Harnessing the Power of Business to Do Good

This post was written by third year student, Carrie Gonnella.  Carrie is concurrently pursuing her MBA at Fuqua and her MEM (Master of Environmental Management) at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.  Carrie interned this summer at B Lab with the support of CASE’s Summer Internship Fund (learn more about SIF at the bottom on this post!)

I have just finished ten wonderful weeks as an Assurance Summer Associate with B Lab.  B Lab is a non-profit organization that is harnessing the power of business to do good.  “Do good” may sound pretty broad, but B Lab has a three-prong plan for making this happen.

1. The first initiative is the one that is probably most familiar to consumers – Certified B Corporations.  B Lab has developed the B Impact Assessment (BIA), which measures companies’ social and environmental practices.  Offer 6 weeks of paid paternity leave?  That scores you points on the BIA.  Generate renewable energy on site?  More points.  Pay a living wage to all employees?  That gets you points, too.  Companies who score more than 80 points are eligible to become a Certified B Corporation.  As B Lab explains, building a community of B Corporations makes it easier for all of us to tell the difference between good companies and just good marketing.

2. The second initiative works to drive capital to companies and funds that are having positive social and environmental impact.  To do this, B Lab has developed the Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS).  GIIRS is a transparent system for rating the impact of companies and funds that is akin to Morningstar investment rankings and Capital IQ financial analysis.  Through GIIRS, B Lab seeks to help define and grow the impact investing asset class.

3. B Lab’s third initiative promotes legislation at the state level to create a new corporate form – the Benefit Corporation.  Benefit Corporations meet higher standards of accountability, transparency, and purpose.  With B Lab’s help, eleven states have already passed Benefit Corporation legislation, and more states are on the road to passing legislation.

I started my internship with B Lab at the headquarters in Berwyn, PA, where I met up with my fellow interns – 4 out of 8 of us from Fuqua!  We spent a week in training, learning a lot about B Lab, the B Corporation community, and the B Impact Assessment.  Each year 10% of certified B Corporations receive an onsite review by a B Lab; the onsite review process is an important way of maintaining the rigor of B Certification.  My fellow interns and I would be conducting those onsite reviews, visiting with the heads of companies, verifying their environmental and social practice, and helping them find ways to have even bigger positive impact.

After a week of training in Berwyn, half of the interns flew out to the San Francisco office – home base for the west coast onsite reviews – and the rest of us headed down to North Carolina, where we would be working out of the Carrboro office for the east coast/midwest onsite reviews.

My partner and I visited ten companies over the summer, from a number of different industries, including personal care products manufacturing, financial services, real estate development, and food and beverage.  Companies ranged in size from zero employee single proprietorships, to companies with more than 50 employees.  In addition to the range of companies we were able to visit, we enjoyed spending time in a number of different cities and states over the course of five fast-paced weeks of traveling – New York, Washington DC, Vermont, Philadelphia, and more.

During the onsite review process, most senior executives were eager to share company practices with us, but some did require a bit more finessing.  Those difficult cases gave me a great opportunity to test my skills at engaging stakeholders and communicating the value of B Certification.  In addition to the onsite reviews, I also completed an independent project focusing on revamping and improving B Lab’s marketing and business development materials.  I credit my managerial communications professors with equipping me with the skills to analyze these documents with an eye for clearly and convincingly communicating the business case for becoming a B Corp.

I’ve spent the last two years at Duke learning about positive environmental and social business practices while in the classroom.  My main motivation for taking on this internship with B Lab was a desire to experience how companies are implementing these practices in the real world.  It has been fascinating to learn which positive impact initiatives companies have an easier time putting into place, which are a bit more of a struggle, and which require deep analysis of tradeoffs.  I’m looking forward to applying the experience I gained through this internship with B Lab to my own efforts to “harness the power of business to do good” when I graduate next May and pursue a career in corporate sustainability.

The Summer Internship Fund (SIF) enables first year Duke MBA-Daytime students to learn about the rewards and challenges of social sector management without making a significant financial sacrifice. In addition, the program enables organizations that otherwise could not afford to hire MBA student interns to benefit from students’ expertise.  The SIF has supported more than 130 students, distributed more than $400,000, and helped to further the mission of many nonprofit and government organizations. Funds are raised through student fundraising and from donors who believe in the mission of the program.  If you would like to contribute, you can donate online using your credit card.