While they have many traits in common—accountability, transparency, and a dedication to a triple bottom line—a California Benefit Corporation is not necessarily a certified B Corporation, and B Corp does not have to be a benefit corporation. Opticos Design is both.
Opticos has always operated under the assumption that it was a “different kind of company,” believing that business can be a power for good—to improve people’s lives and sustain our planet—not just profit. So what’s the difference between the two statuses, and why pursue both of them?
The nonprofit B Lab certifies B Corporations and provides a portfolio of services and support. According to Erik Trojian, B Lab’s director of policy, the group’s mission is to bring the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Lab certifies that corporations meet those objectives through its B Impact Assessment—a confidential questionnaire covering over 150 best practices. As well as being a step toward certification, the B Impact Assessment can help a company to identify the areas in which it excels, and those that need improvement. B Lab also offers a library of guides that contain specific information on how to implement best practices. (Check out Opticos’s B Impact Report here.)
“I have written before about why being a B Corp is so important to us, not the least of which is that it provides us an incredible community of colleagues to support us in our corporate journey,” said principal Karen Parolek. The benefits of being a certified B Corp include media support, service partnerships, and free GIIRS ratings that help attract investors. There are over 800 certified B Corps in 27 countries, including Ben & Jerry’s, Etsy, King Arthur Flour, Seventh Generation, New Belgium Brewing Company, Dansko, and of course, Opticos.
“Benefit Corporation” is a legal status administered by the state. Historically, California corporate law dictated that the interests of shareholders were superior to all other interests. Benefit corporations can officially adopt policies “that create a material positive impact on society and the environment” as part of their legal charter. Benefit corporation executives and board members are required to look out for the interests of their workers, the community, and the environment, in addition to maximizing profits for shareholders. In 2012, California became the seventh state in the nation to give companies the option of becoming benefit corporations. Opticos and Patagonia (also a B Corp) were two of the first California companies to receive benefit corporation status. As of this summer, 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed benefit corporation legislation.
“Being a certified B Corp reflects our commitment to being a better business, being responsible for our environmental and social bottom lines, in addition to our fiscal one,” said Parolek. “Becoming a California Benefit corporation took us one step further—it stamps that commitment into our DNA, into our corporate documents.”
Opticos pursues projects that are environmentally sustainable and socially responsible, designing vibrant, walkable, diverse places, and has partnered with the nonprofit Local Government Commission on numerous occasions to provide design and planning services to traditionally underserved communities.
The company also offers a profit-sharing plan, which designates a portion of its profits to the employees and another portion to employee-selected charities. Earlier this year, Opticos made a donation to the Hogar Sagrado Corazón orphanage in Montero, Bolivia, specified for construction projects to repair the crumbling and dilapidated buildings that house some 120 girls.
Additionally, its office is located in downtown Berkeley, easily accessible by transit and bicycle, and 80% of Opticos staff take public transit, walk, or bike to work. Office supplies are purchased from Give Something Back, a local business and fellow B Corporation that supports the community by donating an average of 75% of their profits to local nonprofit organizations.
At Opticos, we choose to live and work sustainably because we believe in it. Being both a B Corp and California Benefit Corporation “is a way to demonstrate that this is not just some phase, but at the core of who we are, and who we will continue to be in the future,” said Parolek.
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