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March 5, 2020
March marks the celebration of B Corp month, and we would like to share the story of Sun Light & Power becoming one of the companies that have a triple bottom line by putting People and Planet on the same level as Profit.
We interviewed Sun Light & Power’s President and Founder, Gary Gerber to ask why he chose to pursue the designation of Certified Benefit Corporation for the company.
SLP: How did you first learn about B Corps?
Gary: When I first heard of Benefit Corps or B Corps, there was, I think, one in the country at the time. I heard about it at a Social Venture Circle networking meeting in Kennebunkport Maine in 2006. It was being introduced by the B Lab people, almost as a concept. It was very exciting to me because it made such perfect sense. At that time, it was a completely crazy, radical idea that you could be something other than a for-profit Corporation that only cares about money and doesn’t care about anything else. I went to a one-hour seminar with the original B Lab folks, and it grew from there. Within a year or two they really started to roll. They came to Oakland and had a very big get-together. A lot of people showed up for that including us. We registered with B Lab as a B Corp in 2009. We are one of the early B Corps.
SLP: Why did you feel it was important for Sun Light & Power to become a B Corp?
Gary: I was looking out for the long-term future of the company. I had been thinking about my transition, ultimately, out of the leadership of the company. I investigated several options for succession. One of them was to sell the business, so I investigated finding a beneficial owner who I could trust to carry on the company’s culture and belief systems. I talked to a few different people and I felt there wasn’t anybody out there I could trust to do that.
I realized the Benefit Corp status created a structural protection of the company culture. Because when you establish that you are a Benefit Corp, you immediately change the dynamic of what the company stands for.
I felt it would help us in the future to be able to say to anybody who wanted to buy or invest in the company, “You are buying a Benefit Corp. You have to recognize the leadership of the company is committed to more than just profit.” And, that goes to the essence of our culture. That gives me some peace of mind. It’s a way to protect our culture and be a force for good.
In October of 2018, we became an Employee-owned company, an ESOP, so now the employees own the company as a B Corp.
SLP: How does the company’s California Benefit Corporation status relate to our being a B Corp?
Gary: The California Benefit Corporation status is a legal status that, like B Corp status, stipulates the company will behave a certain way. It’s called a ‘corporate choice for a business with a conscience’. It’s a state-by-state process, there is no Federal Benefit Corporation, and California wasn’t the first state to have a Benefit Corporation status option.
On January 3, 2012, we legally became a Benefit Corporation. It was the first day in California the benefit corporation status was available. We were at the state capitol along with 15-20 other companies. We became a Benefit Corp the same moment that Patagonia and the other companies did. Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia was there. I think there’s a photo of us somewhere with me standing behind him at the podium.
SLP: How do companies get a B Corp score?
Gary: The Benefit Corporation requires the use of B Lab’s certification entity to receive a B Impact Report score. Companies must undergo a very rigorous assessment process to get a new score every three years. We are underway in the work of submitting all our information for the 2021 scoring process. It has gotten harder and harder to get a good score.
SLP: What do you think about other big companies that are becoming B corps?
Gary: I remember early on thinking someday a public company will become a Benefit Corp. That was a benchmark everyone aspired to achieve. Now, Danone North America, a $9 billion per year organic and plant-based food company, is the largest certified B Corp in the world. There are now 10,000 companies in 150 industries in 65 countries who are B Corps.
In the very early days, the Benefit Corporation was just an idea. No one thought a public corporation would ever care about anything but profit. Once we got over that hurdle and more states started adopting it, more public companies became aware of it. I’d like to see more publicly-traded companies become B Corps.
SLP: You feel strongly about why companies should become B Corps, don’t you?
Gary: Yes, back to your question about why we became a B Corp. For me, it’s a way to reflect the company’s culture - to be a force for good. By joining with other B Corps we are putting a message out to the world that a corporation does not have to be all about greed. And there is strength in numbers. That can be so beneficial to our society. Think about this: if the only way you could be a corporation is to have a social mission, what kind of world would we live in today? Some big for-profit companies would not have been allowed to behave the way they have. We would still have oil companies, but as soon as we recognized 20 – 30 years ago car exhaust emissions were destroying the ozone layer, stuff would have stopped a lot sooner than it did.
SLP: If a company was thinking about becoming a B Corp, what advice would you give them?
Gary: I would say do it as soon as you can. It requires a commitment of time and resources, but it will benefit the company overall. You will have a superior ability to hire and retain good people. It will attract committed, stronger people to your company. The benefit will outweigh the cost, and the cost is not that high. Plus, by being a mission-driven company, it gives you a forum to meet and be among like-minded people where you can discuss the issues of the world that we all face. And that’s very empowering.
For more information on becoming a Certified B Corporation, visit the B Corp website here.
Nancy Summers is the Director of Marketing & PR at Sun Light & Power. She's an avid gardener, photographer, cook, mom, wife and lover of keeping the earth clean.
Sun Light & Power Among First California Benefit Corps.
Sun Light & Power Founder and CEO Gary Gerber standing behind Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard on Jan 3, 2012 during launch of California's first Benefit Corporations in Sacramento.