a zero-sum game.

It’s the most efficient way to do it. Decades of governmental bureaucracy, along with the unprecedented gridlock and partisanship in today’s political environment, have amplified the role business must play in solving these problems. We can no longer look to local, state or federal government to solve wide-ranging systemic problems, especially when those problems relate to social equity or race. Given our unfettered ability to innovate and implement impactful internal policies not required by government regulation—such as paying a living wage, providing equal access opportunity for employment and advancement, prioritizing the recruitment and retention of persons of color—we hold the key to building communities in which businesses and employees can thrive.

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We suggest a bold collective step: A commitment from every member of the Columbus Partnership to lead the way by taking the “B-Corp” assessment and committing to make the necessary changes to become certified B-corporations by 2025.

Certified B Corporations meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B-Corps harness the power of business to reduce inequality, decrease levels of poverty, create healthier environments, build stronger communities and create more high-quality jobs to fuel them.

We have the opportunity to build a “B-Economy” in Central Ohio made up of B-Corp certified businesses that focus their efforts on being the best for the world as opposed to the “best in the world.” To further support this effort, local government must also adopt policies that give preference to certified B-Corps in contracting and other opportunities to do business with the public sector, and by creating and funding an office that assists local companies seeking B-Corp certification by providing resources and funding to do so.

Our collective vision of a just and equitable Columbus will not be achieved without the full commitment of the private sector. We should stop waiting for others to address these issues and answer our community’s call to action by leading the way.

Creating a B-economy

If we create a B-economy, we’ll be in good company. “There are some spectacularly successful companies. Unilever has eight divisions certified,” says John Lowe, CEO of B Corp Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. He drops the name of another B Corp: “Have you heard of Ben & Jerry’s?”

But certification is not a PR campaign. It’s a rigorous process that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance and impact, from supply chain to employee benefits to charitable giving. “We thought it was worth the hassle, pain and money to be given a score— publicly—so people didn’t have to wonder,” Lowe says.

Certification “forced us to look at all of our vendors, from truck drivers to packaging materials,” says Kimmi Wernli, who is CEO of another B Corp, Columbus-based Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter. Realizing not all partners shared their core values, the company made changes.

Wernli credits this particular change with Crazy Richard’s ability to not only survive but thrive during Covid-19. “[Our suppliers] understood this was not about making a profit, but fulfilling a greater purpose, so we were able to fulfill our orders on time. It was eye-opening and validating.”

Wernli and Lowe advise other CEOs to be humble going into the process of becoming a certified B Corp. “It’s a difficult process with real teeth,” Lowe says. “You might not score as high as you’d expect to start, but setting out to annually improve your score is one great, clear yardstick for your company.”

We suggest a bold collective step: A commitment from every member of the Columbus Partnership to lead the way by taking the “B-Corp” assessment and committing to make the necessary changes to become certified B-corporations by 2025.

Matt Miller is an attorney with Ice Miller focused on impact investing. 

With contributions from Haley Boehning, Rehgan Avon, Autumn Glover, Alex Anthony and Kelly Atkinson