Editor's Note: When we set out to celebrate B Corp Month in March, we were unaware of the tidal wave the U.S. economy would face as a result of the COVID-19 virus. We continue to be inspired by the actions of so many companies who have pivoted their operations to provide critical personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers on the front lines of this health crisis. As Essential Workers, our job is to continue making dairy products to sustain our food system, including the farmers who depend on us to buy their milk. We find even more meaning in our B Corp certification today than we did yesterday, because perspective is everything.
At Vermont Creamery, we unite behind a shared obligation to operate our business for more than just financial gain.
As we celebrate our fifth year as a Certified B Corporation, we are more committed to our core values than ever. As we continue on our path towards conscious growth, we are committed to living our mission, where our people and our planet rank right alongside our profit.
This idea of evenness between profitability and purpose is not new. Back in 1994 John Elkington, a rogue business consultant and sustainability champion coined the phrase, “Triple Bottom Line.” His framework theory challenged businesses to weigh their environmental and social impact equally with their profitability.
Back to the land.
Elkington is not a Vermonter, but he would have fit right in here in the 1960s and 70s, when millions of frustrated young urbanites flocked to our state for a true back-to-the-land experience. Our population surged 30 percent over two decades, with a swell of progressive thinkers eager for community, impact and political disruption. They wanted to grow their own food and live peacefully, with purpose; Bernie Sanders was notably among them.
That hippie spirit persists in Vermont today, and is most evident in the way we choose to do business. Traditional, profit-forward business practices don’t thrive here, to the dismay of some and the satisfaction of most. Money is not king, because money doesn’t buy culture or positive impact.
We are all bearing witness to a systemic transition in the business climate where sustainability now informs corporate strategy and climate change is a weighty factor in decision making. The Triple Bottom Line has worked itself into the global business lexicon, and we certainly aren’t alone in employing its tenets.
Purpose before profit.
Larry Fink, CEO and Chair of BlackRock, the New York-based investment firm that manages $6 trillion in global assets gets it too. Fink shook the financial world with an open letter to clients announcing that sustainability is BlackRock’s new standard for investing. Fink made a significant move here, acknowledging the risk associated with transitioning to a low-carbon economy, and a call for shareholders to become stakeholders in a global movement to put purpose before profit.
We doubt anybody is calling Mr. Fink a hippie.
The truth is, we now live in a world where it is no longer radical to acknowledge that there is more to business than just profit, because every day consumers are voting with their dollars, choosing to spend their hard-earned money on companies whose values closely align with their own. If we ignore this fact, we do so at our peril.
We became a Certified B Corporation in 2014 because we were already quietly adhering to the standards of the certification on our own. We had implemented company-wide financial transparency with an Open Book Management policy and introduced profit-sharing bonuses to our employees. We were weighing our garbage on a weekly basis, tracking our water and electricity use and providing our team with robust benefits packages, paid volunteer time and paid family leave.
Minimizing environmental impact is not easy in manufacturing; we were up against some hard truths, but it only made us fight harder and think bigger.
We changed everything we could to reduce our waste and minimize our carbon footprint. Our co-founders and Adeline, our president, started driving hybrids, employees no longer had trash cans by their desks—a deliberate reminder to make less waste. We held company-wide weekly huddles to check in on our progress, and to make sure all of our employees truly felt like stakeholders in our success.
Passing the rigorous assessment not only formalized our commitment to using our business as a force for good, it gave us with a north star to shoot for. After our acquisition by Farmer-owned Land O’Lakes in 2017, B Corps’ governing body, B Lab asked us to recertify because we were considered a larger company post acquisition.
Recertifying was never a question in our minds; in many ways the acquisition only reaffirmed our belief that the B Corp Certification is a crucial part of our identity, because it is a totem for our belief system and a signifier of what we value most.
We knew that assessment would hold us accountable to our promises to give back to our community, minimize our impact and foster healthy company culture, even as we embarked on an ambitious growth trajectory.
B Corp Certification is not a merit badge for doing good; the assessment is rigorous in its requirements. It legally requires companies to consider the impact of their decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment. There are nearly 3,000 Certified B Corps representing 150 industries across 64 countries.
While some B Corps may be small and fledgling, many are intrinsically familiar multinational brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Cabot, Stonyfield Organic, Warby Parker and Seventh Generation.
When the pinnacle of the corporate pyramid is purpose instead of profitability, there’s room for everybody at the top.
It is no surprise that Vermont has the most B Corps per capita in the nation; the 33 Certified B Corps here make up a vital community of companies focused on the Triple Bottom Line. The back-to-the-land movement inspired a spirit of rugged individualism and grit, and that is still what it takes to survive here.
We put Vermont in our company name because we derive tremendous meaning from our unique history; it is not just where we are, it is who we are.
We know that true sustainability goes beyond just financial performance. Vermont Creamery is a living, growing enterprise, capable of supporting our people, community, and our planet, all while creating a value chain that promotes a prosperous, thriving future.
We want our consumers to expect more from us because we expect more from ourselves. Vermont Creamery is a part of a larger movement to bring food to tables in a responsible way, and we hope you’ll join us.
To read more about our mission, click here.