We’re excited to introduce Marketing Good, a new interview series where our founder Rahul Raj speaks to industry leaders and find out how they became Challengers in their own fields.
Rahul recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jorge Fontanez, the CEO of B Labs U.S. and Canada, and gained valuable insights into how B. Corps are challenging the status quo.
Insights from Jorge Fontanez, CEO of B Labs US & Canada
Rahul: Your role is so interesting in that many of us have depth of exposure in the organization that we’re working towards. We have some level of a wider aperture of things that we read about in the news or brands that we interact with, but being in your role, you see dozens, if not hundreds of organizations that are trying to tackle or to challenge systems for the better.
I’m curious, through that vantage point, are you seeing patterns around strategies that work well to realize change within the B Corp movement versus perhaps strategies that are not as successful?
Jorge: Two things that come to mind.
1. Generational mindset
One is that there is a real generational mindset shift in terms of millennials and Gen Zs expectations of what it means to work at a company. And that has, I think, largely contributed to certification demand because either employees at firms or the companies themselves understand that attracting and retaining talent should include a purpose-driven strategy. A B Corp certification can be a central part of that.
I see a lot of engagement not only with leadership that’s necessary to engage in B Corp certification, but also increasingly more employees looking to understand how working at a B Corp certified company actually does align with their values. It kind of validates their choice of employer.
We at B Labs see ourselves as a connector and convener. We are playing an increasing role in and around employee engagement. We have talent and culture networks that have evolved over time and we’re seeing great examples of how employee loyalty does drive brand value.
One of the best examples I can offer is Greyston Bakery, here in Yonkers, New York is founded with the mission of creating new pathways for formerly incarcerated peoples. And their commitment to recidivism through job training is a model that other large companies are adopting. It’s called Open Hiring and the simple idea is to reduce, if not eliminate barriers to employment.
So Greyston simply says, we have a job. You need a job, you get a job. No background checks, no credit scores, no application process. Like literally, there’s a wait list.
Rahul: So is there an interview process?
Jorge: You get a job if the job becomes available and you’re the next in line. Radical right?
That practice is being adopted by other B Corps and also non-B Corps. More famously, The Body Shop, the retailer owned by Natura, the Brazilian based brand, also looked at that open hiring model and asked themselves how might we reduce barriers of access to our jobs. Understanding also that their retail employees, often seasonal in nature, have high turnover which creates real problems with loyalty. And so, so they, they did a few things really differently. I don’t know all the specifics, but what, what I do know are the, the return has been priceless. Those kinds of practices we see as being a large opportunity.
2. Share best practices and solutions
There’s so much urgency in response to the evidence of climate change that’s growing around the world and I think that it’s fair to say that there are greater commitments than there are actions around climate.
I think if I look back at the last example that I’ve shared, I think it has to do with the same root cause which is that climate solutions have been, in some ways, made to be viewed as a competitive advantage for companies who invest in intellectual property and don’t share it with the world.
We’re seeing incredible investments, in Venture Capital, within companies R&D to move towards renewable energy to reduce their carbon emissions.
What I don’t see is enough sharing of best practices and solutions.
We’re using the same capitalist practices to solve some pretty immense world challenges and if we continue to move forward with this extractive nature of saying, “we’re gonna be the winner in self-driving cars, electric cars”, who’s really winning in the end?
How do we create more open source models where baseline technology can be shared?
Allbirds famously has been open sourcing their technology to get to zero waste, if not positive regenerative impact, with their sneaker models. I think it’s a really interesting challenge to the industry to see a company who’s built a real formative brand in a short period of time doing things completely differently than its competitors.
Rahul: Makes a tremendous amount of sense to me. It’s fascinating to be at this life stage and understand how systems really work versus how I thought they worked.
There’s an extraordinary amount of support that’s offered to those you are in solidarity with. I think about alumni networks from Ivy League schools, even historical golf clubs or country clubs and things along those lines. My perception is there’s been a greater pattern of supporting people that are in a community of status. And I think that there’s a tremendous amount of potential for the B Corp community to be of more support to one another.
The starting point in essence is, attending convenings but with people that are of a similar scope of responsibility as you, so you can solve for “what are the problems that we want to tackle and how can we tackle them together?”
Jorge: And that is happening organically. We have coalitions of B Corps already working together.
One called the B Corp Beauty Coalition which is a group of it’s growing 60 plus B Corp around the world who have made specific commitments to a greener supply chain reducing the harmful effects of formulas that often impact the way, like even the way people the way that we humans absorb, them through our skin.
And then packaging is a really big one as well. How do we create regenerative cycle sort of packaging solutions? So yeah, already happening in really interesting ways and yes that’s our role. That’s why we’re here.
Guidance for Challenger Brands
Rahul: Amazing. One last parting question which is in reflecting on our conversation today is what guidance would you have for challengers thinking: “How do I muster up the courage to challenge a system that I feel is unjust or is not delivering what is needed for people and planet?”
Jorge: If we’re talking about entrepreneurs in particular who really embrace that ethos of a challenger, I would say:
- Conviction matters. You’ve gotta believe in yourself and how your business model in particular is going to create a change that may not yet have realized itself. Sticking to your values also matters and all the decisions that you have to make as a leader, including who you receive funding from and who you work with, or who works with you to realize your vision.
- Find your people. I think we’re living in an era where it is much easier to make connections with people from around the world. And B Lab is just one of those ecosystems.
- Help to really shift the mindset around, we’ll call it co-opetition. Share what you know. And believe that sharing what you know, actually creates value in a way that is business value driving, but also maybe helps an entire sector or entire communities of people.