Our B Corp Story
There are so many things we could blog about when it comes to B Corps. What is a B Corp? Why is the B Corp movement important? How does a company become a B Corp? Who is a B Corp? How do I find out which of my favourite companies are B Corps?
The list of questions and great blog topics is endless.
But a lot of that you can read about anywhere. (If you’re looking for a good primer on B-Corps, check out this great article from the B Lab itself. When it comes down to it - there’s one question that we’re uniquely able to ask & answer.
And it’s - Why did we choose to become a B Corp?
There are a million reasons but really, it comes down to three things:
- An award and a goal - we’d won ROY 2016 - now what? We felt a need to keep improving, growing and doing better. We wanted to be able to demonstrate to ourselves and our stakeholders that we had, and we wanted accountability.
- “Now more than ever” and “If not now, when?” - sustainability is important to us, but since beginning Propeller in 2013, the challenges facing our community, country, civilization and the planet have become more critical and in many ways existential.
- There really is nothing else quite like B Corp - the rigour, the structure, the examples, the external auditing / challenge to keep improving, and ultimately the community of fellow B Corps and citizens who care & support B Corps and the issues and goals we support.
An award and a goal.
So let’s start with the award and the goal, and a moment in time. In October 2016, on our 3rd birthday as a company, we received a call from Connie Blumhardt and her team at Roast Magazine - we’d been selected as the winner of Roast’s prestigious, industry-wide Micro Roaster of the Year award.
We were blown away and in disbelief.
When we received an advance copy of the 2016 ROY article - it was clear that besides roasting some great coffees - one of the things that Connie and her team were most impressed by was our focus and commitment to sustainability and our community - throughout our operations and our engagement with the wider world.
So as we absorbed the news and slowly came back to earth, we asked ourselves, “Ok - so now what?”
We had accomplished a bunch in three short years and been recognized beyond our wildest dreams. But now what? Where did we go and how did we continue to improve our coffees, strengthen our commitment to sustainability and each other, double down on our community initiatives, and hopefully, continue to make an impact.
We also wanted to be able to prove to ourselves that we were really on the right track. Almost every coffee company pays some level of lip service to sustainability. We thought we were doing better than that - making real investments and having an actual impact. But were we?
“Now more than ever” and “If not now, when?”
The real tipping point for us to jump into the B Corps movement came in late 2016 / early 2017. While we were still basking in the glow of being the recent winners of the Microroaster of the Year AND asking ourselves the question “So now what” - another theme and question was staring us in the face and demanding our attention.
The world seemed to be losing its way - with disastrous leadership and reversals on key elements of our collective response to climate change and social justice. With melting glaciers in the Himalayas, Greenland’s ice melting, permafrost being exposed, unprecedented storm hurricane seasons in the Atlantic and typhoons in the Pacific, unprecedented wildfires throughout BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California, an ever-widening wealth gap and devastatingly clear evidence of systemic racism ……
The evidence and case for sustainability & social justice were clearer than ever BUT governments and leaders around the world seemed to be consumed by a case of mass paralysis, and increasingly in 2016 / 2017 (and beyond…) a wild and terrifying swing away from leadership & action to rejection & moving backwards; upending decades of progress on regulation, backing out of treaties and generally stalling & reversing progress.
In times of uncertainty, stasis and injustice like this - I get pissed off.
Leaders need to lead, and lead in the right direction. And if they’re not going to, they need to step aside and let others lead. For decades, polling in Canada and elsewhere has shown that the vast majority of businesses SUPPORT action on climate and social issues. They know that what’s good for the environment and society is ultimately good for business and that clarity and certainty are more valuable than uncertainty. But without political leadership - internationally, nationally & locally - businesses, citizens and society are left fending for themselves - stuck.
There really is nothing else quite like B Corp
Having been raised by leaders & makers of change, and believing in Margaret Mead’s belief in the power of “small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens,” we made the decision to commit to the B Corp process. We had been aware of it for several years and knew it was rigorous and provided a comprehensive structure for organizing a company’s environmental, social and governance programs. We liked that it wasn’t just an environmental certification, or just an economic one - it would challenge us to extend a mandate of responsible, sustainable practices to every aspect of our business.
But it wasn’t until we did the first step - the “self-assessment questionnaire” - that it became apparent how rigorous, structured and all encompassing it was. And even though it should have been obvious - it wasn’t until we completed the first pass that we realized the full magic of having someone else say, “OK… BUT you can do better and here are the specific places in your business and the specific ways in which you can do better.”
We were hooked.
When we finished the self-assessment, it was clear we had three buckets of answers:
- In some areas of the business it was clear that what we were doing was making a difference, was well documented and was something we were doing regularly;
- In other areas, there were things we were doing that were making a difference, but they weren’t well documented and we needed to do them more consistently; and then there was my favourite bucket,
- There were some awesome new things - that B Corps listed and had lots of great info on - that we could be doing to make an even greater impact, that we needed to make right-sized and appropriate for us, document them and start doing them to improve our impact as a team and as a business.
These bucket 2 & 3 items became our challenge and provided the concrete substance for mapping out the next-steps in our sustainability journey.
In the winter of 2017, we submitted the self-assessment and applied for a full assessment. We gathered our materials and in April 2017 we became the first Canadian micro roaster to certify as a B Corp.
We couldn't have been more thrilled or proud.
It began with an award and a sense of “Now what?.”
It germinated in a period of uncertainty.
We chose to take action towards making a difference and we chose B Corp.
And then we asked, “So now what?”
We’ve never looked back since.
We’re in the process of recertifying now. It’s going to be even harder this time (the standards get higher each year).
And we’re glad. It should be; the world’s problems aren’t getting any smaller.
And we’re still not looking back.
Onwards.Written by: Losel Tethong