Andrew Buerger sells bottled smoothies, but they’re a far cry from most mainstream brands. B’More Organic’s drinks are fat free, low lactose, gluten free, with no added sugar and blended with skyr, an Icelandic yogurt.
Beyond its products, the Baltimore-based company is unique in that it voluntarily adheres to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. It is legally set apart as a “benefit corporation,” and is part of a growing movement to prove that the drive for profit can work hand in hand with the public good.
Maryland became the first state in the nation, in April 2010, to pass legislation creating the new “benefit corporation” form for mission-driven social entrepreneurs. Fifteen states followed. Maryland remains the only state to also legally recognize “benefit” limited liability companies.
Nearly 60 Maryland businesses—ranging from an urban farming network to technology consulting services—adhere to “benefit” standards. Among them, 13 businesses are also third-party certified B Corporations by the national non-profit B Labs.
Find a full list of certified B Corporations in the chart below the article.
“Being a B Corporation changes our behavior on a daily basis.,” Buerger said. “I always ask myself, ‘Would I give my kids this?’ I wouldn’t give them something they shouldn’t be eating. I wouldn’t put Mickey Mouse on my product and stuff it full of sugar and preservatives.”
Buerger is passionate about using wholesome ingredients that don’t pose harm to customers or the environment. A portion of sales also helps fund breast cancer research through donations to Jodi’s Climb for Hope. “Benefit” status helped him formalize his core values directly into his business model, he said.
“It’s a journey. That’s why we’re ‘B’More’ organic. We can always do better. Our goal is to constantly improve on all of our core values to be more organic, be more green and be more healthy,” he said.
“I’ve had people taste our products and tell us, ‘You know, it’s good, but it needs more sugar in it.’ I tell them that we don’t put sugar in our products. We believe Americans have enough sugar in their diets and we don’t need to be contributing to that,” he added.
B’More Organic’s attention to community impact recently caught the attention of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, which featured the company in its “MaryLand of Opportunity” summer advertising campaign to support local businesses.
The campaign also features Silver Spring-based Clean Currents, another certified B Corporation. Since 2005, the energy supplier has connected 10,000 individuals and 3,000 businesses to wind power in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. It has also donated more than $20,000 to community greening projects through the Green Neighborhood Challenge program.
Clean Currents was one of the first Maryland companies to join the “benefit” movement, a natural fit for a company that was already participating in community greening programs to raise awareness of its wind energy products.
“Sustainability is one of our driving forces, it’s not just part of a marketing campaign, it’s actually integrated into the way we do business,” said marketing director Tanya Gulnik. ”Whenever we’re examining a new product, we always look at it through the lens of whether it’s going to have a positive impact on the communities in which we operate, our employees and the world in general.”
One of the major benefits of B Corporation designation is that it provides a reliable indicator for socially aware customers, according to Gulnik.
“It’s really helpful to put into writing and really codify a few of the things that mission-driven companies already know about themselves. It shows that to consumers and makes it easy to recognize the companies that are doing more than just making a profit,” she said.
The Clean Currents-sponsored Green Neighborhood Challenge does not focus exclusively on wind energy. Several neighborhoods have used it to fund and support community gardens, construct rain barrels and conduct educational programs on greener eating.
Gulnik said she expects more Maryland companies to join the “benefit” movement, through the legal designation and also through third-party B Corporation certification.
“I have seen this movement grow in the last four years tremendously, there are a lot of really big names that are B Corporations now. You even have huge companies like Ben and Jerry’s getting involved,” she said.
Erik Trojian, Director of Policy for B Labs, said he is aware that not every company can or should be a B Corporation.
“This might not be the style business for you. It’s a different way of operating, similar to how you might go into the service industry versus the goods industry. Different people have different types of style companies that excite them to go to work each day,” Trojian said.
He added, however, that business schools are increasingly producing a new breed of entrepreneur who is more socially aware than ever. The emergence of B Corporations is a consequence of that cultural shift, he said.
It’s also a consequence of the economy and government’s shrinking funding capabilities, according to Trojian.
“Government’s not getting any bigger. In fact, it’s being forced to get smaller. We need to find new ways to fill the gap left by what government used to do and what government maybe should never have been doing. The strongest engine we have out there is the private sector,” he said.
Companies like B’More Organics and Clean Currents said adjusting to the new “benefit” business model involved a sort of leap of faith that their social and environmental efforts would actually result in continued business growth.
Representatives of both said they make an effort to network and support fellow B Corporations who share their ideals.
“Certainly, it’s a challenge and it can be scary,” Buerger said. “But it’s all in how you look at it. It turns out that companies who are doing well for the world are also doing better.”